Making smart financial decisions is easy if you know where to start. To help, here are 100 ways to improve your finances (most in under 10 minutes).
To commemorate the 100th episode of the Dough Roller podcast, I pulled together 100 ways to improve your finances. Let’s get started.
1. Balance your checkbook: Balancing a checkbook helps you focus on where you’ve spent your money and it ensures your bank hasn’t made any mistakes. With the help of budgeting tools such as YNAB, it takes just a few minutes.
2. Learn something new: With sites like Coursera and Udemy, continuing your education is as easy and inexpensive as ever. My next class? Introduction to Computational Finance and Financial Econometrics at Coursera.
3. Check the costs of your mutual funds: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; investing costs matter. Keep the cost of your mutual funds and ETFs as low as possible. The first step is knowing just how much you are paying. Tools like Morningstar make it easy to find this information.
4. Use an investment aggregation tool: These free tools make managing your investments a snap. They are especially helpful if you have investments at more than one broker or mutual fund company. My favorite is Personal Capital, although there are plenty of options available.
5. Track at least one expense category for a month: Budgeting doesn’t mean you have to track every dime. Pick one category of spending that you think is a problem area, and track it for a month. The results will surprise you.
6. compare car insurance rates once a year: Car insurance is a commodity, and rates can vary significantly from one company to another. It’s easy to compare car insurance online, so take a few minutes each year to make sure you are getting the best deal.
7. Ask your car insurance agent for available discounts: There are a ton of discounts available for car insurance. Chances are there are some you are not taking advantage of. The easiest way to make sure is to call your insurance agent. Now that’s a 15 minute phone call that could save you a bundle. Read: 15 Auto Insurance Discounts You May be Missing
8. Use a high yield savings account for your emergency fund: While interest rates remain at historic lows, there’s no reason to earn 0.10% on a savings account. Online banks offer rates of nearly 1% today. While these rates won’t make you rich, why settle for less? Read: List of high yield savings account options
9. Write down your investment policy (a.k.a. asset allocation plan): An asset allocation plan helps you base your investing decisions on clear objectives, not emotions. A simple way to make sure emotions don’t cloud your judgment is to write down your asset allocation plan. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; a simple email to yourself will suffice. Read: How to Create an Asset Allocation Plan
10. See if you can refinance your mortgage: A mortgage refi to lower your interest rates is one of the best ways to save money. It doesn’t involve sacrificing your lifestyle, and the savings over the years can be substantial. Read: When to Refinance Your Mortgage
11. Get your free credit report: Getting access to your credit report is simple and free. Taking a few minutes to make sure there are no errors not only can increase your credit score, but it can also put you on notice of potential identity theft. Read: How to Get Your Free Credit Report
12. Check your credit score: Your free credit report does not come with your credit score. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get access to your credit score for free or little cost. Particularly if you plan to borrow money soon, keeping an eye on your credit score can help you improve it. A high score can result in much lower interest rates on your next loan. Read: Where to Get Your Free Credit Score
13. Map out your debt: The very first step to getting out of debt is to have a clear picture of the situation. Write down each creditor you owe, the balance, interest rate, and minimum monthly payment. Just seeing all of this in one place starts the process of gaining control of the situation. Of course, it’s just the start. Read: How to Get out of Debt and 23 Tools to Help You Get Out of Debt Fast
14. Take advantage of online tools: There are a lot of free and low cost online tools that can help you with your finances. From managing your investments to creating a budget, there is a tool for just about every aspect of personal finance and investing: Read: 22 of the Best Tools to Manage Your Money
15. Redirect extra cash to your high rate debt: There’s a debate between whether you should pay off your smallest balance debts first (debt snowball) or the debt with the highest interest rates (debt avalanche). While both approaches work, tackle your highest interest rate debt first if at all possible. It get’s you out of debt faster and for less money.
16. Use a 0% credit card to lower your interest rates: Transferring high interest credit card debt to a 0% card can supercharge your get out of debt strategy. Read: List of 0% Balance Transfer Cards and 10 Tips to Using Balance Transfer Credit Cards to Get Out of Debt
17. Read, read, read: When it comes to personal finance and investing, you can’t have too much knowledge. Make reading and learning a lifelong journey.
18. Your Money or Your Life: This book is excellent at putting money in perspective. It is a must read for everybody, but particularly those just starting out.
19. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover: Nobody motivates people to get out of and stay out of debt than Dave Ramsey. His Total Money Makeover has helped millions of people improve their finances. If you are drowning in debt, it’s a book you have to read.
20. All About Asset Allocation: This book by Rick Ferri makes the case for low cost index investing. If you are new to investing, it’s the place to start.
