You know your finances could use some serious TLC, but you’ve been putting it off… and off… and off.
When you finally do sit down to think about it, you immediately become overwhelmed. Which goal do you attack first? You need a budget, a savings plan, a debt-repayment strategy, a better credit score, a plan for retirement and… oh, you’re running away again, aren’t you?
Calm down and come back. To tackle big goals, you have to start small.
Simple Money Management Steps to Take Today
Here are a few simple steps you can take today to get your finances under control and start working toward a healthier financial future.
1. Have a Cup of Coffee and Assess the Damage
Did you know that around 20% of consumers have an error on their credit report that is likely bringing down their score? And those poor scores can hinder every part of your financial wellness.
Banks and credit card companies aren’t the only ones that look at your credit score. You’ll have to authorize a credit check when you want to move into a new apartment, rent a car with a debit card or buy a new phone.
That’s why we always suggest starting with a peek at your credit score — specifically from somewhere that can let you know if there’s anything to be concerned about.
Even better if it’s free.
The credit report card from Credit Sesame does all that, and it’s free. The report lays out all your unpaid debts, any delinquencies and steps you can take if you want to improve your credit score.
You can also opt to receive alerts when your your credit score rises or falls so you can take necessary action (or celebrate with a happy dance).
2. Cut Your Interest Rates Like a Pro
A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation or refinancing might be worth a look.
A good resource is the platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.
Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.
Lowering the interest rate on your debt could save you thousands over the life of the loan, which is more money you’ll have to make your next big move.
3. Build Your Savings Without Trying
Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn’t even notice?
Digit makes that possible.
This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.
Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $5 just for signing up! Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.
Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.
If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.
Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.
4. Get Rewarded for Paying Your Bills on Time
Your mom probably gave you an allowance for washing the dishes and sweeping the floor when you were a kid. Now all you get for doing it is a kitchen that’s clean for, like, 15 minutes.
As an adult, you don’t typically get rewards for doing things that are expected of you… until now.
This invention kind of rules them all: MoneyLion, a free all-in-one app for managing your personal finances.
MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits and will literally pay you for logging onto the app.
You can earn points in the rewards program by paying bills on time, connecting your bank account or downloading the mobile app.
You can redeem those points for gift cards to retailers like Amazon, Apple and Walmart.
If credit cards aren’t your thing, MoneyLion is like having a rewards credit card without the temptation to overspend.
The app also connects with all your bank, credit card, student loan and other financial accounts. Based on your income and spending patterns, it offers personalized advice to help you save money, reduce your debt and improve your credit.
5. Make More Money — Without More Time
We’ve got no shortage of smart ways to earn extra money without doing extra work, but here are some you can actually start right now.
Sign up for these sites to start earning extra money every month — without any extra work!
- Paribus: This app gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
- MobileXpression for Android: After you’ve installed this app for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). We’ve seen users win a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads and Samsung TVs.
- Ibotta: This app pays you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts. Before shopping, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes. Bam. Cash back. Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.
- MyPoints: This platform lets you earn gift cards for taking polls, answering surveys and other things you do online — a great way to cash in on long lines or an endless commute. You’ll earn a $5 bonus when you complete your first five surveys.
- InboxDollars offers several short, daily surveys you can take. If you take all of them each day, you could earn an extra $730 a year — not too bad.
- Shopkick: This app pays you in “kicks” for walking into certain stores (including Walmart, Target, TJMaxx and more). You can redeem them for gift cards to retailers, including Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Sephora and Best Buy. Earn more “kicks” for photos of receipts that include qualifying items you bought in-store with a connected credit or debit card. You can also earn kicks for online purchases.
6. Invest in Real Estate (Even If You’re Not Wealthy)
Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? We found a company that helps you do just that.
Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.
Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.
This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios — like a set of townhomes in Snoqualmie, Washington, or an apartment building in Charlotte, North Carolina.
You can earn money through quarterly dividend payments and potential appreciation in the value of your shares, just like a stock. Cash flow typically comes from interest payments and property income (e.g. rent).
(But remember: Investments come with risk. While Fundrise has paid distributions every quarter since at least Q2 2016, dividend and principal payments are never guaranteed.)
You’ll pay a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee.
7. Grow Your Money and Support Causes You Care About
Investing can be a great way to grow your money, but have you carefully considered which companies you’re willing to back? Their morals and values? You probably wouldn’t want to invest in a company that’s destroying our oceans or cheating the system.
Impact investing is a simple fix. It adds a new layer of transparency to investing. Take Swell Investing, an SEC-registered investment advisor.
Swell offers investors (beginners to advanced) the chance to invest in high-growth companies committed to solving global challenges. “Swell is built on a belief that today’s biggest challenges will result in tomorrow’s leading industries,” its website says. And it makes cents — err, sense.
You can start with just $50 and invest in portfolios committed to clean water, zero waste, renewable energy or disease eradication, to name a few.
The portfolios aren’t just clouded with these do-good names. Interested investors can tap into each to learn more about the portfolio’s trends, performance and companies.
Swell doesn’t have any trading fees, price tiers or expense ratios. It does charge a 0.75% annual fee — that’s about the cost of one coffee ($3.75) per year if you invest $500.
Really, impact investing is a solid way to help tackle the world’s biggest challenges — while you face perhaps your biggest challenge: saving for retirement.
Get started with Swell by signing up with your email address here.
Disclosure: We have a financial relationship with Swell Investing LLC and will be compensated if consumers apply for an account and/or fund an account with Swell through links in our content. However, the analysis and opinions expressed here are our own.
