I’m obsessed with to-do lists and love being able to check things off my list, moving me closer to achieving my goals.
I thrive when I have actionable items that I can work on.
This directly translates to money and finance. Making money, saving money, and managing money are things that everyone has to deal with.
But dealing with money can be daunting if it’s not broken down into actionable tasks. That’s why I decided to write a post about 40+ ways to improve your finances this month.
There’s many things you can do over the next year, two years, or ten years to get in a better spot financially. But what about this month?
My goal with this post was to provide a list of things that you can take action on within the next few weeks to improve your finances. Some will take longer than others, but all can at least be started this month.
1) Start Tracking Your Income & Expenses
Tracking your income and expenses can have a huge impact on your finances. When my wife (yes my wife first suggested this, not me!) four years ago, I was skeptical. But we immediately felt freedom by having a record of exactly how much we were making and how much we were spending. The sooner you start, the sooner you can make adjustments to how you spend and manage your money.
After years of doing a manual budget spreadsheet, I finally created an automated approach. You can grab my free automated budget spreadsheet here. It uses Tiller which is an awesome new tool that automatically formats all your data into one uniform format. I highly recommend it.
2) Start Tracking Your Net Worth
It was long after I started tracking my spending that I started to track my net worth. To be honest it can be a bit deflating for millennials to track their net worth, especially if they are buried in student loans (and other debt).
Regardless of how you will feel about your net worth, it can beneficial to track it. Unlike tracking your income and expenses, there is a super easy way to track your net worth (automatically): Personal Capital. Personal Capital is a free service I started using this year and once you link all your accounts it’s super easy to go in monthly, quarterly, or annually to check your progress.
3) Review Your Debt
So you know what your net worth is because you set up a free account on Personal Capital, but I would encourage you to not stop there. Instead, dig deeper into your debt. Not all debt is equal. There’s a big difference between credit card debt with a 20% interest rate and a mortgage with a 3% interest rate.
My wife and I keep tabs on our debt using a simple spreadsheet. We list out what company owns the debt, what it was for, what the interest rate is, and what the outstanding balance is. We pay off the higher-interest debt first and some debt we put nothing extra towards (like our mortgage with a 3.15% interest rate).
- 7 Actions You Can Take to Pay Off Your Debt
- What To Do If You Are In Credit Card Debt
- 12 Tips for Paying Off Debt Faster
4) Make a Debt Repayment Plan
While you may not be able to pay off all your debt this month (if you are able to, kudos to you), there is no reason you can’t create a debt repayment plan. A debt repayment plan essentially maps out exactly how you plan on paying off your debt. It can include details like which debt you will pay off first, changes you will make in spending to pay off debt faster, or how you will increase your income to pay off debt faster (the basis of my book).
While making a plan, think of actionable things that you can do today to lower your overall debt load. For example, should you consider a different repayment plan for your student loans? Should you consolidate them? And if you are in credit card debt, have you looked into moving them onto a 0% transfer card?
5) Start Using a Calendar
The saying “time is money” is true: your income is constrained by your time. The biggest issue people run into when starting side hustles is the lack of time and inability to fit it into their schedule.
I use a calendar religiously and it’s really helped me juggle my full-time job, my side hustles (blogging, freelance writing, creating products), and everything else in my life. I use Google Calendar, but I encourage people to use whatever works for them.
Having your time under control – and spending your time on the things that matter to you – can only help your finances.
6) Start Contributing to an HSA
If you have a Health Savings Account, or HSA for short, and aren’t contributing to it, you should start ASAP. HSAs are like IRAs, but on steroids (no pun intended) because you can use them both as an IRA in retirement or you can use them to pay medical bills, tax free, until the day you die.
I’ve talked to countless millennials who have HSAs through their employer but who are not contributing. Some of them say they simply do not have many medical expenses so there is no reason to. To that I say – that’s the absolute best time to build up your medical emergency fund! Plus you can withdraw funds in retirement like any IRA allows you to. See the related posts for more info on why I’m so big on HSAs.
7) Start Tracking Your Donations
When it comes to taxes you really need to keep good documentation. Some of this is done automatically through an employer or company you have a student loan through, but some of it falls on your plate.
Take donations as an example. Many people donate both money and physical goods, but how many actually keep detailed records? If you don’t have a record of your donations, you won’t be able to write them off.
Next time you go to goodwill or donate to a cause, keep detailed records of your donation. For physical goods, having details of exactly what you donated will help you calculate your write-off come tax time (and help if you ever are audited). If you really want to track donations properly, take a picture of the physical goods you donate. Make sure you get a tax receipt, both when you donate physical goods or when you make monetary donations.
8) Review Retirement Options
If you don’t already contribute to a retirement account, it’s time to start. And even if you do already contribute to a retirement account, it never hurts to evaluate how much you are contributing and whether you can/should increase the amount.
