Every year “save money” and “manage debt” resolutions show up among the top resolutions people make. By setting aside between five and 30 minutes each day, you can transform your finances dramatically in 30 days.
How to transform your budget in 30 days
Day 1: Compile all your 2014 expenses and income. Categorize them. You can use Mint.com or Excel, whatever you are comfortable with. (There are also free websites and apps that will do it for you.) Yearly budgets are more accurate because you will see irregular expenses like property taxes or gifts.
Day 2: Continue to compile your 2014 expenses and income. You may need a second day to get all the 2014 expenses and income in one place, so use this day to do that and then review everything to make sure it is all correct.
Day 3: Make a spending plan using the data compiled on Day 1. Is your spending in line with what you want it to be? Do you want to save more or are you happy with the way things are going? Pick one area of your budget (just one area) that you want to reduce spending.
Day 4: Plan to save money in that one area of your budget. If, for example, it is to cut back on eating out, look through Pinterest and make a meal plan for the next month.
Day 5: Reduce your fixed expenses. In my experience, instead of trying to penny pinch, if you can see your fixed, recurring expenses and determine where you can save money without sacrificing your quality of life, that is the best win. For example, if you can spend 10 minutes on the phone and cut your cell phone bill by $10 a month, that is an easy $120 for the rest of the year without any effort. So let us do that. First, check if your company has a preferred cell phone provider who offers discounts on all the employee’s personal plans.
- AT&T Corporate discount
- Sprint employer discounts program
- T-Mobile Advantage program
- Verizon Employee discount
Call your cell phone provider and ask if they have a better plan for you with or without the employee discount (without affecting/resetting the contract). For starters, here are the numbers for the major cell phone carriers.
It might also be a good time to check out the low-cost mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that provide wireless communications services even though they don’t own the wireless network infrastructure. MVNOs purchase bulk access to network services and then set their retail prices independently. You might find that they will serve your needs better and/or save you money.
Read more: How to lower your existing monthly bills
Day 6: Shop for better car insurance. You can start here and compare rates. Once you have an idea whether you are getting a competitive rate, call your insurance company and ask for a re-quote. Check if you are getting all the discounts for which you are eligible. If you have not taken an online safe driver course, check how much you can save if you take it now. Most of the time, spending a couple of hours and $25 to take the course can save a lot more on your insurance.
Day 7: Time to call the cable/Internet company. I combined them because many people purchase these two services from the same provider. If you have them separately, call them on two separate days. Ask them for a better rate. Most cable companies have “introductory” rates that they jack up after 6 months or 1 year. So it is a better idea to make a note in your calendar to call them up 6 months (or 1 year, whatever their rate period is) from today.
Day 8: Get your credit report. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. I usually space them out once every four months, so I keep current on my report throughout the year. For example, you can get the Experian credit report on Day 8. Schedule a reminder to get the Transunion credit report in May and the Equifax report in September. The ONLY website you can get truly free credit reports from is https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. Do you see any discrepancies? Report them immediately.
Day 9: If you have credit card debt, call and ask to negotiate the APR down. See if there are any zero-percent offers (check the transfer fee) that you can take advantage of and make a plan to pay that down before the promotional period runs out. If you don’t have credit card debt, you can take the day off or move ahead!
Read more: How to start paying off credit card debt
Day 10: Automate your finances. Set up an auto transfer of all the money you saved during the last few days. To stretch it a little, try adding a little bit more to your retirement fund. If you got a raise recently, can you channel that into savings? Most of the time, you will never miss the money as you have been living with the pre-raise income. If you have not received a raise in recent months, can you sit down with your manager for an appraisal and ask for a raise? If you can accomplish that, it is another big win for you!
Day 11: De-clutter. It is such a great feeling to be organized, so spending a day to de-clutter and put things in order can be very productive time, especially if you can clean out a space (or a room) and find something you can sell.
Day 12: Profit from de-cluttering. Continue de-cluttering and find two more things you can get rid of, donate, or sell.
Day 13: Post those items things for sale. As soon as you sell them, take 25 percent of the proceeds for fun and transfer the rest to savings. Schedule a day every month for the rest of the year and challenge yourself to sell one thing every month. You might end up with a good holiday fund by just doing this!
