I have a confession. I don’t make my bed in the morning.
Some productivity experts say that you need to make your bed in the morning so you get that easy win that sets you up for the day. My easy win is waking up before my kids so I don’t get startled awake. Getting startled awake is the absolute worst. That’s MY morning win. 🙂
But I do like easy wins.
When I have a list of things to do, I tackle these simple ones first. I get the ball rolling and now the whole list seems beatable.
Why not apply this to our money? Do the easy things we need to first, then tackle the harder ones now that our money morale is up.
With that in mind, what are some easy wins you can get right now?
Find Your Missing Money
There are millions upon millions of dollars that never made it back to their owners and now sit in state unclaimed property departments – you can find out if any of it is owed to you by going to MissingMoney.com. Searching takes mere minutes and claiming, as you can imagine with anything involving a government, takes a little bit longer … but sometimes it’s worth it.
How would you like a few thousand of your dollars back?
Sign up for My Social Security
The Social Security Administration has entered the digital age! You can now sign up for a My Social Security account and see your benefits — aaaand you should do this right now. Before someone else signs up your name because that’s what scammers are trying to do.
Go to SSA.gov and click on the Sign In/ Up link at the top, then pick my Social Security.
Opt Out of Credit Offers
You can stop most unsolicited offers of credit (and insurance) by signing up for OptOutPrescreen, the official site of the consumer credit reporting industry. This can reduce the amount of dangerous junk mail you get (the kind that identity thieves like).
While you’re at it, you can opt-out of all sorts of junk mail too with these FTC instructions.
Get a “Big Picture” Financial Dashboard
I like Personal Capital for their financial dashboard and they’re the best if you have investments.
If you just want a system to pull your expenses, categorize them, and do some budgeting – go with Mint (I prefer Personal Capital over Mint). If you want a solid budgeting app with a great philosophy behind it, give You Need a Budget a look too. (it’s really easy to start a budget in YNAB)
Either way, having a snapshot of your money at a moment’s notice is good. I keep a historical record too in my Net Worth Record Spreadsheet but it’s powered by a dashboard.
Unsubscribe from Store Email Lists
Stores are smart. They know that when they email you, you’ll open it. Maybe you’ll buy something. Maybe you won’t.
If they don’t send you an email, it’s extremely unlikely you will buy something out of the blue. The email is the reminder. And it works!
The best way to stop this from happening is to unsubscribe. You can do it when the emails shows up or sign up for a free service like Unroll.me. It’ll look through your email for these types of newsletters and give you an easy way to unsubscribe.
While you’re at it, you can opt-out of mailed catalogs too with Catalog Choice. It’s a free service that will submit catalog unsubscribe requests on your behalf.
This won’t put more money in your pocket but it will help keep it there. And save the Earth.
Check Your Credit Reports
Your credit score is important but it’s the direct result of what’s on your credit report – something you should be reviewing for accuracy every year. You can use the Waterfall Method or just request all three (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at once via AnnualCreditReport.com.
It’s very easy, relatively quick, and you should fix problems ASAP no matter how minor they appear. Fixes can take several weeks so don’t delay.
Check Your Credit Score
Years ago, you’d have to sign up for some trial for a credit monitoring service, get your score, then cancel.
Nowadays, you can get your credit score for free from places like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, CreditWise from Capital One, Discover, and a few others … but honestly with four options you don’t need any more. Pick one and go. See how it compares versus the average.
Renegotiate Your Cable
This applies to any contract in which you are out of the contract. The cable is the best example because they’re the easiest to negotiate.
When you signed up for cable, you were given a set price for months. Our Verizon contract is for 2 years. If you are no longer under contract, you should be aggressively negotiating it. You don’t need cable to live but the cable company needs you to live. Giving you service, when they service your neighbors, costs them pennies (marginal cost).
Collecting a hundred bucks each month from you is like collecting pure profit – which is why they’re so easy to negotiate with. Collecting fifty bucks is still collecting a pure profit. Their greatest fear is that you decide to cut your cable and find online streaming alternatives instead of cable.
Play this game with any company that has you sign a contract.
Request a Credit Limit Increase
Credit utilization, which is how much of your available credit you are currently using, is one of the factors that influence your FICO credit score. To decrease your utilization, you can request an increase from each of your credit cards.
Do it the right way, without a hard credit pull, and you can see your credit score go up with very little effort.
Rollover Old 401(k)s
Did you move jobs and leave a 401(k) behind? It doesn’t take long to roll it over somewhere else that might have better (cheaper) investment options. I use Vanguard because they have all the index fund options you need and charge very little in fees (Fidelity is another great alternative). I quickly peek at Personal Capital to see if my allocations are out of whack.
If you don’t want to pick your own investments and prefer to pay slightly more to a roboadvisor to pick them for you, Betterment and Wealthfront are good options there too. With Wealthfront, you can get $15,000 managed for free (you still pay the fees of the underlying investments, Wealthfront doesn’t charge you on top of that) — you can read our Weathfront review to learn more.
