Stressed about your finances? You're not alone. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association's Stress in America 2017 survey, 61% of Americans report that money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress in their lives. What's more, it's hard to figure out where to start trying to improve them -- there are so many choices and so much information out there that it can lead to total paralysis.
Well, if you've got an hour and a computer, we have four things you can do to improve your finances. Try them out while you keep time, then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how they worked for you!
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Alison Southwick: Hi, I'm Alison Southwick and I'm joined today by Michael Douglass. He's an analyst here at The Motley Fool. He claims that he has four ways that we can improve our finances in less than an hour. So what is the first thing to do?
Michael Douglass: Track your spending. This is good for two reasons. First off, it's good because sometimes you're spending money on something you've forgotten about. That old gym membership, or whatever the case may be. The second thing is, because when you know that you're spending a lot of money on, I don't know, takeout food, or something like that, you might be a little bit less likely to impulse --
Alison: Eating out.
Michael: Yeah. It's an impulse buy. And, fortunately, unlike in the past when you had to probably keep a spreadsheet, there are apps like Mint.com that can really just make this so much easier. And a lot of banks also offer personal finance apps that can help out with this sort of thing, too.
Alison: All right, so 10, 15 minutes later, now I'm ready for something else to do, what's the second thing I can do to improve my finances?
Michael: Well, now that you've looked at what you're spending on, shop around. There's this opportunity particularly with your cell carriers, internet service providers, car insurance. These are folks who everyone is looking to --
Alison: Highly competitive.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. They want to get whoever they can get. And so, I've see all sorts of interesting incentives like Visa gift cards and stuff, if you'll switch from one to another. Honestly, getting an online quote for each of these should take just a few minutes, because you just plug in your basic information and they tell you what they think. Then you can decide whether you want to negotiate with your current provider, or just go with a new one. If you're negotiating, that takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer on the phone. But to be honest, you should be able to do this, with one bill, in 30 minutes or less.
Alison: What's up next, then?
Michael: Checking your credit report for accuracy, and this is a total gimme. You want to make sure that at least once a year, you're going to annualcreditreport.com, and checking basically the background on your credit. You want to make sure that there's nothing wrong on it. An extra credit card that shouldn't be on your account, a bill that they claim you didn't pay that you actually did pay. You just want to make sure there are no issues. Particularly if you've got a big purchase incoming, a mortgage for a house, or a car loan for a car. You want to get your lowest APR, and the first step to that is making sure that you have the most accurate credit report possible.
Alison: I'm finishing off the hour here. I've got a few more minutes, what's the last thing I can do to improve my finances?
Michael: It's automating your saving. Your HR team on your first day at work usually gives you some kind of a direct deposit form. You can amend that form later on, and just direct a little bit of money over to a savings account. That way you don't see it, and you're less likely to spend it. By doing that, you're able to build an emergency fund, or money that you can use for investing. Or something that you can use for that car payment, or a housing purchase.
Alison: It will just slowly grow and I'll never even notice it.
Michael: It's a beautiful thing.
Alison: That's so nice. Well, thank you, Michael, for your advice here. If our viewers have any questions that they would like us to answer, they can drop us a line at Ask A Fool ataskafool@ fool.com.