21. Raise your insurance deductibles: This is a common way to cut back on the cost of insurance. So long as you can cover the higher deductibles, the cost of insurance can come down significantly.
22. Check your withholdings: Using this calculated from the IRS to make sure your withholdings are set correctly. You don’t want to owe money at the end of the year. You also don’t want to give the government an interest-free loan.
23. Use a cash back credit card: We put every purchase on a cash back card. It’s a simple way to earn rewards and to protect our debit card linked checking account from theft.
24. Consider a backdoor Roth: If your income and workplace retirement options disqualify you from deducting IRA contributions or opening a Roth IRA, consider a strategy that has become known as the backdoor Roth. We covered this strategy in Podcast 40.
25. Pay your bills on time, always: As Tom Quinn of FICO informed us in Podcast 2, a late payment stays on your credit report for 7 years.
26. Use a money management tool: There are a number of very good budgeting tools that can help you manage your money. YNAB is my favorite, but other popular choices include Mint and Quicken.
27. Set 3 financial goals: As we covered in Podcast 9, setting clear financial goals helps you focus your priorities and make progress. Pick three critical goals, and for each one, write down the first concrete step you need to take to accomplish the goal.
28. Start tracking your net worth: Your net worth gives you the clearest picture of your finances. Track your net worth to see your progress. Read: How to Track Your Net Worth
29. Use the power of the debt snowball: Simply put, it is the best way to get out of debt. If you are just making the minimum payments every month, this strategy is a must: Read: How to Use the Debt Snowball
30. Set aside fun money: Personal finance isn’t all about saving and investing. Make sure you include entertainment in your budget.
31. Write down your plan to rebalance your investments Just like a written asset allocation plan is important, so is a plan to keep your investments on track. Read: How to Rebalance Your Portfolio
32. Calculate your debt ratio: Take the minimum monthly payments on all of your non-mortgage debt and divide it by your monthly net income. The result is your debt ratio, which ideally, should be less than 20%.
33. Calculate your front-end and back-end ratios: To get a picture of whether your monthly mortgage payment or all of your debt is too much, calculate these ratios.
34. Automate your finances: Automating your finances reduces the time you have to spend managing your money and makes it less likely that you’ll miss a payment. Read: 5 Ways to Automate Your Finances
35. Check to see if you can get rid of PMI: PMI is insurance on your mortgage you’d rather not have to pay. If you have PMI, contact your lender to understand what steps you need to take to get rid of it.
36. Select and use a cash back website: These sites can help you earn cash back on virtually ever online purchase: Read: 5 Best Cash Back Online Shopping Sites
37. Switch to a prepaid cell phone: You can save a bundle and get out from under 2-year contracts at the same time. Read: 15 Ways to Slash Your Cell Phone Bill
38. Max your retirement savings if you can: It may take some time, but work toward contributing the max to your 401k and IRA plans.
39. Consider an HSA as a retirement savings vehicle: A Health Savings Account, as we discussed in Podcast 67, can actually help you save for retirement.
40. Refinance your student loans: As with any date, lowering the rate can save you a substantial amount of money. In the case of student loans, check out SoFi to see if you can refinance your student loans.
41. Going to college with a plan: While a college degree was once a ticket to a better paying job, that’s not as true today. Make sure you have a plan in place before going to college as to how you’ll use your degree. Otherwise, you could be stuck with school debt and no job to pay back the loans.
42. Consolidate investment accounts if you can: Having your investments in as few accounts as possible makes managing your investments much easier. Trust me, rebalancing your investments across 8 different accounts is a real chore.
43. Declutter & Sell your stuff: We’ve started to sell items on eBay and Craigslist that we no longer need or want. Not only does this generate some extra cash, but it declutters our home. Admittedly we have a long way to go.
44. Set up a budget: Even if you think you don’t need one, tracking your spending will reveal things about your finances you can’t otherwise know. And with tools like YNAB, it’s extremely easy to do.
45. Talk to your significant other about your finances: Even if it’s just once a quarter, make sure you are both on the same page with your finances. If nothing else, review your investments and other key financial priorities.
46. Get a will: If you don’t have a will, contact a lawyer to start the process of planning your estate. This is an easy one to let go, but failure to prepare a proper will can cause significant problems for your family.
47. Get a medical directive: An Advanced Medical Directive dictates the medical care you want should you be unable to make decisions for yourself. It’s a difficult topic to address for many, but covering these issues now when you are able will help both you and your family should the unthinkable happen.
