Money is a complex topic, with thousands of books, websites, and podcasts dedicated to covering some aspect of the subject. It can also evoke a strong emotional response. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, frustration, anger, and more can keep people from addressing their financial situation.
One solution is to carve up financial strategies into small, simple tasks. The following 25 tasks can all be implemented and completed within an hour, which means they’re non-threatening and easy to do. Crossing a few off your list will help you feel more confident and save some money.
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Create a simple budget
A simple budget can help you identify not only how you currently spend your money but also ways in which you can change those spending habits and practices for better financial results. Budgeting your money and allocating funds to existing expenses helps you keep more of your money in your pocket or account. Adhering to that budget helps ensure you don’t run out of money by the end of the week.
Download a budget app
Given the practicalities of modern daily life, it’s usually more convenient to use an app to create, maintain, check, and adhere to your budget, as opposed to pencil and paper. Some of the top-rated budgeting apps for Android and iOS devices include Mint, YNAB (You Need a Budget), EveryDollar, and PocketGuard. Still, you should definitely take a look at independent reviews with app screenshots to find the one that best meets your needs and preferences.
Review your budget
Budgets should be flexible, living documents that change as your life and work evolve. Take some time to review your budget and update it to make sure it still aligns with your goals and to ensure you’re living within your means.
Negotiate a higher salary
How long has it been since you got a raise at work? Resolve to negotiate for higher pay within the next 30 days. Start by creating a short script you can use to begin negotiations with your current employer. List out your accomplishments and supporting data, and practice delivering that request in a confident, straightforward manner.
Create or update your estate plan
Nobody wants to think about death and dying, but it’s a part of life. Don’t leave your family and loved ones in a precarious financial position. Ensure your wishes are carried out by making sure you’ve got an updated will and estate plan. If you need some help, make an appointment with a local trusts and estates lawyer who can talk you through your options and make sure your documents comply with applicable laws in your state.
Learn something new
Invest in yourself by taking a class or reading a book on a personal finance topic. What don’t you know? What are you curious about? If you’re not sure what the stock market is, or if you want to learn more about cryptocurrency and blockchain, find a great resource to teach you.
Start an emergency fund
Ideally, we should all have anywhere from three to six months’ worth of living expenses, but you can start more simply. Open a new account and put a few dollars in, then make a plan to add to it over time to cover unexpected costs. Resolve not to touch it outside a true emergency, such as an unanticipated medical expense or car repair bill that would take more money than you currently have on hand.
Automate your finances
You may have already enrolled in direct deposit. If not, contact your employer’s finance or HR department to make that change. Then talk to your bank about ways you can automate a contribution to your savings account from each paycheck. You can also look for bills that will let you sign up for automatic monthly payments. That way, you’ll know your financial situation well and won’t have to wonder if you’re late with a bill.
Save on your credit card payments
Making credit card adjustments can be an easy way to improve your financial situation. Credit cards are notorious for high-interest rates, but even if you think you’re getting a good deal, it pays to double-check. Call your card issuer and ask for a lower interest rate on your account, or shop around for better deals. That way, you’ll be paying less each month for your purchases.
Create a savings plan
If you’re not already regularly putting some money aside on a regular basis, give some thought to doing this now. Look at your budget and figure out how much you can afford to put aside. Then open up a savings account at your bank and pledge to put aside a certain percentage of every paycheck (or client payment, if you’re a freelancer) into that account.
Review your insurance policies
It’s easy over the years to get talked into buying too much insurance, but it’s also equally simple to not carry enough insurance. For home, auto, health, and other policies check your coverage and usage and make sure they’re appropriate for your circumstances. Read the fine print. You might also want to look for less expensive alternatives.
A quick and easy way to improve your financial situation is to eliminate subscriptions. Netflix, Hulu, subscription boxes, personal care membership programs, and more can easily put a sizable dent in your disposable income. The individual payments seem so inconsequential and small, but together they can really add up. Look through your subscriptions and memberships, then cancel any that you no longer use or that you can live without.
Look for better loans
Whether it’s a mortgage, car loan, personal loan, or another type of loan, maybe you can do better. Take some time to research your options and shop around for lower rates. If you have a solid credit rating and payment history, you might be able to qualify for a much better deal.
