Millions of people will set a goal to make better financial decisions in 2016. Few will stick with them, fearing it takes too much time.
Big financial wins come in small packages. Here's how an hour can turn into a huge financial windfall in 2016.
1. Reassess bills
You likely have a number of monthly bills, from cell phone plans to cable and auto insurance. These can be a huge source of post-tax savings in the New Year.
Start first by compiling your bills. Here are a few common ones:
- Cell phone service
- Auto and home insurance
- Other entertainment (Netflix, Hulu, and others)
- Gym or club memberships
All of these are discretionary expenses. Virtually all of them offer room for negotiation.
Car insurance is a big one. If you're still using an agent, it's high time to start shopping direct providers like Geico and Progressive. Your insurance agent's salary exists because you're paying too much in premiums.
The reason insurers can all proudly say they'll save you money is because most people shop around far too infrequently. Reassess car and home insurance annually. It takes all of 5 minutes to get a quote. If you choose a new provider, they'll literally do the work to move your account for you! Breaking up has never been easier to do.
Cell phone bills are notoriously inflated. I recently purchased a new phone, only to find phone insurance I neither wanted nor asked for on my bill. Five minutes online shaved $120 a year off my bill.
Cable bills can be negotiated. Be willing to cut the cord if need be. I embarrassingly paid for online access to CBS for months after I last used it. That was an easy expense to kill off, but it would have gone unnoticed if I never reassessed my automatic monthly purchases.
Tip: Wait times are much lower with online support than over the phone. Plus, you'll have a record of your conversation to save to your computer should you need it in the future. Work with customer service online when possible.
Estimated time: 25 minutes.
2. Start tracking where your money goes
The easiest way to save money is to actually see where it's going. In a matter of minutes, I introduced a friend to Mint.com, and it became painfully clear the true cost of her on-the-go eating habits and impulse purchases.
The best feature of online budgeting tools is the automatically generated pie chart of where you spent your money over the last three, six, and 12 months. It can't correct spending behaviors, but it will make you aware of your spending shortcomings.
Estimated time: 5 minutes.
3. Bust out your permanent record
Millions of people will buy a new home or car in 2016. Many will overpay for financing because of errors on their credit report.
You can get a free look at your credit report from the three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find any errors -- accounts that aren't yours, late payments that weren't actually late, or records that simply don't make sense -- you can dispute them online.
Unless the creditor can prove why negative marks should stay on your report, these errors must be deleted, helping improve your score.
Estimated time: 15 minutes.
4. Invest your savings
Now that we've eliminated a few expenses, it's time to make good use of the savings. Rather than rely on our ability to make the conscious decision to save each month, we're going to automate it.
Have a 401(K) plan at work? Email HR, and tell them you want to increase your retirement savings. You should have instructions in your inbox by next week. Increasing your contribution is often as simple as completing a 1-page form.
Have an IRA? Let's increase your monthly automatic contribution online by logging into your account.
Small potatoes turn into large fry. An analysis by mutual fund company Fidelity suggested that a 25-year-old could generate nearly $3,900 in additional annual retirement income by saving 1% more of his or her annual income.
Estimated time: 15 minutes.