9 easy things you can do today to improve your finances.
Maybe your dollars are not mindfully spent. And you don't really have a budget for 2017. Perhaps you have more debt than you would like, but you haven't been motivated enough to make big change. Fair enough. I've been in a similar place. But maybe you do have a few minutes and some internet access... And maybe you'd like to use these few resources to make a tiny dent in understanding your finances or changing your spending habits? Awesome. I have some ideas for you.
Below are 9 tools I've used on my financial journey. Each of them offers something different: Some have helped me spend less, others have helped me understand my finances, and others have put a few bucks in my pocket. Every single one is free.
1. REMOVE TEMPTATION: Unenroll Me
Do Groupon ads or emails from your favorite stores have you daydreaming about shopping? Are they coaxing you into parting ways with your cash? One of the very first things I did when I wanted to change my spending habits was to use this one-stop tool to unsubscribe from every email list that was trying to sell me anything. Yep. Because if I need a 50% off coupon on a photo book or sushi or yoga, I can go to Groupon or LivingSocial's website to look for those specific things. I don't need to be tempted to book weekend getaways or buy restaurant meals when I don't plan to eat out. By unsubscribing from every email list that was trying to sell me something, I removed a bunch of ads from my life. I'm grateful and more content with what I have. The service is free, and there is an app for iPhones too! (A special thanks to song-writer and podcast host Emily Anne Peterson for introducing me this tool and the next one too.)
2. IDENTIFY LEAKS: AskTrim.com
Ask Trim helps you identify and unsubscribe from automatically renewing subscriptions that you are no longer using. Did you cancel service after that free trial you signed up for? Are you still using your Audible subscription each month? It can also help you locate low cost insurance.
3. START SAVING: Digit
Digit is the reason I could buy Christmas gifts with cash this year. I started Digit long before I had my act together with any of my other finances, and I'm super glad I did! I'll be honest. Digit made me nervous in a lot of ways at first: 1. It was operated by text message only when I started; 2. I was sending my money to an unknown e-savings account in the sky (and it could only be accessed by text?!!); and 3. I was going to trust a robot to decide when to take money out of my checking account without impacting my day-to-day life or causing me to overdraft?!
Lucky for me, a number of reputable magazines had reviewed Digit, and that put me at ease. Lucky for you, Digit now has an app and online presence that make it easier than ever to use. There have been times that Digit put just $.17 or $.23 (yes, those are cents) into savings for me, but even those small amounts add up. When I needed to pause saving to stay motivated on my financial journey, I simply texted "Pause." Digit not only asked me how long I wanted to stop saving, it also checked back in with me before starting back up. When I started getting closer to Christmas, I texted Digit "More" and it helped me save a bit more before the holidays. I highly recommend Digit.
4. KNOW YOUR CREDIT HISTORY - Free Annual Credit Reports
Federal law requires all three credit bureaus to give you access to your credit reports every 12 months, and I highly recommend it. All three credit reporting companies can have slightly different information, so I encourage you to check all three. If you haven't been actively taking control of your finances, you might find some skeletons in your credit closet. And that's okay! The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to get things back in shape. Even those who are careful with their money can find something that has slipped through the cracks. My husband and I checked our credit before refinancing our home recently, and we found two small bills from five years ago that had been sent to collections without even billing us first! About a hundred bucks later, these things were taken care of and no longer showed up as unpaid outstanding debt. I recently showed my teenager how he could use this service too, as got his first job and opened his first checking account in 2016.
5. CLAIM YOUR CASH - Unclaimed Money Websites by State
When a doctor's office, insurance company, or cell phone company has a refund for you that they are unable to process for any reason (mail gets returned, account is now closed, etc), they aren't allowed to just pocket this money. The first time I checked Washington state's "Claim your Cash" website, I was surprised to find some dollars waiting for me. This website has a list for unclaimed property searches for each of the fifty states. If you've lived in multiple states, you'll want to check them all. Happy hunting!
6. GET CASH BACK ON GROCERIES - Ibotta
In just a couple months, I've earned $49.75 in cash back on grocery purchases using Ibotta. The first month, the cash winnings were easy due to start up bonuses. While my rebates have slowed a bit, it's hard to complain about getting money back on bell peppers, orange juice, hamburger, milk, and bread. I use Ibotta with caution, always asking myself if I would purchase the item if there was no rebate. I had to turn down some super fancy granola with a $1 rebate recently because it still would have been a $7 bag of fancy, organic granola (plus, I like my homemade kind the best!). My favorite Ibotta experiences are when my grocery store has an item on sale, AND I get an Ibotta rebate. It practically feels like stealing! Ibotta has also helped us put some teenager-friendly foods (See also: Kraft Mac n' Cheese) in the house without breaking the bank. The app is pretty convenient to use: I search for rebates as I make my grocery list, scan items as I put them into my cart, and then send a picture of my receipt before I leave the store. You can also enter your rebates after you get home from shopping if you'd like.
7. LEARN YOUR SPENDING HABITS - Mint
A lot of people love setting up a budget and tracking their spending goals with Mint.com. You can link the site to your accounts, and it automates the process of tracking your spending. If you are not someone who is going to manually create your own spending categories and take a look at where your money is going (something I highly recommend), then you can let Mint drop it all into categories and give you an idea of where you stand. Mint is jam-packed with other tools as well, and it's a division of Intuit (the same folks that brought us Turbo Tax).
8. KNOW YOUR NET WORTH - Net worth calculator
Your net worth is a measure of what you have to show for all the money you've spent and saved in your lifetime. This measurement doesn't depend on what your annual salary is, just what you've managed to accumulate (assets) and how much debt you have (liabilities). If you are like us and have some student loans and a mortgage stacked up, it can be painful to look at. The same is true if you are making six figures, but also have a lot of consumer debt to go with that generous income. Net worth is used by banks when they decide whether you are worthy of a mortgages or other kinds of loans, but you can also use it as a starting point of where you are now. Take a look again in a year, and see how your choices in that time have helped that number change.
9. DEVELOP A PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT - Money Boss Mission Statement Tool
Good financial habits are often the result of something bigger and more powerful than just a goal to be debt free or retire early. This month on Mindfully Spent, we've been focusing on what is truly meaningful and how to prioritize accordingly. J.D. Roth of Money Boss provides this comprehensive tool on creating a personal mission statement. This type of statement can help you hone in on powerful long-term goals. You can then use these goals to help guide your decisions about money.
There are people who are living off of tiny percentages of their income in order to travel the world or dedicate thousands to people in need. You can do these things too... IF they mean something to you. When we want something strongly enough, we can use it as motivation to achieve great things. You can put yourself through school. You can end the feeling of being trapped in a job you don't like because it pays the bills. You can quite worrying about whether you will be able to afford the next house repair or the cost of starting a family. These types of goals cannot usually be achieved overnight, but the motivation of knowing what matters to you can keep you going until you get there. It all starts with a personal mission statement. If you like J.D.'s Mission Statement tool, I highly recommend you check out his blog: MoneyBoss.com or subscribe to his email list to continue your financial education. I'm excited to put some of his investing tips into practice soon!