Do you spend time focusing on your finances each week? Perhaps fear or time constraints keep you from tackling this important task.
If so, that’s a mistake. Paying closer attention to your wallet can save you a ton of headaches over the long run.
If you take care of money, it’ll take care of you. But if you refuse to get your financial house in order, it may eventually come crashing down. Just think about people who were once wealthy, but then lost it all.
So, seize control of your financial life! Following are 10 small money moves that make a big difference:
1. Modify your spending habits
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Many people complain about not having enough money to make ends meet, yet refuse to cut back on variable expenses. We’re talking about those quick runs to the fast-food joint, frequent movie nights, daily trips to Starbucks or cable upgrades.
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 searching for big-ticket items. I’ve saved more than 50 percent on things that easily would cost more than $1,000 in a store.
- Bargain shop. Never pay full price. The best way to avoid temptation is to remember the following: “If it’s not on sale or clearance, I’m not buying it.” Sounds corny, but it works.
- Educate yourself. Check a store’s policy to see if it allows price matching. You might have to dig deep because some retailers don’t openly advertise their policy. But the effort can really pay off.
2. Use cash-back sites
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When you shop online, use cash-back sites to cut costs on things you need. Websites like Ebates, TopCashback and Ibotta put money back in your wallet every time you shop. For more on this topic, check out “5 Ways to Score Free Gift Cards and Cash in 1 Place.”
3. Create a spending plan
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Having a hard time keeping your spending under control? A budget will help you spend less than you make.
Track what you spend for at least two weeks to gauge your spending patterns. A free online service like our partner YNAB (You Need a Budget) can track expenses for you. Determine whether your expenses exceed your income, and make cuts if necessary.
Decide which financial goals to accomplish first. For additional tips, check out “Budget Your Way to Your Financial Goals in 2018”
4. Open a savings account
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If you haven’t already done so, contact your financial institution to open a savings account. Here are some tips for increasing your balance:
- Allocate a percentage of your monthly income to your stash, either manually or electronically. The latter may work best to guarantee 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? Has management given you a raise at your job? Saving this cash is a great way to boost your emergency fund.
For more on this topic, check out “Struggling to Build an Emergency Fund? Try This Instead.”
5. Be vigilant of your account activity at all times
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Haven’t paid much attention to account statements in the past? Now’s the time to start as identity theft is at an all-time high, and your account activity may be 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 check the comprehensive statement when you receive it at the end of the month.
6. Check your credit
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Reviewing your credit report takes only a few minutes. Correcting mistakes can raise your credit score, helping you get the best interest rate on a loan.
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.”
7. Gather pertinent documents
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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 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.
8. Renegotiate interest rates
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Have you tried reaching out to lenders to secure lower interest rates on your debt? You can try to reduce your rates in the following ways:
- Request a lower APR on your credit card. 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.”
- Consider refinancing your auto loan and/or mortgage. Depending on the loan, a reduction of a few points could save you thousands of dollars. For more, check out “How to Refinance Your Home Before It’s Too Late“
9. Reduce your tax liability
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10. Maximize 401(k) contributions
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Contribute the maximum amount allowable under law to your 401(k), if at all possible, but certainly contribute no less than the amount to receive your employer’s full match. Don’t 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 rolls around.
- Maximize your Social Security benefits. We explain how to do this in “14 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Checks.”
11. Make your money work for you
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Are 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?
Remember, the earlier you invest, the more time compounding interest will work in your favor.
For more tips, check out:
- “7 Tips for Stress-Free Retirement Plan Investing“
- “Ask Stacy: How Do I Invest for Retirement Without Risk?“
Which money moves are on your to-do list? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.
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