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How much time do you spend on your finances each week? A couple of hours? Or do you rarely spend any time at all?
Many shy away from what appears to be a daunting task for a number of reasons, including fear, time constraints and, in some cases, laziness.
Regardless of the excuse, one thing’s for certain: Choosing to be involved can save you a ton of time, money and headaches in the long run.
They say that if you take care of your money, it’ll take care of you. Unfortunately, the saying goes both ways. If you refuse to get your financial house in order, there’s a strong chance it may eventually come crashing down. Don’t believe me? Just think about those individuals who were once wealthy, but lost it all.
Following are 10 small money moves that make a big difference:
1. Modify your spending habits
This one is a no-brainer. Still, many people complain about not having enough money to make ends meet, yet refuse to cut back on variable expenses. Can’t think of anything to cut back on? Try those quick runs to the nearest fast-food joint, frequent movie nights, daily trips to Starbucks or cable upgrades, just to name a few.
You can also improve your spending habits by shopping smarter. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Buy secondhand. Craigslist and garage sales are my best friends when I’m searching for big-ticket items because I simply refuse to pay full price. In fact, I’ve saved more than 50 percent in some instances on items that would have easily cost more than $1,000 in the store.
- Bargain shop. You can also reduce your spending drastically by avoiding full-priced items in the store. I can’t remember the last time I paid retail for a piece of clothing; the clearance rack is my best friend. This may seem difficult initially, but the best way to avoid temptation is to embed in your brain the following: “If it’s not on sale or clearance, I’m not buying it.” Sounds corny, but it works!
- Never pay full price. As I said before, avoid the regular-priced racks altogether. Also, check online for promotional offers and check the store policies to see if they allow price matching. (You may have to dig deep because some retailers don’t openly advertise their policy.)
2. Create a spending plan
Having a hard time keeping your spending under control? A budget will do the trick and help you spend less than you make. Develop a concrete set of figures by which you will dictate where your money goes each month.
Track what you spend for at least two weeks to gauge your actual spending patterns. A free online service like our partner Powerwallet can track expenses for you.
Determine if your expenses exceed your income, and make cuts if necessary. Decide which financial goals you want to accomplish first.
For additional tips to get you started, take a look at “How to Develop an Effortless Budget You’ll Stick To.”
3. Open a savings account
If you haven’t already done so, contact your financial institution to open a savings account. If you already have completed this important step, but still struggle with increasing the balance:
- Allocate a percentage of your monthly income to your stash, either manually or electronically. The latter may work best to guarantee that you won’t be tempted to skip a month.
- Make a plan for irregular income before you receive it. Still expecting a hefty tax refund? Or even better, has management decided to hand out raises at your job? Saving this cash is a great way to boost your emergency fund.
Also, check out “9 Ways to Build an Emergency Fund When Money’s Tight.”
4. Be vigilant of your account activity at all times
Haven’t paid much attention to your statements in the past? Now’s the time to start as identity theft is at an all-time high, and your account activity may serve as the first indicator that you have been victimized.
Start by reviewing the activity on both your bank and credit accounts at least once a week, and review the comprehensive statement when you receive it at the end of the month.
5. Check your credit
Reviewing your credit report takes only a few minutes, yet so many choose not to do so. Would you want to end up with a higher interest rate on a loan because of a mistake on a credit report that lowered your credit score — a mistake that could have been corrected with a quick call or letter to the creditor?
According to the Federal Trade Commission:
A Federal Trade Commission study of the U.S. credit reporting industry found that 5 percent of consumers had errors on one of their three major credit reports that could lead to them paying more for products such as auto loans and insurance.
Haven’t checked your credit in a while? Head on over to AnnualCreditReport.com.
And once you have done so, check out “How to Read Your Credit Reports.”
6. Gather pertinent documents
Would you be prepared for someone else to handle your affairs if an unforeseen circumstance suddenly arose? If not, now’s the time to gather important documents that pertain to both your finances and health care. These include:
- A will. If you don’t draft this important document and die without one, state laws will determine where your assets go. Is that what you really want?
- A durable power of attorney for finances and for health care. This person will oversee your finances and your medical care if you become incapacitated.
- Life insurance documents. Don’t leave your beneficiaries in the dark about the policies you have.
Of course, each of these documents should be stored in a safe place in your home or in the cloud. Make sure those who will handle your affairs know where to find them.
7. Renegotiate interest rates
Have you tried reaching out to lenders to secure lower interest rates on your debt? You can try to lower your rates in the following ways:
- Request a lower APR on your credit card. Pick up the phone and give the credit card company a ring to see if it can do anything for you. You never know until you ask, and the worst the representative can say is no. And if you’re struggling with managing your credit card debt, check out “8 Smart Ways to Pay Off Debt Fast.”
- Consider refinancing your auto loan and/or mortgage. Depending on the loan, a reduction of a few points could save you thousands of dollars. (See: “Ask Stacy: Should I Refinance My Home?“)
8. Reduce your tax liability
9. Maximize 401(k) contributions
If at all possible, contribute the maximum amount allowable under law to your 401(k), but certainly no less than the amount to capture your employer’s entire match. You definitely don’t want to leave free money on the table.
There are other ways to build retirement funds:
- Explore your options. Don’t have a 401(k) at work? Explore other options like an IRA or a solo 401(k) so you won’t be left scrambling when retirement time rolls around.
- Maximize your Social Security benefits. We explained 13 ways to do that here.
10. Make your money work for you
Are your investments in your 401(k) and other retirement funds getting a decent return? Are the fees taking too much of a bite out of your earnings? Are your investments allocated in a way that’s appropriate for your age and risk tolerance? See: “How to Evaluate Your Retirement Funds in 15 Minutes or Less.”
Also, remember that the earlier you invest, the more time compounding interest will work in your favor.
Does this list sound arduous? Well, I can assure you that if you sacrifice now and make these small money moves, you will reap the benefits of financial fitness in the long run.