Get a Safe
If your important documents are in a file folder somewhere, get a safe that’s rated for fire, flood, and theft. There are two testing companies, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Intertek (ELT), and they rate safes on their ability to withstand heat. You want the safe to protect your stuff in the event of a house fire, which a file folder will not do.
As for theft, small safes are tricky because a thief can just pick them up and run with them. The best option for anti-theft is either a massive safe they cannot steal or hiding it somewhere clever. Avoid those home office supply stores safes because they’re junk against theft.
Or go with a safe deposit box at your bank.
Increase Your 401(k) Contribution
Are you getting the maximum match from your employer? If not, you need to get that free money and up your contribution to at least that amount. If you already get the maximum, consider putting more. Even a small increase can boost your retirement savings as it grows.
While you’re thinking retirement, have you contributed to your Roth IRA? It’s a great vehicle for retirement savings (you contribute after-tax dollars but it grows tax-free) and eventually, you may earn too much to be able to contribute to a Roth.
Tweak Your Withholding
If you got a big tax refund last year, as in more than a few hundred dollars, look into your salary withholding. That’s money you should be saving and investing during the year, rather than giving the Treasury Department an interest-free loan. It’s also the money you could be putting to your use. (if you view it as “forced savings,” that’s fine — just remember to save it come April!)
To adjust your withholding, you need to talk to your human resources folks and submit an updated Form W-4. They can help you do that.
There you have it! Don’t stress over asset allocation, rebalancing, or planning your estate — pick some easy jobs and get that ball rolling.
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Extremely easy wins.
In just five minutes, I already:
1) used unroll.me to unsubscribe to 8 email subscriptions I didn’t know how to unsubscribe to ( or just daily deleting myself )
2) used Catalog Choice to opt out of some junk mail from previous residents ( from 6 years ago ) of my home
Those are the immediate ones I’ve used to declutter my life for the New Year.
Appreciate your putting these resources together in this post, Jim.
Sanjib Kumar Saha says
Your post helped me a lot into putting my resolution “Financial Win: 2017” in action. According to your suggestion, I have already unsubscribed from store e-mails and aim to keep a regular tab on my credit score. I intend to follow your advice step by step, so keep sharing more articles like this.
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
I do need to be better about contributing to retirement, but at this point it’s a crapshoot since we’re still getting out of debt. I do put in $200/mo to my Roth IRA, so that’s good. It ever-so-slightly decreases our taxable income, which is also nice.
I opted out of credit card offers and it was super easy! I even included my old addresses since I have mail forwarding set up. And you don’t actually have to enter your social security number on the site; I didn’t and it still worked. It’s reduced the amount of mail I have and decreases my chances of identity theft. Double win!
Jim Wang says
It’s a delicate balance between paying off debt and saving for retirement. (though contributing to a Roth IRA won’t decrease your taxable income, that only happens with a 401k or traditional IRA)
Very good tip on opting out!
Lazy Man and Money says
I’ve had no luck negotiating with my cable company, Cox. They know they are the only internet access above 3 Mpbs. They leverage that through bundles (with cable TV) and 6-month promotions to set the floor of what you are going to pay. They hope that you don’t negotiate a new promotion in 6-months where the price balloons back up. So I guess that’s negotiating, but I think of it as basic price with a lazy tax (no pun intended) added to it.
Claiming missing money is a nightmare if it is a joint account like the I one my mother set up for me when I was little.
I’ve been meaning to register on the SSA site thanks for the reminder. I was able to do it successfully and they had a nice breakdown of how much I would receive once I turn 65. That obviously might change depending in the next 30 years, but nice to know nonetheless.
Regarding free credit score, Credit Karma seems to have changed their model and provide an actual credit score for free rather than an estimated one. And they also have a tax service that will let you file for free without many restrictions! I’m looking forward to see how that pans out. Thanks again for the great suggestions.
Jim Wang says
The big thing with registering on the SSA website is to do it before a scammer does. That’s like 99% of the value.
Credit Karma has really expanded their offering and it’s great what they’re offering now for free.
Michele Cooper says
These are some impressive easy wins. Though, I have already done some of the things mentioned on this list, there are lots more to do. I will start with re-negotiating my cable. I think I may be able to get a better deal out of it. and signing up social security. Thanks for sharing Jim.
Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com says
I love the idea of starting with small items first and work your way up. It’s a great confidence builder and quite motivating to see your list shrink.
Loved all your ideas for money wins! I have to admit I do not make my bed every morning (I try but sometimes I forget or am in a rush… I really should get better at it)! I definitely agree with you on your idea of unsubscribing from store emails because they really do make you click on them! Those sneaky stores! Thanks for sharing this with us!
Alex Coleman says
It’s always good to have a reality check. Even if you have 12/13 things, there are always improvements to be made. And I 100% agree with the cable negotiation it can surprisingly make a big difference. I have been making a spreadsheet of my smaller (yet significant) expenses as I am cutting down on non-necessities and this list is a great place to start. Good work!