I’m sure a lot of us have some version of “get my finances in order” on our list of New Year’s resolutions, or “be wealthy beyond my wildest dreams” on our vision boards. Well, I think both of those things are a stretch for me (let alone creating a vision board) but there are a few things this realist with limited free time is doing right off the bat.
Maybe these are things you’re already doing but can check in on. Maybe they’re things you’ve been meaning to do.
Well, let’s do them! These are not major to-dos (“find a financial advisor and completely rework my financial life!”); just a few fast, easy things, and wow, what a weight off your shoulders.
1. Set up a monthly transfer from checking to savings. “Pay yourself first” may be the best financial tip I ever got (thanks, Dad!) and it always stuck with me. In other words think of your own savings like a bill that you have to pay each month, then set up a monthly (or bi-weekly) auto-transfer from your checking to your savings account, no matter how small the amount. You’ll start to forget about it as it becomes just another monthly “expense” and it’s really nice to see where you end up at the end of the year.
2. Make monthly donations to your kids’ college fund, or up the current amount. Whether you’ve got a 529 tax-deferred college savings fund for your kids, or a savings account for each of them, it’s a great idea to contribute even a little each month. Just like the tip above…only for your kids. If you’re doing $500 a month, awesome. If you’re doing $50 a month, awesome. A little goes a long way over 18 years (or hey, even five years if you’re starting late) and if you can up it by 10% — or whatever works for you — do it.
3. Go paperless with your online bills. This isn’t just good for the environment, but it saves you time and energy, If you can sign-up for auto-payments for your phone, ISP, insurance, rent or mortgage, and utilities, you’ve got one (or ten) less things to worry about each month. Plus auto-bill payments will save you money in the long run if you’ve ever been stuck paying late fees on a bill that totally slipped your mind. (We’re all busy, it happens to the best of us.)
Oh, and you’re not still writing actual paper checks, are you? Cool, cool.
4. Switch auto-payments to come from your credit card instead of your bank account. Only if you’re able to do this responsibly, use a points or reward card to auto-pay bills, then pay off the credit card each month. That way you’re getting rewarded for everyday expenses and helping build responsible credit, too.
5. Visit your credit card provider website and sign up for every relevant offer. Go! Right now! Log on and do it!
I’ve written for years about why an Amex Platinum Card has paid for itself for me in benefits, but there are plenty of cards with tons of great benefits and partnerships that suit your lifestyle. You may be able to access monthly credits to ride services, get hotel and car rental upgrades or double points, even earn free statement credits for shopping at particular retailers or flying certain airlines. That is literally free money.
It’s also a good idea to take a moment to read through your automatic credit card benefits, to check out ones you may not have even realized you had at all. A card’s purchase protection plan or automatic travel insurance can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in a year.
6. Install a deal-saving browser extension or two. So quick! So easy! A few favorites money-savings browser extensions of mine include Honey, Priceblink and Retail-Me-Not, and most recently, Saavy. They automatically search the web for discount codes and alert you to better deals while you shop online. I have saved hundreds and earned cash back doing absolutely nothing different at all — and that’s my favorite way to save money.
Kristen is also a fan of eBates, which even works on Etsy. Sweet!
7. Make a quick call to your credit card provider or bank and try to get a better deal. Yes, you can spend time researching better credit cards (and probably should) but if you have a high-interested credit card with a balance and you’re a card holder in good standing, try this quick fix instead:
Make a short (friendly!) call to customer service and ask to have your rate lowered by a few points. You may get it — or you may even get a short grace period to skip a payment.
While on the line, ask if the company has any other cards that might be better for your needs (rewards card, frequent flyer card, zero-interest balance transfers). The same goes for your bank by the way. You might find that they have a different checking or savings account for you that could cut out overdraft fees, pay slightly higher interest, or save you money in other ways.