If you have the option, a 401k is a good place to start saving for retirement. Make sure you check and see whether your employer matches your contributions up to a certain percentage. If they do, make sure that you contribute at least enough to max out the employer match – anything less is leaving money on the table.
For those who do not have retirement account options through work, consider opening an IRA. A regular IRA gives you tax protection today but taxes you when you withdraw funds. A Roth IRA is after-tax money and does not protect you from taxes today, but you will not be taxed when you withdraw funds in retirement. Both have their advantages; the important thing to do is get started!
9) Review Your Fees
Do you know how much you are losing in fees in your retirement account? Taking it a step further, do you know if you are paying the lowest possible fees on your retirement account?
Most people don’t think about management fees when it comes to their investments. After all, the difference between 0.5% or 2% seems minimal. The graphic in a post I wrote shows that the difference can actually be huge: 33% difference in savings after 30 years!
Use a free tool like FeeX to do a quick (automatic) scan of your retirement accounts to make sure you aren’t losing money in management fees.
10) Get Life Insurance
If you are married and/or have children, you need life insurance. This is especially true if you have debt or if your spouse relies on your income.
Life insurance is an easy thing to put off. I put it off for more than 2 years – it always seemed to fall at the bottom of my to-do list. Finally I went through Policy Genius to get quotes online and see what my options are.
11) Write down your goals and get motivated
What are you working towards this month? This year? Five years from now?
Taking 10-30 minutes and setting goals can have a huge impact on your finances long-term. Once you have them written down you are much more likely to follow through with them.
Some goals – like paying off $100k of debt – are daunting. Breaking your goals down into achievable, actionable sub-goals can be a good approach. For example I made a goal out of college to make $1,000+ each month in side hustle income to offset my wife and my student loans. From there I broke it down even further into things I could do (Excel freelance, start a blog, freelance write) to make extra money each month.
- 100 Goals to Focus on for a Successful Year
- How to Accomplish Goals by using the “Financial Bridge” Technique
- How to Turn Your Financial Goals Into a Game
12) Review Salary Data & Consider a Job Change
In my book Hustle Away Debt one of the things on the “Pre-Hustle Checklist” is see if there is an opportunity to make more at your 9-5. After all, in many jobs you will be working (close) to the same hours regardless of what level you sit at. Making an extra $10,000 at your day job may be a whole lot easier than making an extra $10,000 at a side hustle.
Two things I recommend everyone consider doing on a regular basis is review salary data on sites like Glassdoor and PayScale, and look at job openings at the next level. Salary data may reveal that you are getting paid lower than you should be, or that other employers pay a lot more than your company for similar positions. Looking at job openings helps you recognize the skills and experience hiring managers are looking for at the next level. You can develop those skills now so you are prepared when you are applying for those jobs.
13) Create or Update your LinkedIn Profile
Love it or hate it, LinkedIn can help you get job opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t come your way. Many recruiters spend countless hours looking at LinkedIn profiles. Not having a presence on LinkedIn could be costing you.
Even if you aren’t looking for a job, you never know what the future holds. There may be a shakeup in management and you could get caught in the cross-hairs. Even if you retain your job, you may not be fond of who you are reporting to or what your new duties are. Building connections on LinkedIn, particularly recruiters, could benefit you down the road.
14) Update your Resume
We’ve all been there. There is a job opportunity that comes up, and you need to submit a resume. But you haven’t updated it in years. You may even struggle to find an old copy of it on your computer!
Regularly updating your resume – every six months to a year – can make your life a lot easier. Beyond that it will show you gaps or areas for improvement. Is your resume unimpressive in the management/leadership area? How can you improve that over the next year?
While updating your resume may not directly improve your finances this month, it’s hard to argue that it won’t improve your finances long-term.
15) Meet with a Recruiter
If you’ve been at the same company for 5+ years, you likely would benefit from talking to a recruiter. Whether it’s a recruiter at another company you are interested in or a recruiter from a recruiting company like Robert Half, they typically have a lot of insight into what hiring managers are looking for in new hires.
Even if you don’t have plans of leaving your employer it can be beneficial to have another contact and hear what other employers compensation and career track is for your area of expertise. At the very least it gets your resume in front of another person – and someone who works directly with hiring managers, at that.
16) Attend a Networking Event
I have to admit: it’s been a few years since I’ve attended a networking event. After all, keeping up my network at my current employer is difficult enough.
Recently, though, I’m realizing how important it is to keep your options open. Networking events aren’t for everyone, but they can lead to good connections. Another option is to find people who work for companies you are interested in and setting up 1:1s with them. It may take some extra effort, but most people are open to meeting with others who work in their same field.
