A lot of people ignore their financial problems, or their finances in general, because they know they can’t afford to fix everything at once — or, they simply just don’t know where to start.
One of the biggest challenges to improving your financial situation, both now and down the road, is accepting the fact that it won’t happen overnight.
So instead of trying to change everything all at once, start with small steps — small changes and milestones that will get you, and keep you, on the right track. Then each step you take will just be more motivation to keep going, because you will be able to see your progress every month.
By making small changes and better decisions each and every day, you can have a big impact on your future. And before long, you’ll be able to see how all those small steps can add up to big progress!
To help you get started, here is a list of some easy things you can start doing today — and by the time 2018 rolls around, you’ll have a whole new outlook on your financial life!
1. Cancel a subscription or other monthly expense
If you want to get your money in order — both for the short term and the long term — take a look at all of your monthly subscriptions and figure out which ones you don’t really need. Cut at least one. Then next week or next month, cut another one. After a few months, you’ll start to see the difference in your accounts, allowing you to save more and develop better budgeting habits over time.
Here are a few examples of subscriptions you may be able to live without:
- Gym membership: If you go to the gym every day, you may want to keep your membership. Go to the manager and ask about special offers to decrease what you’re paying. You can also shop around for better prices at other gyms — then take a better price offer to your current gym and ask for a decrease in your membership fee. Also check out these 8 ways to save on a gym membership.
- TV: Here’s a list of several alternatives.
- Magazine subscription
- Other: Are there any monthly/annual subscriptions (like Netflix or Amazon Prime) that you can cut and share with someone in your family? By sharing the account, you cut the cost in half!
Read more: 19 ways to cut costs and save more
2. Lower a monthly bill
A lot of people don’t realize they can lower their existing monthly bills just by doing a little negotiating. Many people can even get their credit card interest rate lowered — just by asking!
3. Increase your 401(k) contributions
Log on to your 401(k) or other retirement account online and increase the amount you’re contributing each year. A boost of just 1% is probably small enough that you won’t even notice the money gone when you get your next paycheck. And even just an extra 1% can add up to a lot of extra savings over time!
If you can’t do it online, make a note to call your plan provider tomorrow!
4. Make your savings automatic
The best way to start saving more money is to make it automatic. By giving every dollar a purpose, you can avoid reaching the end of the month and having no clue where all your money went — including the money you intended to save.
Figure out how much money you can realistically save each month, after covering all your bills and other expenses, and then set up your direct deposit to have that amount sent directly to savings. That way you won’t be tempted to spend it, and if you absolutely need the money, you can access it pretty easily.
Read more: How to automate your savings
5. Cook dinner at home
According to a recent survey, among households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, one-third live paycheck to paycheck, and 44% said lifestyle purchases, such as dining out and entertainment, were big hindrances to saving. Among millennials bringing home $75,000 or more, 71% confessed these expenses were stealing their savings.
Get into the habit of cooking at home more. The more you do it, the more you’ll save. Plus, a recent study found that eating at home will help you lose weight, too.
6. Make an extra payment toward a debt
The average U.S. household is carrying more than $15,000 in credit card debt, according to a study by NerdWallet. And as that debt rolls over each month, the total amount owed continues to increase — sometimes by quite a lot each month — depending on the credit card’s interest rate.
Think about your situation: do you have any credit card debt or student loans hanging over your head? Those debt obligations can be big obstacles keeping you from reaching your financial goals. So the quicker you get it paid off, the quicker you will be able to truly start building wealth.
One thing you can do today is make just one extra payment toward a debt. While you may not be able to pay off the entire balance today, every little bit helps. Skip a splurge this week and use that money to pay extra toward your credit card bill or student loan debt. Put the extra money toward whichever debt has the highest interest rate — as that’s the debt that will end up costing you more money over time (the longer it sits there accruing interest, the more you’ll owe).
Paying an extra $100 toward debt, instead of wasting it on something you don’t need, will be more beneficial to your long-term financial goals by allowing you to become debt free sooner in life. Plus, the more you start to pay down debt, the quicker you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel of getting it paid off.
7. Transfer a high-interest debt
If you have a big credit card bill that’s slamming you with high interest fees every month, transferring the balance could save you hundreds of dollars. By allowing you to transfer the debt to a credit card with 0% APR (annual percentage rate) for a certain number of months, these types of offers can help you pay off your debt in a timely manner — without having to pay interest.
So if you have a credit card with a high interest rate, check out this list of great balance transfer options.
Once you transfer the debt, your payments will go a lot further without the high interest — which will cost you less money in the long run and also allow you to get it paid off quicker.
8. Find free money
Unclaimed money from bank accounts, insurance policies, rental and utility deposits, safe deposit boxes and other places could be hanging out there somewhere in your name. All you need to know is how to check and collect it without paying any fees.
It’s particularly easy if you have a unique last name. Simply go to MissingMoney.com and punch in your name to do a database search of available unclaimed funds across all states. With one click of your mouse, you can cover the entire spectrum of what’s available.
Please note that not every single state participates. If you live in a state that doesn’t participate with this free site, there’s one more option for you: Unclaimed.org. This website is a clearinghouse for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Also, if you ever had an FHA home loan, HUD may be sitting on refund money for you. Go to HUD.gov and see if you’re in their refund database.
9. Reduce your student loans
Many people don’t realize that a big chunk —often the majority — of their monthly payments are probably going toward interest, depending on the interest rate and other factors (we’ll get to that). So even by paying hundreds of dollars each month, you may not even be making a dent in the total cost of your debt.
Student loan refinancing can be a great way to reduce your payments and decrease the total cost of your debt — while shrinking the time it takes to get it all paid off.
10. Shop for cheaper car insurance
It may be a pain, but taking a few minutes to sit down and shop around can end up saving you big bucks! Here’s where to look and how to start shopping for a better deal.