13 easy things you can do for a quick financial win
I have a confession. I don't make my bed in the morning.
Some productivity experts say that you need to make your bed in the morning so you get that easy win that sets you up for the day. My easy win is waking up before my kids so I don't get startled awake. Getting startled awake is the absolute worst. That's MY morning win.
But I do like easy wins.
When I have a list of things to do, I tackle this simple ones first. I get the ball rolling and now the whole list seems beatable.
Why not apply this to our money? Do the easy things we need to first, then tackle the harder ones now that our money morale is up.
With that in mind, what are some easy wins you can get right now?
Find Your Missing Money
There are millions upon millions of dollars that never made it back to their owners and now sit in state unclaimed property departments – you can find out if any of it is owed to you by going to MissingMoney.com. Searching takes mere minutes and claiming, as you can imagine with anything involving a government, takes a little bit longer ... but sometimes it's worth it.
How would you like a few thousand of your own dollars back?
Sign up for My Social Security
The Social Security Administration has entered the digital age! You can now sign up for a My Social Security account and see your benefits — aaaand you should do this right now. Before someone else signs up your name, because that's what scammers are trying to do.
Go to SSA.gov and click on the Sign In/ Up link at the top, then pick my Social Security.
Opt Out of Credit Offers
You can stop most unsolicited offers of credit (and insurance) by signing up for OptOutPrescreen, the official site of the consumer credit reporting industry. This can reduce the amount of dangerous junk mail you get (the kind that identity thieves like).
While you're at it, you can opt out of all sorts of junk mail too with theseFTC instructions.
Get a "Big Picture" Financial Dashboard
I like Personal Capital for their financial dashboard and they're the best if you have investments.
If you just want a system to pull your expenses, categorize them, and do some budgeting – go with Mint (I prefer Personal Capital over Mint). If you want a solid budgeting app with a great philosophy behind it, give You Need a Budget a look too.
Either way, having a snapshot of your money at a moment's notice is good. I keep a historical record too in my Net Worth Record Spreadsheet but it's powered by a dashboard.
Unsubscribe from Store Email Lists
Stores are smart. They know that when they email you, you'll open it. Maybe you'll buy something. Maybe you won't.
If they don't send you an email, it's extremely unlikely you will buy something out of the blue. The email is the reminder. And it works!
The best way to stop this from happening is to unsubscribe. You can do it when the emails shows up or sign up for a free service like Unroll.me. It'll look through your email for these types of newsletters and give you an easy way to unsubscribe.
While you're at it, you can opt out of mailed catalogs too with Catalog Choice. It's a free service that will submit catalog unsubscribe requests on your behalf.
This won't put more money in your pocket but it will help keep it there. And save the Earth.
Check Your Credit Reports
Your credit score is important but it's the direct result of what's on your credit report – something you should be reviewing for accuracy every year. You can use the Waterfall Method or just request all three (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at once via AnnualCreditReport.com.
It's very easy, relatively quick, and you should fix problems ASAP no matter how minor they appear. Fixes can take several weeks so don't delay.
Check Your Credit Score
Years ago, you'd have to sign up for some trial for a credit monitoring service, get your score, then cancel.
Nowadays, you can get your credit score for free from places like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, CreditWise from Capital One, Discover, and a few others ... but honestly with four options you don't need any more. Pick one and go.
Renegotiate Your Cable
This applies to any contract in which you are out of contract. Cable is the best example because they're the easiest to negotiate.
When you signed up for cable, you were given a set price for a period of months. Our Verizon contract is for 2 years. If you are no longer under contract, you should be aggressively negotiating it. You don't need cable to live but the cable company needs you to live. Giving you service, when they service your neighbors, costs them pennies (marginal cost).
Collecting a hundred bucks each month from you is like collecting pure profit – which is why they're so easy to negotiate with. Collecting fifty bucks is still collecting pure profit. Their greatest fear is that you decide to cut your cable and find online streaming alternatives instead of cable.
Play this game with any company that has you sign a contract.
Request a Credit Limit Increase
Credit utilization, which is how much of your available credit you are currently using, is one of the factors that influence your FICO credit score. To decrease your utilization, you can request an increase from each of your credit cards.
Do it the right way, without a hard credit pull, and you can see your credit score go up with very little effort.
Rollover Old 401(k)s
Did you move jobs and leave a 401(k) behind? It doesn't take long to roll it over somewhere else that might have better (cheaper) investment options. I personally use Vanguard because they have all the index fund options you need and charge very little in fees (Fidelity is another great alternative). I quickly peek at Personal Capital to see if my allocations are out of whack.
If you don't want to pick your own investments and prefer to pay slightly more to a roboadvisor to pick them for you, Betterment and Wealthfront are good options there too. With Wealthfront, you can get $15,000 managed for free (you still pay the fees of the underlying investments, Wealthfront doesn't charge you on top of that) — you can read our Weathfront review to learn more.
Get a Safe
If your important documents are in a file folder somewhere, get a safe that's rated for fire, flood, and theft. There are two testing companies, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Intertek (ELT), and they rate safes on their ability to withstand heat. You want the safe to protect your stuff in the event of a house fire, which a file folder will not do.
As for theft, small safes are tricky because a thief can just pick them up and run with them. The best option for anti-theft is either a massive safe they cannot steal or hiding it somewhere clever. Avoid those home office supply stores safes because they're junk against theft.
Or go with a safe deposit box at your bank.
Increase Your 401(k) Contribution
Are you getting the maximum match from your employer? If not, you need to get that free money and up your contribution to at least that amount. If you already get the maximum, consider putting more. Even a small increase can boost your retirement savings as it grows.
While you're thinking retirement, have you contributed to your Roth IRA? It's a great vehicle for retirement savings (you contribute after tax dollars but it grows tax free) and eventually you may earn too much to be able to contribute to a Roth.
Tweak Your Withholding
If you got a big tax refund last year, as in more than a few hundred dollars, look into your salary withholding. That's money you should be saving and investing during the year, rather than giving the Treasury Department an interest free loan. It's also money you could be putting to you use. (if you view it as "forced savings," that's fine — just remember to save it come April!)
To adjust your withholding, you need to talk to your human resources folks and submit an updated Form W-4. They can help you do that.
There you have it! Don't stress over asset allocation, rebalancing, or planning your estate — pick some easy jobs and get that ball rolling.
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