Beyond the 9-5
17) Start a Side Hustle
Now we are getting into the fun stuff! My book Hustle Away Debt is entirely focused on helping people start side hustles and leveraging the extra income to improve their finances.
For those who are unfamiliar, side hustles are essentially any way to make money in addition to your 9-5 income. It can be as simple as wokring a retail job on the weekend, or as complex as creating a product that you have manufactured in China and drop-shipped via Amazon. Ultimately, though, side hustles are meant to help you increase your income so you have more money to reach your financial goals faster.
As student loans become a bigger burden and the overall debt people hold becomes higher, a 9-5 sometimes just won’t cut it. A side hustle like starting a blog, freelance writing, or selling on Etsy has the potential to give you the income you need to make your goals a reality. The important thing to do is to get started!
- 50+ Legitimate Ways to Make Extra Money At Home
- The Ultimate Guide to Side Hustling
- How to Start a Blog (That Makes Money)
- My New Book Hustle Away Debt is on Amazon!
- 15 Hobbies and Interests That Can Be Profitable Side Hustles
18) Use Qmee, Ebates, Swagbucks & IZEA
If you don’t feel like you have time to start a full-blown side hustle, there are a number of simple, easy, and non-consuming ways to make a little bit of extra money online each month. If you stick with them long-term you should make a small amount of extra money for very little effort – all from the comfort of your home.
One of these options is Qmee, which essentially is a non-intrusive browser add-on that presents you with alternative search results every so often. The links show up on the side of the page and show exactly how much you will get paid for clicking them.
IZEA is a website that matches up social media users with advertisers. I’ve been getting paid tweets for almost eight years now. They’ve come a long way as they’ve upgraded their technology and integrated more and more social media accounts. I even won a trip to Hawaii through them (seriously!).
19) Rent part of your house
I get it: it’s nice to not have roommates or renters. But honestly if you are single this can be a really great way to improve your finances. If you have a big enough house with enough extra bedrooms your rental income may even be high enough to cover the entire mortgage!
Because we are always looking for ways to increase and diversify our income, my wife and I rent out part of our basement. It’s laid out as a studio apartment and the rental income has been great the past few years.
Of course renting out part of your house or getting a roommate may not be an option for you, but if you do have the space it can be a great way to increase your income and cut your expenses at the same time.
- 9 Things to Consider Before Renting a Basement or Bedroom
- Why We Pursued Rental Income and How You Can Too
20) Work on a skill
It’s no question that employers are looking for skilled workers. So what is one way to make yourself more in-demand and, potentially, paid more? Learn new skills and continue to improve the ones you already have.
One of my favorite benefits of side hustles are that they offer you the opportunity to improve your skills. For example I have done some Excel freelancing, and it not only provided me with extra income but also improved skills that I use at my 9-5. A win-win all around!
If one of your goals is to focus on self-improvement this year, working on your skill set is a great way to help your finances. For example, many programmers are primarily self-taught. They took the initiative to learn how to code and that has allowed them to land jobs in a very lucrative career path. With all the courses and free content available online these days you can learn and improve virtually any skill you desire.
21) Sell your stuff
I am a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, the entrepreneur and marketing genius whose new book #AskGaryVee came out recently. One thing he talked about recently was how some people will say “if I just an extra $500, $1,000, or $2,000 dollars I could do (fill in blank).” His suggestion was to go through everything you own and make a pile of things you can sell.
This is really great advice for someone who wants some extra money but doesn’t want to start a side hustle (yet). You can sell your stuff on Craigslist, at a garage sale, or on eBay. You can even take it a step further and go to garage sales and flip things for a profit (one of my neighbors does this full-time with furniture).
So if you want to improve your finances this month, consider spending a weekend going through everything and selling it online or by hosting a garage sale. It can be a good way to practice minimalism as well as make some extra money.
22) Travel Hack
Travel hacking is the process of signing up for credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses, gaining the bonus, using the bonus, and then closing the card. Obviously this isn’t for everyone. If you are in credit card debt make sure you pay it all off before even considering travel hacking.
I’ve been travel hacking for a few years now and it’s been a huge perk for our finances. We’ve been able to travel for much cheaper (free flights and hotel rooms will do that) and overall I see it as an improvement for our finances. It does take some work tracking everything, but what we gain in free travel and cash rewards makes it all worth it.
If this is something you are interested in consider checking out the related posts. We’ve been focusing on this area recently and I plan on continuing to get good travel hacking content out on a regular basis.
- Top Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2017
- Use This Spreadsheet to Track Credit Card Rewards
- 5 Things to do Before Travel Hacking
- How to Afford Travel without Credit Cards
23) Set Up Automatic Savings
Building an emergency fund can be daunting, especially if you are in a lot of debt and want to make payments towards your debt as well. Nevertheless, having an emergency fund is essential, especially if you are in debt, because it helps you avoid having to go into debt if an emergency arises.