Read more: The secret to making extra money with eBay
Day 14: While you are in a de-cluttering mode, de-clutter your finances. Do you still get paper bills? Can you sign up for e-bills? Make sure to schedule a time every month to get the .pdf files and save them if you want to keep the bills. If you are comfortable with the idea, can you auto-pay some bills? Shred documents that are no longer needed.
Day 15: Organize your financial file. Make a few folders (virtual or physical). Make one for tax-related receipts to save throughout the year, one for documents you have to keep for future reference (like a canceled check for a security deposit until you get the deposit back), and one for monthly rotating documents (receipts that you can get rid of after reconciling with the credit card statements, bills that you can get rid of after paying them off, etc.).
Day 16: Have a financial date with your partner (if applicable). Are you and your partner financially on the same page? If one of you manage the finances, talk about your budget, goals and spending plans with your partner and bring him/her into the game plan.
Day 17: Based on your talk, create a master financial document that your partner can look up anytime. This should have your current net worth, budget and a list of all your accounts with passwords. Make sure you encrypt this and keep a copy in a very safe place. The Big Book of Everything has an excellent template to finish this task easily. You don’t have to fill everything in and you don’t have to do it all today. Start it today and keep working on it until it is done.
Day 18: Take one more day to work on your master file.
Day 19: Take a household inventory. For homeowners and renters insurance to be accurate, you need to know what you own and exactly how much it will cost to replace. Now is a good time to take an inventory of things of value. Collect all the warranty information and put them in one place. If you have any expensive items, make an appointment to have them appraised. Based on your inventory, do you have enough insurance or enough of an emergency fund to self-insure? If not, update your insurance or make a plan to save money to replace them yourself in case of a disaster.
Day 20: Do a bank audit. Are you paying for your checking account or credit card? If you are, it is time to change your bank. Look for a free checking account. Check your local credit union or ask the bank for ways you can avoid paying a fee.
Day 21: Do an interest rate audit. Are you getting the best interest rate possible? Personally, I don’t chase interest rates very often because the current interest rates are so low. But once a year to make sure my money works as best as it can? I will do it! I would keep on it more frequently if I had certificates of deposit, though!
Day 22: Do an investment audit. How much are you paying in expense ratio? Are there ways you can reduce this and improve your return?
Day 23: Do an energy audit. Do you have any energy vampires? Check your local library for a Kill-a-watt device. Our library has a kit that we can borrow to check energy consumption. Check your utilities company to see if they will do a free audit. A lot of them do, and they also provide a discount if you use a preferred company to fix the problems.
Read more: 6 ways to cut home energy costs
Day 24: Fix some of the items in your energy audit. Is there anything that popped up in your energy audit that you can fix yourself easily? For example, adding some simple insulation to the windows? Is it time to replace your light bulbs?
Day 25: Do a subscription audit. Do you have any subscriptions — magazines, online entertainment like Hulu or Netflix? Check your library’s online services to see if they can be replaced for free. While you are at it, check all the services your library provides. You could save plenty of money by using your library more (cheap tickets to local attractions, magazine subscriptions, museum passes, state park passes, notary public services to name a few).
Day 26: Find more ways to save. Look at your employer’s HR page, your credit card company’s benefits page, your insurance company’s discount page and any other subscription’s (like AAA) pages to see what discounts you are eligible to receive. At my previous job, we were provided a free gym membership. However, most of my colleagues were completely unaware of this benefit. VISA, Master card, American Express and Discover, all provide many benefits to their card holders that can save money with discounted tickets, extended warranties, etc. Make a list of these discounts and keep it handy.
Day 27: Compute your real hourly wage. This is very empowering. If you know how many hours each of your purchases is costing you, you will see everything with a new perspective that will help you save a lot more in the coming months.
Day 28: Take someone out to lunch. Yes, I asked you to spend money! Take someone you admire and want to learn from, out to lunch. Ask questions and listen more. This is probably the best money you can spend for your career.
Day 29: Update your information. Make sure your beneficiary information for all your accounts is updated.
Day 30: Update your will if there has been any change to your assets or life situation since the last time it was updated (or make an appointment with the lawyer to do that as soon as you can).
Whew! That was a long post, but hopefully as you attack one task at a time, you will find it both motivating and satisfying. Even if you are unable to complete the task for one specific day, don’t chide yourself or give up. Just continue on the next day. At the end of the 30 days, you will have a much better handle of your finances!