zen habits : breathe

10 Ways To Improve Your Financial Situation In Just 15 Minutes


Photo by lemonjenny

This is a guest post from Trent of The Simple Dollar. Every Tuesday is Finance & Family Day at Zen Habits.

As a parent of two children in diapers, I’m always looking for quick things I can do that will improve my financial situation. I like things I can do once, then just sit back and watch as they provide financial benefit for me over the long haul.

Here are ten things you can do to improve your financial situation. Each one can easily be done in fifteen minutes and then forgotten about, but over time, these moves will slowly put significant money in your pocket. Think of it as an investment of time that continually pays dividends to your wallet.

1. Request a reduction in your credit card interest rate. Take your credit card. Flip it over. Call the phone number on the back. Ask to speak to a supervisor (when you finally get to a real person). Say that you’re considering switching credit cards with a 0% balance transfer and ask if they can reduce your rate to keep you as a customer. It won’t always work, but it’ll work often enough to make it well worth your while.

2. Review your health insurance and other benefit choices at work. Take a look at what kind of health insurance you chose at work. Do you use it regularly? Would a less expensive option cover you just as well in an emergency? Do the same for your other benefits as well. This is a good time to bump up your 401(k) contribution a bit, too.

3. Sign up for a customer rewards program. If you shop regularly at a particular store (for me, the weakness is Borders), sign up for their customer rewards program, especially if it’s free. I constantly get 20% and 30% off coupons from Borders, and somewhat regularly I get $5 in credit there as well. The program costs nothing, I get the coupons in my email, and it took me just a few minutes to sign up. Concerned about spam? Just use a Gmail address for this purpose – it’s free and the spam filtering is impressive.

4. Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat lets you define a program for temperature change in your house throughout the day, which basically means your air conditioner and/or furnace won’t run during the day when you’re away from home or during the night when you’re asleep. This will save drastically on your energy bills. Even better, they’re easy to install if you’re a bit familiar with home electricity – but don’t hesitate to get an electrician to install it for you if you don’t know what you’re doing.

5. Optimize your auto insurance. Consider raising your deductible on your comprehensive insurance – or consider entirely eliminating it if you’re thinking about buying a new car. Call your agent to get quotes on these changes. It might also be worthwhile to shop around a little.

6. Visit your local library. You’ll find out exactly what’s available there – and the quantity and quality of the free stuff is usually surprising, from books to CDs and DVDs. You might just find yourself using their DVDs for your DVD rental needs for free instead of buying them or using Netflix. For me, I get the majority of my books from the library, saving quite a lot on book costs.

7. Air up your car tires. Look in your car’s manual and see what the recommended maximum tire pressure should be on your car – that’s what the pressure for your tires should be. Get an air gauge, then the next time you’re at a gas station, head over to the free air pump. Check the pressure in each tire, then air up to the maximum. For every 8 PSI you add to any tire, you improve your gas mileage by 1%, and the average tire is 10-12 PSI below the recommended maximum. Thus, airing up your tires can save 6% on your gas mileage. If gas costs $3 a gallon and your car currently gets 20 miles per gallon, over your next 10,000 miles (a typical year), this tip will save you $85.

8. Eliminate any monthly bills for items you don’t use. Still paying for Netflix but haven’t received a new movie in months? Paying for unlimited text messages but only use four or five each month? What about premium movie channels on your cable bill that you maybe watch once every few weeks? These are pure money wasters, and they’re well worth getting rid of. All you have to do is look at your last month’s worth of checking account statements to identify your regular bills, then eliminate the ones that you’re not using. Then, look at a few specific bills, like your cell phone bill, and eliminate any optional services you’re not using. The first time I did this, I came up with an extra $30 a month quite quickly.

9. Replace your light bulbs with CFLs. Even if they’re not burnt out, replace them. Let’s say you use a bulb four hours in an average day. Over one year, at $0.10 per kilowatt hour, replacing a 75 watt bulb with a 26 watt equivalent CFL will save you $7.15 over a year. The bulb has paid for itself in four months. Even better, consider replacing every bulb in your home – replacing just fourteen of the old incandescents will put $100 a year directly in your pocket.

10. Sign up for an online savings account and set up an automatic savings plan. There are a lot of reputable online-only savings accounts out there offering interest rates above 4%. Sign up for one, then set up an automatic savings plan within the account to pull out a small amount from your checking account each week. How much? Why not just save the amount you’ve saved from these other tips? Let’s say all together, you figure that you’re saving $60 a month from these tips. Set up a plan to save $15 a week into the account. You won’t notice any difference at all in your day-to-day spending, and at the end of the year, you’ll have about $750 in the account without lifting a finger!

To read more from Trent, visit The Simple Dollar or subscribe to his feed.

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