8. Never Get Slapped With a Late Fee Again
While it’s best practice to set up autopay for your bills, sometimes it’s just not possible. You’re either not making enough to plan for paying bills, or the company’s still living in the Stone Age, where there’s no automatic billing.
For those situations, it’d be nice to just sync them all and receive automatic reminders each month, right?
Rather than manually penciling bills into your calendar, download the free Prism app. The app lets you connect all your accounts — and even pay all your bills — in one spot. Once you’re connected, it’ll automatically sync your bill info and set up reminders for you.
Turn on notifications to get payday reminders and notices when your water bill is due, for example. This will help you plan your month and avoid any late fees. And because you’re making these payments on time, it could even boost your credit score.
9. Mark Your “Debt-Free Day” on Your Calendar
Unfortunately, many of us carry some amount of debt around.
But it’s time to relieve that burden — and avoid funneling money toward insane interest rates that quickly add up month to month.
Trim is an all-in-one money-saving tool that lives in your computer or smartphone. When you sign up with your email or Facebook account, you’ll gain access to a number of powerful features, including its debt payoff calculator.
No need to remember passwords or connect each debt-carrying account. Simply type in your remaining balances, interest rates and minimum payments. As you play with monthly payment numbers, you’ll notice your debt-free date and total interest will change.
Once you land on a monthly payment you can handle, mark your debt-free date on your calendar and plan to celebrate!
10. Play the Slots — and Earn More Interest Than at Your Bank
For most, saving money is the furthest thing from fun. After all, it means you’re taking money away from cool stuff you want to do today and putting it toward adult things like buying a home, your next vacation or an emergency fund.
But we found an app that makes saving actually fun. It’s called WinWin Saving. Let us explain…
First, download the app (for iOS only). WinWin will walk you through how it all works, but here’s the gist: You’ll connect your bank account and set up an automatic amount to stick into your WinWin Savings account.
Plus you can play games (think: classics like pinball and breakout) for chances to win more money to boost your savings.
So you’re saving money without thinking about it — and playing for a chance to win even more. Fun, right?
The app is free to download. You can use it for 60 days free, then it costs $2 per month after that. Note: You can withdraw your money or cancel your account at any time.
Pro tip: If you’re having trouble getting the pinball into the right hole, tap the pause button at the top-left side of your screen. Turn on easy mode.
11. Invest Your Spare Change — and Get a $5 Bonus
If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself, consider starting an investment account through Acorns.
You can start small — with $5 — and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.
Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.
The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. And the sooner you start, the more you could potentially make. For example, Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate that would let her stash $420 away per year.
At that rate, you could set aside $1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.
But the beauty is you can set your own pace with Acorns’ features, so if you want — and can afford — to invest $1,000 faster, go for it.
The app is $1 a month for balances under $5,000, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.
12. Find out Whether You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance
For many, car insurance is just one of those things where we cave in and pay. Because, just like the electric bill and phone service, we need it, right?
Yes. There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year. Less than 50% of us do that, according to this survey from The Zebra, though 81% of us report wanting lower rates.
So, just like you compare the prices of flights, shoes and laptops before purchasing, why not compare car insurance?
The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.
Here’s how it works:
1. Head over to The Zebra’s search platform. Enter your car’s year, make and model, and your zip code. Continue on to answer questions about your driving habits, your car and your life.
On the right sidebar, you’ll watch rates increase or decrease based on your answers. For example, if you’ve gotten into an accident — that was your fault — in the past three years, your rates will kick up. It’s interesting to see what effect your answers might have.
2. After answering some questions, it’s time to compare. The Zebra gives you an “Insurability Score,” which is similar to your credit score except it’s for car insurance, and it teaches you how to get better rates. The site also gives you different options for coverage.
When you’re ready to consider your options and select a quote, you can also receive a phone call from The Zebra for additional support.
A nice representative (a real, live human) on the line asks if you want to speak with a specialist. If you’re truly interested in car insurance and want to ask all the questions, this could be the perfect time.
Otherwise, just keep shoppin’ around and weighing options through The Zebra.
13. Take 10 Minutes to Protect Your Family’s Future
Many of us would rather not think about death — let alone life insurance.
However, securing life insurance is an important financial move, especially if you’re married, have kids or are in your prime earning years. It pays your dependents when you die, which can help pay for your funeral, mortgage or other debt.
So if “get life insurance” has lingered on your to-do list far too long, take the next 10 minutes to figure it out. Don’t worry — it’s way easier than you think.
If you’re young and mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $30 a month could get your family $1 million of coverage.
Anyone, including independent contractors, can secure term life insurance through Ethos without a medical exam or extensive paperwork; just fill out a digital application.
If you prefer more options, head over to Policygenius. The search engine allows you to compare life insurance with instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.
Bonus: Set Your Kids up for Financial Success
Instead of giving your kids toys or gift cards on birthdays and holidays, use the opportunity to help them save toward big goals.
Through a site called Goalsetter, parents, relatives and friends can give kids digital “GoalCards” (with cute, animated e-cards) that put money toward their goals. Save for the big stuff, like college, or smaller stuff, like an iPad.
You can also help with ongoing saving. Weekly or monthly, you can automatically transfer a little cash out of your checking account to your kid’s Goalsetter account.
It’s free to set up a Goalsetter account that you can share with family and friends, and only takes about five minutes. It costs $1 per kid per month for parents to start auto-saving, and gift-givers pay a fee per gift (based on the amount of the gift).
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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