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The Motley Fool's Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp is in session! Every weekday this month, we'll walk you through a fresh money-saving/money-making tip as we work toward finding $2,000 in savings you didn't know you had.
If you've been following along during our monthlong Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp, great. But it's not good enough.
I hate to play bad cop, but the point of this exercise -- finding at least $2,000 in savings we didn't know we had -- is to actually get something done, not just read along with the class.
So if you've gotten this far and not picked up the phone to lower your cable bill, trimmed your supermarket spending, made some cash on stuff in your closet, stopped overpaying for basic bank services, or followed through on anything we've covered in the other 16 savings articles in this series, then it's time to step it up.
In this, our next-to-last virtual money-saving class, you're going to take at least one concrete step that measurably improves your financial well-being. Got that?
Getting motivated is great. Getting things done is even better.
We're going to put a big red "X" through some of your key financial "to-dos." How? By writing them down.
Studies show that those who set goals and -- this next point is the important part -- commit them to paper are more successful in achieving them. But it's not just writing them down that'll help you get things done. You have to write down the right things.
This is where we can borrow a page from the playbook of productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. Allen's "next action step" advice is tailor-made for those making their way through the Fiscal Fitness workouts.
Ready? Set. Action step!
"Action steps" are different from goals. They are specific, tangible, and typically something you can cross off your list (followed by a touchdown dance) in a short amount of time. For example, "Save more for retirement" is a goal. "Send email to HR and request new 401(k) contribution form" is an "action step."
The action step helps you get started. So before you click off this page, you're going to commit to paper at least one "next action step" to complete by the end of the day.
Here are some sample goals and suggested "next action steps" that relate to a few of the major areas of personal finances we've covered in this Fiscal Fitness series. Remember, this is a starting point for your own list. Customization is key. Jot in the margins your own projects, goals, and action steps.
Goal: Pay less for car insurance.
Next action step: With insurers like Allstate (NYSE: ALL ) , Progressive (NYSE: PGR ) , and Travelers (NYSE: TRV ) all striving to gain new customers, you can often get a better deal just by negotiating with your current insurance company.
So set the timer for 20 minutes and locate your auto insurance plan paperwork. Locate the page that explains the plan basics -- your deductible, how much coverage you've got, which drivers are covered on the plan. Call the insurance company and go through the list of questions we covered in "Brag to Your Insurer and Save $400." Go bake cookies.
Goal: Get the best deal on your next big-ticket purchase.
Next action step: These days, shopping is a competitive sport, and not just for customers. Whether it's Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) versus Lowe's (NYSE: LOW ) or Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) versus Target (NYSE: TGT ) , retailers are fighting for your business.
To take full advantage, you need to save your energy for slashing costs on the big stuff first. (Just do the math: Saving 20% on a $500 item is certainly worth sweating over more than trying to shave 20% off a $50 item.) Your action step here is to make a list that includes any major expenditures you see for the next six months. Save that list (make a folder for it on your computer or in your file cabinet), and every time you come across a relevant catalog or sales circular or website, add it to the folder. If you're feeling particularly motivated after completing this action step, review our negotiation advice ("Save $157.86 Just by Asking") and prepare to play "Let's Make a Deal" when it's time to go shopping.
Goal: Get organized for Uncle Sam.
Next action step: Put "manila folders" on your Staples shopping list and clearly label them for year-end statements and forms that will soon start trickling into your mailbox. A simple system for keeping track of all the stuff you'll need to file is to label three folders -- "income," "expenses/deductions," and "investments." You certainly don't want to miss any write-offs or credits coming your way.
Up for another tax-related "action step"? How about going to the IRS calculator we mentioned in "Get a $200 Raise Right Now" to double-check your withholding? If you find that you're over- or under-withholding, your next action step is to print out a new Form W-4, fill it out, and give it to the folks in charge of paychecks at your office.
What's your next money "to do"?
The tsk-tsking is over. But before you go, I want you to share your "next action step" with the class in the comments area below. Don't be shy. In fact, if you need help breaking a larger goal into bite-sized tasks, just ask!
Remember, each small step toward completion represents a giant leap for your near- and long-term finances.