Whether you’re looking to pay off your student loans, save for a down payment on a car, or catch-up on retirement, the only way you’ll reach these goals is by improving your finances with a few simple money fixes. Despite the misconception, though, you don’t have to turn your life upside down. In fact, you can make simple money adjustments in under 30-minutes or less.
Don’t believe me? Here are 15 quick fixes that will prove otherwise.
1. Review (or Create) Your Monthly Budget
According to Debt.com’s 2020 Budgeting Survey, 8 in 10 Americans use a budget. That’s a solid 10 percent increase from the last two years. Despite this encouraging news, there are still a lot of people who aren’t on board.
What age group uses a budget the most? Well, here’s what the Debt.com survey:
- 18-24: 76 percent
- 25-34: 81 percent
- 35- 44: 79 percent
- 45-54: 76 percent
- 55-64: 79 percent
- 64+: 82 percent
As you can see, there’s still work to be done here. Not to be an alchemist here, but this is especially true with the 45 to 54-year-olds. I mean, how is that 24 percent of you so close to retirement aren’t budgeting?
Even if you have a monthly budget, you may want to take a couple of minutes and make sure that it still fits. For example, if you recently became a parent, you definitely need to update your monthly budget. Now you will add into your account the cost of the newest member of your family.
While this may seem like a time-consuming and overwhelming task, we’ve got you covered.
2. Plan a Monthly Menu
Obviously, you have to eat. But, food is arguably the biggest budget buster. In fact, Americans spent an average of 9.7 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food —divided between food at home (5 percent) and away from home (4.7 percent)–in 2018.
If you believe that you’re spending too much on food, a simple fix would be to develop a monthly menu. It’s an effective way for you only to buy what you need. If that’s too much, try making use of a meal planning service like Plate Joy or eMeals.
Also, make sure to plan for your lunches. I know the brown bag can get boring. But, it’s another way to limit how much you eat out.
A comprise here would be to purchase a gift, like a reloadable Visa card or one to your favorite restaurant. You would only use this when you want to eat out. But, once it’s out of funds for the month, that means you go back to making your own meals.
3. Download an App
Regardless if you an Apple or Android user, there are thousands of apps available that can help you improve your finances. To save you the trouble of spending hours upon hours in the App Store or Google Play, here are some personal finance apps worth your consideration:
- Personal Capital
In addition to the budgeting tools listed above, you could download investing apps like Acorns. And, definitely, don’t overlook apps like Rakuten or Honey to earn cashback or land the best deals.
4. Never Pay Overdraft Fees Again
It’s happened to most of us at some point. You’re waiting for a check to clear while autopayments go to make a withdrawal. Next thing you know, you’re slapped with an overdraft fee.
Overdraft fees aren’t just frustrating; they’re one of the most expensive fees that banks charges. They can actually range from $20 to $39 per item. But, there is a way around this.
Contact your bank; it’s probably easiest to go on their website to see if you can link your checking account to a savings account. So, on the off-chance that you draw too much from your checking account, the bank will automatically transfer money from your savings.
You could use switch checking accounts that have either a low or no overdraft fee. Examples include Capital One 360, Chime, Discover, Simple, Charles Schwab, and TIAA Bank.
5. Pull Up Your Credit Score/Report
When was the last time that you looked at your credit score or report? Not sure? That’s a huge mistake.
“One of the major factors lenders consider when you apply to borrow money is your credit score,” the Chime team wrote for a previous Due article. “So, keeping an eye on your credit score should be part of your financial plan.”
Thankfully, “there are several free credit monitoring services that can help you keep track of your score, including Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. These services can also show you which factors go into your score and how you’re doing with each.” So, if you notice that “your score is low, you can then understand what you need to do to improve it.”
“What’s more, if you notice a big drop but haven’t done anything wrong lately, it might be because of an error or fraudulent activity.” the authors add.
Additionally, make it a point also to check your credit report regularly. “You can get a free copy of each of your three credit reports each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.” If something looks out of order, report it to the credit bureaus.
6. Audit Your Credit Cards
Credit cards can be helpful and convenient. But, if you have too many cards or a high balance, that can be detrimental to your credit score.
Ideally, you should use only 30 percent of your limit. So, if you have a card with a $6,500 and are carrying a $1,500 balance, then you would be at 23 percent. That means you’re in the clear.
This is known as credit utilization. But is there any truth to it? NerdWallet states, “there is no certain credit utilization ratio that will make or break your credit score. Below 30 percent is a good guideline for most consumers, and lower is better for your score.”
Despite this being more of a guideline, there are ways to reduce your credit card debt:
- Consolidate what you can.
- Negotiate your rates.
- Focus on your high-interest debt first.
- Commit to avoid new credit lines.
- Acquire new sources of income to knock-off your debt faster.
There is a fun part to this through. When evaluating your credit cards, check out the rewards you’ve earned. You may be able to use them towards something that you would purchase anyway, like a vacation with you and your significant other.
7. Lower Your Bills
Before rolling your eyes, you should realize that this is much easier than you may think. In fact, if you block out a couple of minutes to do this, you may end-up savings thousands of dollars. You can then use that to pay off any debt or stash away into savings.
