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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, we’ve rounded up a list of some easy things you can start doing today — and by the time 2017 rolls around, you’ll have a whole new outlook on your financial life!
23 ways to start taking control of your money
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: 21 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 loan debt
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.
11. Reduce your utility bills
By making some basic tweaks around the house â€“ like replacing your light bulbs â€“ you can save a ton of money on your monthly bills! Here are 10 ways to get started.
12. Stop paying full price
For anything you buy today, find a coupon, a promo code or maybe an alternative option — just don’t pay full price! Once you start to realize all the different ways you save on things, you’ll rarely have to pay full price!
- Check out today’s best deals on Clark Deals
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13. Check your bank statements daily
If you don’t check your statements daily, there could be fraudulent charges on your account without you even realizing it. Plus, it’s a good way to keep an eye on your spending and recognize any expenses you can cut!
14. Create stronger passwords
The easier your passwords are to hack, the easier it is for criminals to get their hands on your personal information — including your bank account. Each little piece of information that a scammer has about you can help them get access to your accounts.
15. Get a cheaper cell phone plan
A recent survey found that most people are paying about twice as much as they have to each month for cell phone service. Why? Because they don’t make the effort to look for a cheaper plan.
You may be able to get the exact same place, or at least pretty close, for less money. Check out our guide to the best cell phone plans and deals here.
16. Invest spare change
There are some great apps available that now allow you to start investing with just a few bucks! Here’s a list of some of the best ones to consider.
17. Create a budget (or reevaluate your budget)
If you aren’t giving every dollar a purpose, you’re probably wasting more money than you realize.
Creating a budget will help you keep your spending on track. If you already have one, then take a good hard look at each area of spending and see if there are any categories where you can cut costs, which will free up more money for savings.
18. Start tracking your spending
Making a mental note is not an efficient way to track your spending. If you want to actually stick to a budget, you need to track every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out.
And it can be a lot easier than it sounds. In fact, there are tons of apps that will do it for you. You can even get updates on your progress throughout the month — like if you get close to going over budget or get closer to paying off a debt!
19. Eliminate a fee
There are so many fees out there these days, there’s likely at least one in your life that you can eliminate.
Investment fees: Do you know what you’re paying in investment fees? If you don’t, you need to find out — because a difference of just 1% can save you (or cost you) up to tens of thousands of dollars over time — maybe even more. Here’s a look at some low-cost investment options.
Checking account fees: How much are you paying in fees for your checking account? If it adds up to more than $0, consider these cheaper alternatives.
ATM fees: Do a quick search online or check your online bank account to find the nearest fee-free ATM in your area.
20. Make a grocery list
I take a list with me every time I go to the store — because if I don’t, I’ll forget the things I need and end up with a basket full of all the random things the grocery stores tempt you with throughout the whole place.
If you have a list, it’s a lot easier to avoid spending extra money. And these apps make it easy for you.
21. Start an emergency savings fund
According to a recent survey, more than 40% of Americans either experienced a major unexpected expense over the past 12 months or had an immediate family member who did.
And there’s one very easy way to minimize the damage — prepare for it
The best way to save for unexpected financial shocks is to have two separate emergency funds: a rainy day fund and an emergency fund.
- A rainy day fund is money you might dip into every once in a while to cover an unexpected expense, like a medical bill.
- An emergency fund is a bigger, longer-term savings fund. This money should be able to cover at least three to six months worth of living expenses in case you can’t work for a period of time, for whatever reason.
If you’re starting from scratch, these goals may seem impossible — but you can get there! The best way to approach saving is to start with baby steps and then build up from there. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get started.
22. Shop at more than one grocery store
If you buy everything at the same store, chances are you’re paying way more than you have to on groceries.
You can save more than 30% simply by changing your routine. Check out non-traditional grocery stores like warehouse clubs, dollar stores, Aldi and Walmart for big savings on food and other items you frequently buy at the grocery store (at a higher price).
- Grocery staples: Check out Aldi and Walmart
- Organic: Try Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Foods
- Bulk items: Warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s
23. Find an easy way to make extra cash
There are so many ways for pretty much anyone to make extra cash — whether it’s online or in your area.
Check out this list of 24 easy ways to make cash on the side.
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