There are some tasks associated with personal finance that require many hours. Take creating a budget. You could spend 12 hours or more categorizing your spending and then finding ways to reduce it so you would have more money to save or invest. However, there are personal finance tasks you could accomplish in just five minutes or less and here are 15 of them.
- Sort your bills into stacks. This would help you categorize your spending and would be the first step towards getting it under control. The fact is you can’t begin to manage your finances until you know how you’ve been spending your money.
- Enter today’s receipts into whatever software you use for keeping track of your spending. Do this every day and you’ll soon have a good record of where your money’s going.
- Sort the mail. Put the junk mail into recycling, then open your letters and bills. Review the bills and then either pay them or set up automatic reminders to pay them before their due dates.
- Pay a bill. If you have a bill that has reached or is about to reach its due date, pay it. That will keep you from missing a payment, which could have a very negative effect on your credit.01
- Go online and check your balances. Maybe this goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway. It’s critical that you always know how much money you have available to pay your bills and cover your miscellaneous expenses.
- Make a list of the three things that would make your financial life simpler. This shouldn’t take more than five minutes but could have a very positive effect on your finances.
- Review a bank or credit card statement. Go over it carefully to make sure there are no charges you hadn’t authorized, which could mean your identity has been stolen.
- Set up automated payments for a monthly bill. Use your bank’s online system to create an automatic payment for a bill that’s identical every month such as your rent, mortgage or auto loan payment. Do this and you will never miss paying it.
- Make an extra payment on a debt. You could cut your interest charges as well as your balance owed by making a second payment on a debt in addition to your normal one.
- Create a new file folder. Put a label on a new file folder and put a previously sorted pile of paperwork into it.
- Close an unused bank account. If you have a checking or savings account you’re no longer using just close it. This could save you money in monthly fees.
- Open an IRA. Put a few dollars into either a standard or Roth IRA. The money you put into a standard IRA is tax deductible though you will be taxed when you begin withdrawing it. In comparison, you pay taxes on the money you put into a Roth IRA but it’s tax-free when you withdraw it.
- Make a list of things that require money that you’ve always dreamed about. It’s good to have goals and the way you achieve them is by writing them down and putting them some place where you’ll see them every day. That can be a great motivator to keep you on track to achieve them.
- Figure out how much you spent on junk food this week. You might be surprised to learn how much this really was. Step two is to cut down on that junk food and put the money into the IRA you just opened.
- Call your insurance agent. Check to make sure all your coverages are still adequate and don’t forget to have her or him do that old “discount double check.”
Four top financial resources
The tasks listed above can be done in five minutes or less. However, there are some things you should be doing that take longer than this. And one of them is to start utilizing the online personal finance resources available. Here are four of the top-rated.
Yahoo Finance Education
This site does an excellent job of providing explanations of personal finance terms and ideas. Any time you need an explanation of a financial term, you should go to this site first. It consists of a well-written encyclopedia of topics on personal finances that are presented in a very unbiased manner. For example, if you would like to learn what a P/E ratio means for stocks or how to buy a bond, this is where you should go.
Finance at Khan Academy
This site consists of a series of video presentations on personal finance. What sets these videos apart from others – aside from the fact that they are not text but videos – is that the talks often go into a wider area than just personal finance. For example, there is a talk on inflation that covers how it impacts people personally but also discusses what inflation really is and its causes.
Money 101 (at CNN Money)
If you need a tutorial-type walk-through of financial basics, this would be an excellent choice. Money 101 presents the basics of what you need to know about personal finance in the form of a series of lessons. You can go through these lessons one at a time to teach yourself the fundamentals of money management. If you prefer to learn in an organized lesson-based setting, Money 101 would be a great choice.
Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps
If you are struggling with debt and looking for a quick solution, this site would be an excellent choice. In fact, many experts feel that it’s the best package of solution-oriented personal finance materials available. Dave pulls no punches and doesn’t come off as a teacher. What you get here is a hard-nosed coach with a game plan that has proven successful. What Dave wants to do is motivate you to move down the path towards becoming debt-free and living a happier life. Seven Baby Steps is a bit light on specifics but very heavy on Dave’s plan and the motivation required to follow it.
Other good sources for information on personal finance
While the four sites listed here could be considered to be among the top places for information on personal finance, there are others that could be helpful. We like Yahoo! Finance in general and especially for its section on personal finance as it offers good information on real estate, retirement and taxes as well as credit and debt.
MSN Money also provides generalized news and information on personal finance. It has helpful sections on saving money, retirement, budgeting, insurance and credit and debt. There is even a parenting guide and a section on credit ratings.
Bankrate.com also has sections devoted to financial planning, retirement and investments, as well as bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages. One of the best things about this site is that it includes a section where you can instantly compare interest rates on auto loans, mortgage loans and home equity loans. Plus, is has a number of helpful calculators you could use to figure out what your payments would be on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, a home equity line of credit, an auto loan and so forth. There’s even one you could use to calculate the real cost of your debt.
If you’re not familiar with the site www.mint.com, you should get yourself over to it sometime today. Mint is a free – and great – tool for managing personal finances. You could create a Mint account in just a few minutes that would put all your important financial information in one place and available with just one password. Mint automatically organizes your spending into categories and can help you develop and stick to a budget. If you overspend in one of your categories, Mint will email you an alert. It will also send you an email if it finds a better product (think credit card) than one you’re now using. Its blog, the MintLife Blog, won’t teach you personal finances step-by-step like CNN’s Money 101 but is packed with helpful articles on everything from what to do when changing jobs to understanding the differences between your FICO score and your VantageScore.