48. Create a list of important papers: In the event of your passing, loved ones will need to get access to your important papers. From wills to a list of investment accounts to passwords, you’ll want to make sure that these items are available to those who will need them.
49. Take an inventory of your stuff for insurance purposes: The easiest way is to take pictures. With a smartphone this can be a very easy process. Contact your insurance agent to understand exactly what you need to document for purposes of insurance coverage.
50. Use LastPass for passwords: To protect your online accounts, it’s best to use very complicated passwords and to never use the same password twice. The problem is that these passwords are impossible to remember unless you are Rain Man. Tools such as LastPass can make managing your passwords a snap.
51. Budget monthly for periodic expenses: From insurance to vacations to gifts, there are a number of expenses that come due once or twice a year. To plan for these expenses, calculate the annual cost, divide by 12, and save this amount each month. Read: 7 Ways to Budget Like a Zen Master
52. Start a 529 for your child’s education: 529 plans are a great way to save for a child’s education given the tax advantages of these accounts. The key is to start saving early.
53. Think twice before co-signing for your child’s school loans: This tip could apply to any type of loan. While it’s natural to want to help your children, remember that you could be on the hook for this debt if your child is unable to pay back the loan.
54. Use smartphone apps for banking: The smartphone apps today enable you to check your balance, transfer funds, and even deposit checks. We use the Capital One 360 app, and it’s fantastic.
55. Ask for better deals: It’s a simple thing to do. Just ask for better deals. We’ve had the interest rate lowered on a home equity line reduced, the cost of trash service reduced, and the cost of cable reduced, all by just asking.
56. Re-evaluate your cable package: I still remember the day when TV was free. All in the Family was a big hit back then. Today, cable packages can be a significant expense item for many families. Work to lower the cost by reducing the package or shopping around for better deals. Read: How to Ditch Cable Without Starving for Entertainment
57. Use flexible spending accounts: These accounts can help you pay for medical expenses on a pre-tax basis. FSAs are limited to $2,500 a year.
58. Take advantage of the catch-up contribution limits if you are 50 or older: Once you hit age 50, you can contribute more to both a 401k and an IRA. Called a catch-up contribution, this increases your limits in 2014 by $1,000 for an IRA and $5,500 for a 401k.
59. Determine your marginal tax rate: Your marginal tax rate helps you understand the benefits of retirement plan contributions and other deductions. It also helps you understand that taxes on extra income you may make. If you are considering a Roth IRA or 401k, your marginal rate can also help you undertake that analysis.
60. Use virus protection software on your computers: With hackers becoming more and more of a problem, it’s important to make sure your computers are as secure as possible.
61. Backup your computers: Having lost data in the past, I’ve learned the hard way the importance of backing up your computers. Cloud based backup options from dropbox and others are ideal.
62. Subscribe to this podcast: You didn’t expect me to ignore my own podcast, did you? You can subscribe on iTunes. And feel free to leave a review, too!
63. Mentally prepare for a bear market: As Mike Tyson has said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. The same is true with investing. Still, try to image how you’ll react if your portfolio drops by 30 or 40%. Actually translate the percentage to dollars. Would you stick to your plan?
64. Make a daily plan: This is something I’ve recently started to do. Long term goals are important, but want do you plan to accomplish tomorrow? Long term goals are met one day at a time. So make sure each day gets you closer to your goals.
65. Write down 10 things you are grateful for: It puts us in the right perspective and forces us to appreciate what we already have.
66. Contribute enough to your 401k to take advantage of your company’s matching contributions: If you have reached this goal yet, you are passing up free money. Make this goal a priority.
67. See if you are on track to retire: Using money ratios that we covered in Podcast 31, you can easily check to see if you are on target to retire.
68. Give stuff away: We give items to charities that come to our home to collect them. It’s extremely easy, we get a tax deduction, it helps worthy causes, and we declutter our home.
69. Check your social security benefits: It’s easy to do on the Social Security website and can help you with retirement planning.
70. Conduct a home energy audit: This is a great way to save money and lesson our impact on the environment. In addition, some utilities will conduct a home energy audit for free. Read: A Homeowner’s Guide to Money Saving DIY Home Maintenance
71. Buy a paper scanner: I bought a ScanSnap two years ago and it’s helped me stay organized and eliminate paper. From scanning contracts to receipts, it’s particularly useful if you own a business. Read: 8 Ways a Paper Scanner Makes Life Beautiful
72. Ignore Facebook: This may seem like an odd tip, but Facebook can really spark the “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset. If you find yourself a bit envious as friends post pictures of their perfect life, turn off Facebook.
