20 Things to Do Right Now to Improve Your Finances
Who doesn't want to improve their finances?
Whether you're stuck in a cycle of debt, earn too little for your cost of living, or simply want to get a jump start on saving for a major financial goal, like buying a home or investing, these 20 things can help you improve your finances right now.
If you are struggling with handling your finances, then you likely need to start budgeting. A budget is your best tool to change your financial future.
Cut Your Monthly Bills
An easy thing you can do to change your financial picture is to cut your monthly bills.
This can be done a few ways: lowering your utility costs, choose different providers for your insurance and other services, or buy your food at a discount at bulk stores.
Speaking of cutting monthly bills, there's likely one monthly bill that you could cut right now and save hundreds a month – your cable bill.
If you feel like your spending is out of control or you just want to reach your financial goals more quickly, you should consider cutting cable.
But you won't have to give up TV altogether. There are a number of alternatives that allow you to watch the shows you love without spending a ton each month to do it.
Stop Eating Out
Want an easy way to save money each month? Stop eating out.
The occasional splurge or nice meal is fine, but the savings can really add up if you start cooking at home instead of eating out each day. Start small by cooking at home at least once a week. The next week, start taking your lunches to work. You may be surprised at just how much you can save.
Plan a Monthly Menu
If the idea of cooking every night is intimidating to you, planning a monthly menu can make it a lot easier. The nice thing about planning out the entire month is that you can do batch cooking or chopping. It makes it easier to shop and ensures that you waste less food since you will most likely use all the ingredients you buy.
An alternative is to use a menu planning service to help make cooking and shopping easier, though this can cost money.
Read a Book About Personal Finances
If you want to change something about your finances, but you are not sure where to start, try doing a little research.
There are many books on improving your finances out there, from how to get out of debt to how to build an investment portfolio. It's a great way to help you start to handle your money differently.
Learn About Investing
One of the key steps to building wealth is to start investing.
And if the idea of investing intimidates you? You're not alone. But don't let it stop you from building wealth. Enroll in a class on investing basics, meet with a financial advisor or talk to a trusted family member or friend who has experience in the area.
Set Realistic Goals
Take the time to set financial goals that you are working toward. If you do not have specific things that you are working for, it is difficult to motivate yourself to keep saving or investing each month.
As you set your goals, make sure that they are realistic. You do not want to get discouraged because you want to pay off $40,000 in debt in just a year when you only make $30,000.
Finally, track your goals so that you can see how much you have accomplished. This can help you stay on track when you are working on a long-term goal.
Set Up a Financial Plan
A financial plan is essential if you want to accomplish specific goals. In short, your financial plan will set up a timeline for the big milestones in your life. It will also help you prioritize your goals, since it is often more effective to focus on one or two goals at a time.
This plan should include things like buying a home, saving for retirement, and paying for your kids’ college education.
Pay Off Your Debt
One of the most foolish things you can do is to carry a lot of debt, especially credit card debt. If you want to change your financial picture and gain more financial opportunities, you need to work on paying off your debt as quickly as possible.
Set up a debt payment plan today and set goals that can help you pay it off as quickly as possible.
Stop Using Your Credit Cards
If you are struggling to make ends each month, you may be relying on your credit cards to get by. However, if you really want to change your financial picture, you need to stop using your credit cards.
If you keep using your credit cards as a stop-gap measure to make ends meet, you'll end up owing more and more each month. This will limit how much money you have each month to pay bills, save for retirement, or work toward another financial goal.
Leave your credit cards at home, and get control of your budget so that you can start to change your financial picture.
Take Care of Your Student Loans
Your student loans can follow you around for years if you are not proactive about them. Whether you need to consolidate them, see if you qualify for a student loan forgiveness program or just put them into your debt payment plan, getting control of your student loans is an excellent step to take right now to improve your finances.
Start Saving Each Week
Another thing you can do right now to improve your money situation is to put money into savings each week. This could be money that you find by saving on your grocery budget each month. It could be a set amount that you put aside from each paycheck, or it could be the amount you allocated on your budget to save each month.
Also, look for ways to increase your savings each month. That money will add up quickly.
Go on a Spending Fast
Another challenge that can help you curb your spending is to go on a spending fast. A spending fast is where you stop spending money for a set period of time.
Often these are month-long fasts with exceptions made for gas and a limited amount of groceries. This can help you pad your checking account, change your habits, and evaluate what you need as opposed to what you want.
Protect Your Savings
If you are great at putting money into savings each month, but you're quick to dip into it to cover a discrepancy in your budget or buy something you really want, then you may need to take steps to protect your savings from yourself.
These can be things like moving your savings to an online bank or starting an emergency fund.
Increase Your Retirement Savings
You should start saving for retirement from the time you start your first job. Even if you are working on getting out of debt, contribute up to the match offered by your employer. After all, this is free money.
If you are out of debt, work on increasing your savings until you are contributing about 15% of your take-home pay.
Find Additional Sources of Income
Sometimes financial issues are not spending issues, but income issues. If you are sticking to a budget, not spending money on things you don't need, and still having issues making ends meet, then you may want to look for a higher-paying job.
You may also consider generating more than one source of income. This provides additional stability, especially if you are single or you are a single income household.
Look for ideas that allow you to generate income on the side or in addition to your job. Passive income is another way to build wealth or find extra money to get out of debt.
Improve Your Job Skills
While this may not seem directly tied to your finances, job security is an important piece of your money picture.
Ensure that you have the skills you need to stay competitive in the workplace. This may mean taking extra certifications or training through your current employer. It may mean heading back to college for a graduate degree.
Get the Right Amount of Insurance
You can protect your finances by having the right amount of insurance. This should include car and renter’s or home insurance, as well as health and life insurance.
While you may be tempted to scrimp on insurance, remember that it protects you from the catastrophes that can set your finances into a spiral.
Make the Most of Your Employee Benefits
Not all of these benefits may be worth the additional money that you pay for them, but some of them may be. Take the time to make sure you are getting the most from your employee benefits.
Updated by Rachel Morgan Cautero.