When you think about improving your finances, you probably think of things that will take years to accomplish. Saving for retirement. Buying a home. Paying cash for a car. Making six figures. And then, when the long timeline of these goals becomes apparent, you get frustrated.
While your finances do include a lot of big, long-term goals like these, your financial situation is also comprised of many smaller goals, decisions, and activities that are much easier to manage. Because they're small, it's tempting to think that they don't matter. But, here's the good news: Taking care of the small things is what makes your big financial goals possible. With that in mind, here are ten things that you can do in an hour or less to improve your finances.
If your bank is charging you a lot of fees or not paying competitive interest rates, you're losing money. It'll take less than an hour to research alternatives and make the switch.
Open a Savings Account and Fund It With Direct Deposit
If you already have a savings account, you're halfway there. If not, find one with a great interest rate and set up an account. Then have your employer directly deposit $25 or more every pay period. If you can't get direct deposit, set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings. The money will grow without much effort on your part and chances are you won't miss what you've never seen.
Comparison Shop Your Insurance
At least once a year, take an hour and make some phone calls to other insurers to comparison shop. You might be surprised to find that you can lower your auto, home, or life insurance premiums by quite a bit.
Reduce Your Credit Card Interest Rate
Paying outrageous interest on your credit card? Call your card issuer and ask (politely) for a lower rate. If you're a good customer in good standing, you can probably get the rate reduced. Ask for a supervisor if the first rep won't help you.
Comparison Shop Credit Cards
Number 4 didn't work? Don't worry. There are tons of cards on the market, many with 0% or super-low interest offers on balance transfers. Check www.CreditCards.com for a list of cards that match the criteria you want, find your new card, and transfer your balance. Boom. You're saving a ton of money in interest.
Lower Your Monthly Bills
Call your cable and cell phone providers and ask if you're getting the best deal. New offers pop up all the time so your current plan may not be the most cost effective any more. If you're aware of a better offer from a competitor, mention it. Your provider may match it. If they won't match, switch to the competition.
Lower Your Bill Some More
Comb through your bills and look for things you don't use (or use enough to justify the cost) like premium channel packages, insurance/protection plans you don't need, unlimited texting or data, subscriptions to papers/magazines you don't read, and so on. If you're not using it or getting your money's worth, drop it.
Learn One Thing
It's amazing what you can learn in an hour with a quick search online or a trip to the library. Find something about your finances that you don't understand and figure it out. Maybe you want to know what an ETF is or whether you need life insurance. Maybe you don't understand how credit cards calculate interest. Learn it. The more you know, the better you become at managing your finances and making good decisions.
Set Up an IRA or Contribute to Your 401(k)
You keep saying you'll get around to it someday, so take an hour and set up an IRA at your bank or a brokerage like ING or Fidelity. Alternatively, sit down with your benefits manager and fill out the paperwork for your 401(k). Don't worry if you can only afford a small contribution. It's better than nothing and if your employer matches your contributions, that's free money.
Find Your Biggest Money Drain and Plug It
Ever said, "I don't know where it all goes?" Sit down with your bills and statements and figure out where your money is going. Do you eat out a lot? Entertain too much? Shop too often when you don't need anything? Have a $10 per day Starbucks habit? If you've got a habit that's costing you big money, find a way to plug that leak. Bring your own coffee to work. Brown bag your lunch. Host a pot luck dinner instead of paying for everything. Find a free hobby to take the place of wandering the mall.
Not every financial improvement has to take years to accomplish. There's plenty you can do to improve your finances over your lunch hour or in a spare spot of time on a rainy Saturday. The trick is to stop thinking it won't make a difference and realize that even the little things add up to big bucks down the road.