73. Reinvest dividends and interest: For those that invest in mutual funds, reinvesting dividends is automatic. For individual stocks, it depends on the broker. The key is that reinvesting dividends is a significant part of any long term growth strategy.
74. Don’t drive your wealth: Cars depreciate and are expensive to operate. Keep that in mind the next time you purchase a car.
75. Business owners should talk to a financial professional about retirement plans: I’ve learned from experience just how complex the retirement options are for the self-employed. While there are options for saving significant amounts in tax-advantaged accounts, the rules are complicated. Make sure you get them right.
76. Keep a journal: A journal can take many forms. In the context of finances, a regularly updated net worth statement tells an important story. However you record your financial history, maintaining some record of your progress can help motivate you to keep up the good work (or perhaps act as a kick in the butt).
77. Use Evernote: A great tool to manage virtually every aspect of your life. I use it to save and organize articles about personal finance and investing. It’s a great way to save and organize receipts (the ScanSnap can save directly to Evernote).
78. Use LinkedIn: The Facebook of the business world, LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected to those in your industry, clients, potential clients, and other potential business associates.
79. Update your resume: I keep mine updated all the time. You never know when you’re going to need it.
80. Commit to getting a certification: Additional education can help improve your credentials, make it easier to get a raise, and perhaps land you that next big promotion or new job.
81. Use a donor advised fund for significant giving: These funds enable you to give appreciated stock and other securities with ease. You may get an immediate tax deduction, the funds are invested, and then you can direct which charities receive the funds and when. Both Vanguard and Fidelity offer these options.
82. Think twice before lending money to friends and family: The desire to help is understandable, but the potential consequences can be very challenging.
83. Only insure what you can’t afford to replace: I examine our insurance every year to see if we have too much. From raising our deductibles to lowering the amount of life insurance, we keep premiums down by not over-insuring.
84. Maximize credit card perks: It’s easy to forget about certain credit card benefits that don’t get a lot of press. Many cards offer roadside assistance, extend warranties, and offer other purchase protections.
85. Think twice before buying an extended warranty: They are rarely worth the cost.
86. Get multiple quotes for big purchases: We’ve saved thousands of dollars this year buy getting quotes on a generate and ceiling repair. I’m always amazed at the range of estimates for the same work.
87. Don’t buy checks from your bank: They are usually the most expensive when bought from your bank. There are less expensive alternatives. Read: Where to Buy Cheap Checks Online
88. Don’t put all of your emergency fund in a savings account: While this tip is not for everybody, you can earn more interest by venturing beyond a traditional savings account. Other options include longer term CDs and short term bond funds.
89. Refinance a 30 year mortgage to a 15 year mortgage: This may significantly lower your interest and reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay. The downside is the increased payments, so make sure you can handle the hit to your cash flow. Read: Should You Refinance from a 30-Year to a 15-Year Mortgage?
90. Rethink your life insurance coverage: Life insurance is critical for most families. Determining the proper amount of coverage is as much art as it is science. But as your life circumstances change, make sure to reconsider the amount of coverage you have. You may need to increase or decrease your life insurance.
91. Get a 2nd opinion on financial products sold by commission-based advisors: This is particularly true with expensive annuities and life insurance products.
92. Calculate the weighted average of the cost of your investments: This tells you exactly how much you are paying each year for all of your investments. Tools like Personal Capital and Morningstar can generate this calculation for you.
93. Look to refi EVERY debt you have to a lower interest rate: Refinancing isn’t just limited to mortgages and school loans. Evaluate every debt you have to see if a lower rate is possible. Read: How to refinance any debt
94. Consider the cash flow implications for major financial decisions: It’s often difficult to choose between several personal finance options. Should you get a 30 or 15 year mortgage is just one of many examples. One way to help make the decision more clear is to consider the cash flow implications of each option. How will it affect your monthly budget?
95. Telecommute at least one day a week if you can: It saves you money, hassle and time.
96. Calculate your true hourly wage: I learned this concept from the book, Your Money or Your Life. The idea is add up the total cost of working and the time spent in work-related activities to generate a true hourly wage. The result can be eye-opening.
97. Give back something, somewhere: Whether it’s donations to a charity or commitment of your time to a good cause, give back.
98. Get involved in something related to your profession: There are any number of associations and other organizations that can be beneficial to your career or business. Join at least one and become active.
99. Read the WSJ: I read it every day (except Sunday). It forces you to think beyond your comfort zone.
100. Subscribe to my newsletter: It’s a free newsletter that goes out every Saturday at 7 pm. It’s packed full of links to articles designed to help you make the most of your money. Over 24,000 other subscribers can’t be wrong! Click here to sign up.