We often think of money management as a time-consuming process that you need to clear your schedule to implement. But you can substantially improve your financial life in an hour or less.
The following six money moves each take no more than 10 minutes, and will put you on the path to a financially healthier future. You could even check all six of these tasks off your list this weekend, and wake up Monday feeling accomplished.
1. Set up an automatic transfer to savings
You know the importance of an emergency fund, but it can be so hard to find money to save at the end of the month. Setting up an automatic transfer to your savings will ensure that you stash your money safely away before you even have a chance to spend it.
Simply log on to your bank's website and navigate to transfers. Create a recurring transfer for every payday. Even if you can only afford to save $20 from each paycheck, this recurring savings practice will add up over time.
There may be an option to automatically increase the amount you save in three months, six months, and nine months. With just the click of a few buttons, you'll be on your way to building a robust emergency fund.
2. Increase your retirement contribution
Some employers that offer a 401(k) to their workers go a step further by matching the amount of money the person puts in their retirement account from each paycheck. This is the much sought after free money. If you do not already contribute enough money to meet your employer's matching amount, that means you are losing out on the free money. Increasing the percent of your salary that you contribute to receive your employer's full matching contribution can help provide you with a financially secure retirement in the future.
Even if you can't increase your contribution by much, sending even an additional 1% of your paycheck to your 401(k) or other retirement savings vehicle can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to your nest egg, while also reducing your taxable income. And it will only take you a moment or two once you log onto your retirement account.
3. Adjust your tax withholding
The average refund from the Internal Revenue Service in 2019 was $2,833, which means the average taxpayer missed out on $235 of their paycheck each month. Instead of making an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam with unnecessary withholding, you can do more with your money.
Log onto the IRS withholding calculator, which will help you determine your correct withholding allowances. Once you have the correct number, take a trip to your HR department to get a new W4 form to adjust your withholding. Depending on how quickly your HR department handles paperwork, you could start seeing fatter paychecks with the next pay cycle.
You can even compound this good decision by setting up an automatic transfer of the money to your savings account, or increasing the percent of your retirement account contribution.
4. Sign up for overdraft alerts
Overdrawing your account is remarkably easy to do. Some banks will protect your transactions from overdraft by transferring money from a linked savings account or line of credit. But while overdraft protection theoretically will take care of any oopsies you have, you usually have to pay a hefty fee when this "protection" kicks in.
A better option is to set up an alert from your bank to let you know when your account is in danger of overdraft. These real-time alerts send you an email or text message whenever your account dips below a dollar amount that you specify, giving you the time to transfer or deposit money to avoid an overdraft before it happens.
5. Update your beneficiaries
When was the last time you checked on the beneficiaries of your life insurance and other financial accounts? If you can't remember, then you probably want to take a look to make sure your beneficiaries are not out of date.
Designated beneficiaries are the people you determined would receive your assets in the event of your death, and this designation can supercede whatever you have in your will. This means that your heirs may see your life insurance and retirement accounts go to your ex, even though you left everything to your children in your will.
Looking up the beneficiaries on your life insurance and retirement accounts only takes a few minutes (once you remember your login information). If you still have an old flame or other person from your past listed, take the time to update your beneficiaries to fit your current life.
6. Freeze your credit
The massive Equifax data breach made it clear that our credit information is vulnerable. You can freeze your credit to protect yourself from becoming a victim of credit fraud. A freeze means that no one can open new credit in your name (not even you) unless you release the freeze. There used to be a small fee associated with credit freezes, but they are now completely free.
You will need to freeze your credit with each of the major bureaus at the following websites:
A few minutes online, and your credit will be safe from any new requests for lines of credit. If you need to "thaw" your credit, the same websites will allow you to temporarily lift the freeze to open up a new line of credit.