Take Control With These Easy 5-Minute Money Fixes
Getting your finances in order sounds like an uphill battle — one that'll take a lot of time. It's true, your financial situation typically won't turn around overnight, but there are things you can do everyday — in five minutes or so — that will put you on the right path. Take a look.
1. Plan Out Your Meals for the Week
One major time and money saver for me is planning out meals for the week. I usually sit down on Sunday afternoons and decide what I'd like to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that week. It doesn't take long since I have a fairly limited palette. When I'm done, I visit the supermarket to purchase the groceries I'll need for the meals. This helps me stay healthy, for sure, but it also virtually eliminates the urge to eat out, thereby saving me a significant amount of money on gas, restaurant food, tips, and taxes.
2. Get Your Morning Coffee Fix at Home
I'm sure you've heard from various budgeting experts that you should make your coffee at home instead of hitting up a Starbucks every morning. Many people lament that it's just not the same as the coffee prepared by a barista. Granted — but you can jazz up your java in your own kitchen, nonetheless.
"Investing in a cappuccino machine may cost a bit up front, but the savings add up quickly in terms of money and time spent waiting in line or in the drive-thru," suggests financial adviser Tammy Johnston.
3. Keep a Running Grocery List
Going to the supermarket without a list is certain disaster — especially if you're hungry. Cut down on impulse buys by keeping a running list (I keep mine in the Notes section of my phone) so you can add to it whenever you recognize you need something. You'll be amazed at how much you'll save on each shopping trip if you have direction as you navigate those colorful aisles of everything delicious.
4. Practice Meditation to Reduce Stress
"Stressing about money hurts your ability to make good decisions, which can lead to more money issues," says Ellen Rogin, a CPA and personal financial adviser. (See also: 6 Ways Meditation Can Make You a Money Master)
Research shows that meditation can help you in volatile financial situations, like when your investments are at risk.
"Think about it: When you're freaked out about money, what kinds of decisions do you make? Good ones?" she asks. "No. Stress is why people sell low and buy high. Meditating just a few minutes a day can help you think more clearly and help you make better decisions."
5. Download a Financial App
If you find it difficult to keep your monthly budget from going off the rails, let alone minding your overall financial picture, you may find at least a little help from technology, like a financial app.
"People who downloaded financial apps checked their accounts an average of 12 times per month and saw their spending decrease by 15% after four months of using the app, with grocery spending and discretionary purchases seeing the biggest reductions," says money-saving expert Kendal Perez.
As a general life rule, I check into my bank accounts when I wake up every morning — I'd like to know right away if I was robbed blind in the middle of the night — and it's a habit I suggest you adopt.
In terms of the financial apps, I personally recommend Mint and Level Money as good places to start. (See also: These 5 Apps Will Help You Finally Organize Your Money)
6. Review Your Finances Once a Week
Why should you review your finances once a week? Because spending can get out of hand quickly, throwing your entire budget into chaos. I've seen it happen too many times: People neglect their finances altogether because they've let them get so messed up that they don't want to deal with it anymore. It's one of the worst practices there is, but you can avoid it by giving just a few minutes' time to your finances each week.
"Balance your checkbook, review your credit card and bank statements, and pay your bills," Johnston advises. "When it becomes a scheduled, weekly habit, it literally only takes a few minutes. You'll know where you stand so you catch any mistakes or red flags immediately, and you save on late fees because everything is looked after promptly."
7. Actively Look for Savings
If I'm buying anything, I'm looking for a deal. Aaaanything. I look for deals before I go out to eat, plan an activity, purchase clothing, fill up my tank, buy groceries — you get the picture. You also should be doing this without question, especially if you're finding it difficult to add to your savings consistently.
"Take a few minutes to look for savings on a purchase, whether it's tonight's takeout or an oil change for your car," Perez urges. "Oftentimes you can find coupons or discounts on company websites or company social media pages, or you can download an app like Coupon Sherpa. For example, you can currently save $5 on an oil change from Jiffy Lube or buy one, get one free entrees from Smashburger."
8. Increase Your Savings in Small Increments
Many people fail at saving because they're thinking too big. You convince yourself that you'd like to put XXX amount of dollars in the bank, and you don't put in a single penny until you've reached that milestone. The problem with this mentality is that you can very well get derailed along the way, prolonging your goal deposit, ultimately cheating yourself out of savings in smaller, more realistic increments.
Rogin provides a few tips on how more focused savings can turn into something substantial.
"Set up an automatic savings system, so you have money come directly from your paycheck to your bank each paycheck," she suggests. "And if you work at a company with a retirement plan, make sure you have money coming out of your paychecks going into this plan. An added bonus — you automatically spend less than you earn and that is one of the most important thing you can do to fix your finances."
9. Look Up a New Financial Word Every Day
I absolutely love this tip from Johnston, mostly because in all my years of writing on personal finance topics, this is the first time I'm hearing it. Ready?
"Get a financial dictionary and learn a new word every day," she says. "Knowledge is power and when you understand the language of money you make much better decisions."
Did your head just explode a little bit? Because mine did. We can all learn more about how to better serve ourselves financially if we have a better grasp of what "finance" actually means, and a good place to start is with vocabulary. Genius.