15 Ways to Fix Your Finances in 15 Minutes (or Less)
Managing your money isn’t always easy. Figuring out how much to save for retirement, whether you should buy a house or keep renting, choosing investments, and figuring out how to pay off debt all take time and a certain amount of financial savvy. Plus, spending a precious Saturday afternoon weighing the pros and cons of different insurance policies or trying to decide how much to save for college isn’t most people’s idea of a great time.
The idea that taking care of your budget and bank account is a slog could be holding you back. Ignoring money matters because you think they’re too complicated or time-consuming for you to handle will eventually come back to haunt you, whether it’s in the form of late fees on unpaid bills, an unexpected expense you have to put on a credit card, or a retirement savings account that will cover a few rounds of golf — and not much else.
The truth is you don’t necessarily need a lot of time to get your financial house in order. Although some tasks are somewhat time-consuming, many take just a few minutes per day. These 15-minute quick fixes won’t solve all your money problems. But baby steps do add up. Spend just 15 minutes per day on financial housekeeping, and in two weeks you and your bank account could be in a much better money position.
First up: Save some money by pulling the plug on Netflix.
1. Cancel a recurring subscription
Recurring monthly charges are a drain on your bank account — $9 here and $20 there every month adds up to hundreds of wasted dollars a year. It’s all too easy to sign up for a service and then forget to cancel, even after you stop using it. To save some more pennies, spend a few minutes looking over your bank or credit card statements for any recurring charges. If you spot one for a service you’re no longer using, cancel it, which usually only takes a few minutes online.
Of course, if canceling subscriptions on your own sounds like too much work, someone’s figured out a way to make it even easier, as we’ll see next.
2. Sign up for Trim
Too lazy to do the work of finding and plugging stubborn budget leaks yourself? Trim will do it for you. The free tool will comb through your account statements and find recurring charges. Then, you can tell it to cancel any service you don’t want to keep paying for. The process takes less than a minute, and Trim says it’s saved users more than $8 million so far. You can also use the app to get spending and overdraft alerts and track how much money you’ve spent on services, such as Uber.
3. Click unsubscribe
Daily deal messages and promotional emails from your favorite stores alert you to bargains, but they can also trick you into spending money. To avoid temptation, unsubscribe from those mass mailings. After all, you’ll be far less likely to book a last-minute weekend trip to Europe that you can’t really afford if you never knew about the bargain airfare in the first place. Unsubscribing is usually just a matter of clicking a link, but if you’re lazy, a free service, such as Unroll.Me, will make the process easier. (Be forewarned, however, that Unroll.Me has been criticized for selling user data.) Christine of The Wallet Diet said unsubscribing from promotional emails was “liberating.”
“Since unsubscribing, I haven’t stepped foot into any of these stores since or purchased any Groupons. For me it’s a direct correlation: I don’t know what’s in store so I don’t bother to go,” she wrote on her blog.
The next tip will help you keep your email clutter-free and save you some money in the process.
4. Set up a shopping email
Even if you’re diligent about unsubscribing to promotional emails, you’re probably not going to go cold turkey on online shopping. And that likely means you’re still going to end up with ads in your inbox. To keep your email free of temptation, use a separate address for shopping and retail mailing lists, Apartment Therapy suggested. Your main email will remain clutter-free, and if there are certain promotional emails you do want to receive, you can restrict them to an account you only check every few days, reducing the chance you’ll spend recklessly.
You can complete the next financial fix during your next lunch break.
5. Save more for retirement
How much are you saving for retirement every month? If you’re like a lot of people, you might not actually know how many dollars from your paycheck go into your 401(k). Take 15 minutes to log on to your account and see what’s going on with your retirement nest egg. Then, up your contributions a tiny bit if you’re not already maxing them out. You might not miss the additional 1% of your salary that will be withheld from your paycheck, but it will make a difference come retirement.
6. Check your credit
Checking your credit report is one of those painless yet easily overlooked financial tasks. Keeping tabs on your credit history will help you spot errors or identity theft that could make it hard to get a loan in the future. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once per year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your report. You’ll need to provide some basic identifying information, but the whole process should only take 10 or 15 minutes.
While you’re at it, take five minutes to check your credit score. Many credit card issuers and bank now let consumers see their score for free, or you can use a site, such as Credit Karma. If your score isn’t so great, think about what you can do to improve it.
Next up: You know you should have a budget, but setting one up seems like a pain. These tools make it virtually painless.
7. Start tracking your spending
Once upon a time, tracking your spending was a tedious process. But now with tools, such as Mint and You Need a Budget, keeping tabs on where your money goes is as easy as pie. Linking up your bank and credit accounts with any one of these services should only take a few minutes. Then, sit back, and let the app do the hard work of sorting and categorizing your transactions. Suddenly, you’ll know exactly how much your craft beer addiction cost you last month. You can also pay bills, set savings goals, and create budget, so you can quickly see when you’re overspending in a certain category.