Renegotiate your cell plan
Cell phone plans can quickly become bloated with unanticipated fees and extras. Call your mobile carrier and attempt to negotiate a better deal on your cell phone plan. If that doesn’t work, shop for a better deal from a different carrier, then port your existing number over to the new account.
Sell your stuff
Almost everyone has unused clothing, toys, books, and more, taking up space. Why not list these items for sale on an auction site? Alternatively, set them aside and pick a date for a garage sale.
Place an ad for a roommate
Whether you’re renting or purchasing your home, housing expenses likely take up a large percentage of your monthly income.
So it stands to reason that anything that can reduce your mortgage or rent payment each month would save you a substantial amount of money each year. With rents rising across the nation, lots of folks are looking for more affordable accommodations.
If you have an extra bedroom or another room that can be turned into a habitable living space, why not look for someone who needs a place to live and who can pay a reasonable amount of rent?
Swap out your light bulbs
Utility payments can easily impact your financial situation. And with inflation driving up costs across almost all financial sectors, including electricity, it’s smart to think of ways to reduce your monthly bill. You can always turn off lights in rooms you’re not occupying and unplug appliances and products when not in use.
Additionally, if you’re using standard light bulbs, replace them with LED bulbs to save on your electricity bill. LED light bulbs are about 75% more efficient, and they last up to 25 times longer than standard bulbs.
Start a side gig
What specific skills have you accumulated over your life? Chances are, at least one of them could earn you some extra money and boost your financial situation. Freelance content writing, social media management, graphics, podcast editing, affiliate marketing, and more can all be the basis for your side hustle. Check other websites and digital opportunities to create additional revenue streams if you’re not interested in formally launching a full-time business.
Trim your grocery bill
Inflation is making almost everything we buy more expensive. Look at your usual weekly shopping list and then try to identify places where you can choose more economical options. Consider using these tactics:
- Shop for store brands and other less expensive options.
- Choose less expensive cuts of meat.
- Plan vegetarian or vegan meals a few nights a week to save on meat.
- Resolve to leave less leftover food and use everything you buy to cut down on waste.
- Pay attention to serving sizes.
- Clip coupons.
Look for help with overspending
If overspending is a problem for you, the first step in conquering it is to admit the problem exists. The next step is to look for resources that can help you get your compulsive shopping under control. There are books available, as well as mental health counseling services through sites like Better Help.
Bump up your retirement savings to improve your long-term financial situation
Arrange with your employer’s benefits manager to increase your retirement savings contributions by 1%. If you don’t already have a retirement savings vehicle, begin the process of starting one by researching your options. If you’re self-employed, look into options like the SEP IRA and the solo 401(k).
Open a 529 plan for your child
If you have children, consider opening a 529 plan to help fund college or other educational expenses. It’s a great savings vehicle for families as it offers tax-free growth and withdrawals, as long as the withdrawals are for qualifying educational expenses.
Check your credit reports
Every US citizen gets one free copy of their credit reports from each of the three major reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Don’t be swayed by commercial services and online ads; make sure you use the official US website, AnnualCreditReport.com.
Dispute credit report errors
Creditors make mistakes sometimes, and when those mistakes find their way onto your credit report, the negative impacts can be serious and substantial. That’s why it’s so important to carefully check your reports on a regular basis. If you find an error, dispute it with the credit reporting agency.
Look for unclaimed money
Old tax refunds, pension accounts, life insurance proceeds, and more can all mean free money for you. Whether due to a move, a name change, or some other life change (or just a simple mistake on the part of the issuer), you may have unclaimed funds out there waiting for you.
Small Steps Can Yield Big Improvements
Improving your finances doesn’t need to be a huge, scary monster lurking in your closet. Choosing simple, straightforward tasks that you can complete in an hour or so will help you achieve a sense of accomplishment and control over your finances. That can, in turn, help fuel other financial improvement strategies in the future.
Article by John Boitnott, Due
About the Author
John Boitnott graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Masters Degree in Education. He worked for 14 years as a broadcast news writer for ABC, NBC, and CBS News where he covered finance, business and real estate. He covered financial news for SAP for four years. Boitnott is now working as a columnist for The Motley Fool where he covers personal financial and investing strategies.