Ben Kurland, the co-founder of BillFixers, told CNBC that there’s a fail-safe method to lower your monthly bills by a solid 20 percent:
Do your research
“If you know what the prices are of the competitors in the area, you can come better armed when you negotiate,” says Ben. “So if the rep tells you that you already have the absolute lowest rate, you can say you found a competitor online for $30 less.”
Call between 9 am and 5 pm
“People are used to calling their cable or internet provider after hours or on weekends when they have free time, but that’s when everyone else is calling.,” says Ben. Believe it or not, reps may not be overwhelmed during regular business hours.
Say that you’re canceling the service
“Retention or loyalty departments tend to have access to some of the best discounts,” he adds. “If you speak to somebody in customer service or billing or technical support, they have minimal access to the discounts and promotions that are available.”
However, “if you go through the process like you’re canceling, those people have all sorts of special deals, and they will try to entice you to stay.”
Always be friendly
“It really is true that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” says Ben. “The reps for these companies basically have total control which discounts and promotions they are going to offer you, so if you are one of the people who call up and screams at them and throws a fit, they are going to say, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.’”
“Reps, in general, tend to make a lot of mistakes when you are negotiating your own bill, and they will also flat-out lie to you,” says Ben. “So when you get told there’s nothing better they can do, it’s worth your while to call back and try again.”
“Even if you get told there are savings, it’s very common for someone to get their next bill and find absolutely nothing has changed,” he says.
Also, remember that app Trim you downloaded? It will automatically search for and negotiate the best deals for you.
8. Cancel Subscriptions and Memberships
When you created or evaluated your budget, hopefully, you spotted some unnecessary expenses. The usual suspects are recurring subscriptions and memberships. Examples include everything from magazines to streaming services to gym memberships.
What you aren’t using, cancel. If money is really tight, you might want to cancel everything until you’re in better shape. For the time being, you could turn to free options like watching YouTube videos or asking to mooch off a friend—make sure to thank them eventually.
9. Set-and-Forget Your Savings
Automating your savings ensures that you won’t spend everything in your pocket. That money can then be used more wisely, like bulking-up your emergency fund. It also makes budgeting less painful and will save you a ton of time.
To get started, here are 5-steps to automate your savings if you haven’t done so yet:
- Open multiple accounts so that you have money in the following buckets: spending and bills (checking), emergency fund (high-yield savings account), long-term goals (investment account), short-term goals (high-yield savings account or money market fund) and a fixed annuity.
- Determine your contributions, such as automatically transferring 15 percent of every paycheck into a 401(k).
- Set up your transfers, like having your employer direct deposit transfer a portion of your paycheck to a savings account.
- Round up the change. Chime, for example, will round-up the purchases that you make using your debit card. So, if you spent $4.75. It would round-up to $5 and place the 25 cents into a savings account.
- Slowly increase your contributions. For instance, if you received a raise, then that extra money would be used to increase your contributions without changing anything.
10. Cash-in Loose Change
Whether you have a coin jar or loose change floating around your car or home, why not cash it into something more useful. I did this last summer and was shocked to find that I had over $200! I immediately put that into a savings account that’s been earning interest ever since.
You may be able to do this at your local bank for free if you a customer. There’s also Coinstar kiosks at most grocery stores. They charge a fee, but if you opt to redeem a gift somewhere like Amazon, it’s free.
However, COVID-19 has created a coin shortage. As a result, some banks are paying a bonus for people to bring in their spare change.
11. Make Lists…Lots of Lists
When you have some downtime, grab a pen and your notebook. Or, you could open up a notepad on your phone. Either one will suffice.
Another suggestion would be to have a list of free things to do. Even if you don’t do all of these activities, I do this when I’m bored. Usually, that’s when I’m tempted to spend money online carelessly.
Your list could include visiting the library, museum, park, or volunteering. You could also read, draw, or reorganize your closet. The latter is a double whammy since you could sell any unwanted items.
12. Reevaluate Your Savings and Retirement Accounts
Obviously, having a savings account is better than nothing. But, are you getting the most bang for your buck?
To make sure, head over to DepositAccounts. When there, enter your state, the amount in savings, and the expected investment timeframe. After entering this information, the tool will generate a list of high-interest account options in various categories like “Keep It Simple” (a single savings account) and “Mix and Match” (dividing between a savings and certificate of deposit).
While you’re at it, make sure that you’re on track to reach your retirement target. If not, you may need to increase your contributions or look into investment opportunities like real estate.
13. Cut Investment Fees
Tired of those sneaky and expensive investment fees? You can link your investment accounts to FeeX or Personal Captial to receive a clear breakdown of all the charges you’ve been paying, like an underlying mutual fund and ETF expenses and trading commissions.
These free tools will then recommend similar and lower-fee investments.
14. Improve Your Financial Literacy
Every single day you should do something to improve your financial literacy. For example, you could watch the 8-minute long YouTube video below. It’ll teach you how to reduce your expenses, read a book for 15-minutes before bed, or listen to a podcast while exercising.
15. Schedule an Appointment With Your Financial Advisor
Just like visiting your physician for a checkup, they will make sure you’re in good financial health. If they have concerns, they will make suggestions on how to get back into tiptop shape.
By John Rampton
The Epoch Times Copyright © 2022 The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors. They are meant for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation. The Epoch Times does not provide investment, tax, legal, financial planning, estate planning, or any other personal finance advice. The Epoch Times holds no liability for the accuracy or timeliness of the information provided.