8. Start saving for emergencies — automatically
Only 4 out of 10 Americans have money set aside to pay for unexpected expenses, according to Bankrate. Many people just don’t have wiggle room in their budget to save, or at least that’s what they think. But even if you have bills piling up and a big fat zero in your savings account, you might be able to set aside something. Ten dollars a week might not seem like a lot, but it you save that much for a year, you’d have more than $500 — enough to cover some small financial emergencies.
To build your savings painlessly, set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings. Or sign up for an app to do it for you. Each should only take a couple of minutes. With Qapital, you can set up “rules” to trigger transfers when, for example, you spend less than you budget for a certain day or you indulge in a guilty pleasure. Chime rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically transfers the extra money to savings and pays you a 10% bonus on what you saved every week. Both apps are free.
9. Get your unclaimed cash
Free money sounds too good to be true, but the truth is there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $41 billion in unclaimed cash floating around out there. It comes from uncashed paychecks, lost tax refunds, forgotten bank and investment accounts, and other places. The money often ends up in the hands of states, which then have to try to get it back to its rightful owner. To do that, they use online databases, such as Missing Money, which you can use to find cash that belongs to you. A search takes just a few minutes and could yield a nice profit if you’re lucky.
10. Automate your payments
Are you consistently late paying your cable or electric bill? Avoid annoying late fees and interest charges by taking a few minutes to set up automatic payments to be sent from your bank account. You’ll no longer have to worry about everyone getting paid on time, and you’ll save money on stamps (if you were still mailing checks). And if you have student loans and automate the payments, you might be able to save on interest.
You’ll need to head to your kitchen to complete the next money-saving tip.
11. Put your credit cards on ice
For some people, a credit card in their wallet is like a green light to spend. If you have trouble using your Mastercard or Amex responsibly, remove the temptation by getting it out of your wallet. Some personal finances experts even suggest freezing your cards in a block of ice, so they’re completely inaccessible. It might be extreme, but it could be what it takes to get your spending under control. (Canceling your cards outright works, too, but that can cause problems with your credit score.) People who’ve tried putting their cards on ice swear it works to curb spending.
“I highly recommend freezing your credit card if you are someone who struggles with using it on impulse — it belongs in your freezer, not your wallet!” Joy Smith wrote in a blog post for The Financial Diet.
12. Delete saved payment info
A trip to the mall can be dangerous for over-spenders, but firing up your laptop can be just as bad. Online retailers make it disturbingly easy to shop with just one click. If your Amazon purchases are out of control, delete your saved payment info. Removing your credit card details takes just a minute or two, and the hassle of having to re-enter all that information could be enough to make you rethink an impulse purchase.
If you love your family, you’ll definitely want to spend 10 minutes on the next financial fix.
13. Check your beneficiaries
Few of us want to spend a lot of time sitting around contemplating our own mortality. But staring death in the face for a few minutes now could help your loved ones after you die. Your 401(k), IRA, and life insurance all have beneficiary designations, which specify who gets your money when you die. Many people designate someone when they first set up their account and never change it. That can be a problem when you pass away and your wife discovers your ex-girlfriend is getting your 401(k).
All you usually need to do to review and update your beneficiary designations is log on to your account, check the names listed, and change them if necessary. Your family will thank you later.
Turn your quarters, dimes, and nickels into spending money with our next tip.
14. Cash in your change
The rise of digital payments mean most of us have a lot less spare change in our car cup holders and couch cushions that we once did. But chances are you do have some coins stashed in a jar somewhere. You can turn that pile of quarters and dimes into something useful by cashing it at a Coinstar or other coin-counting machine. With Coinstar, you’ll pay a hefty 10.9% fee to get cash for your change, but if you opt for a gift card to stores, such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Starbucks, there’s no charge. The average person cashes in $62 worth of spare change, according to the company. Many banks will take your change, too, but you usually have to roll it yourself, which is time-consuming and tedious.
Overdraft fees are the worst, but investing 15 minutes today could ensure you’ll never pay one again.
15. Get low-balance alerts
Americans spend an average of $329 every year on bank fees, a report from Chime found, including $250 in overdraft fees. Careful budgeting can help you avoid flushing money down the drain. But if you’re not great about tracking your spending, there’s an easy way to avoid overdraft fees: low-balance alerts from your bank. Most banks will let you sign up to receive text alerts when your balance drops below a certain number. It’s a nearly foolproof way to avoid accidentally overdrawing your account. You can also sign up for deposit alerts and unusual activity alerts.