There’s a couple of ways to build up an emergency fund that take the pain and guesswork out of the equation. My personal recommendation is that anyone looking to build up their savings should set up automatic fund transfers from their checking to savings. This can be set up to align with when your paycheck hits your checking account. With money moving automatically you have less of a “choice” to save and are, in a way, forced to continue to save.
24) Review Your Spending
Earlier I suggested recording all your income and expenses, either in a spreadsheet, app, or whatever works for you. Once you have that data it’s time to analyze and adjust your spending.
Perhaps you didn’t realize you were spending so much money eating out each month. Or maybe it’s another spending area – like home improvement projects – that are costing you more than you’d like each month.
Once you recognize areas that you would like to change, the next step is to actually make those changes. Be conscious of where you are spending your money and consider rewarding yourself for successful adjusting your spending habits.
25) Cancel Subscriptions
With all the subscription options available today, it can be easy to forget about just how many subscriptions you have – and whether you are even actively using them.
Consider taking some time this month (put it on your calendar) to review all the things you are subscribed to. From magazines to subscription boxes, you may be surprised just how much you pay in subscription fees.
Cable is always the big one, and for good reason: many people pay $100+ every single month for cable and internet. With more and more lower-cost entertainment options it may be time to evaluate whether you REALLY need cable, or if you’d be better off cutting the cord and using a lower-cost option for your entertainment needs.
My wife and I have saved thousands the past few years using coupons on things we would have bought anyway. If you are struggling to save money I would highly encourage you to consider spending an hour or two a week couponing. Savings can quickly pile up.
Retailers and brands face fierce competition, and coupons are one way they can differentiate themselves from their rivals. Even when my wife and I go out to eat or get ice cream from Dairy Queen, we almost always have some sort of coupon to bring down the cost.
There are many sites like Target.com, Redplum.com, and Coupons.com that provide printable coupons. The fact they are online makes it easy to sort and filter only on the products you care about. There are also apps like Ibotta that offer additional savings (without having to physically print anything).
27) Plan Your Meals
Meal-planning is another way my wife and I save time and money. If you don’t already plan your meals, I would recommend you start for the benefits you’ll gain both in only buying food you will actually eat and not having to think “what should I have tonight?”
My wife and I plan two weeks at a time, but you can do just one week or take it further and plan a full month. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later on. Being flexible is key, but the fact that you took the time to plan out your meals makes you more likely to stick to the plan. Your wallet will thank you.
28) Make a Grocery List
Along with meal-planning and couponing, making a grocery list is the third way you can cut down on the amount you spend on groceries and eating out at restaurants.
A good way to integrate all three is by first planning out what meals you want to have. Next, look for coupons that line up with those meals. Add anything else to your list (i.e. paper towels, toiletries, other household goods) and look for coupons for those as well. Finally make your grocery list.
Following this strategy will help you only buy the things you need and not purchase things because there are coupons for them. You will also cut down on the number of items you add to your cart simply because they caught your eye as you were going through the grocery store.
29) Brew Coffee at Home
I know a number of people who get Starbucks or Caribou every single day. While I’m not opposed to getting coffee from Starbucks every once in a while, I try to limit it as much as possible.
If you’re looking to save money and you find yourself going through the Starbucks drive-through frequently, brewing coffee at home can be a big win from a financial perspective. It also could save you time as it’s relatively quick and easy to brew coffee at home versus stopping by Starbucks in the morning.
30) Bring your Lunch to Work
When I was an intern I made a really dumb financial decision: I bought a salad at work every day. I’m not talking cheap salads. I’m talking $5-$8 salads. To put this in perspective I could get $2 or $3 bags of salad at the store and make 2 big salads per bag.
I certainly can understand the draw of purchasing your lunch at work. It’s so easy! Hauling tupperware to and from work each day isn’t fun. But the money you can save is real and can have a big impact when we talk in terms of months or years.
Another reason my wife and I plan our meals is because we try to plan dinners that will have leftovers for lunch the next day. Lo mein, pasta, pizza, stir fry, salad…there’s a ton of options. Bringing our lunches to work has saved us thousands the past few years, and I’d recommend you give it a try if you are looking to improve your finances this month.
31) Put Off a Purchase (Big or Small!)
A piece of financial advice I like to use is “run your personal finances like a business.” With my six years of corporate finance and accounting experience I have seen many great parallels.
One of these parallels is this: delaying spend can be a big financial win. If a business is trying to hit financial targets for a quarter or a year one of the things that is almost always considered is delaying spend. And most times the result is better financial performance.
In the same way you can delay spend with your personal finances, with good results. It isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but putting off big purchases can typically result in better finances. Whether you are delaying the purchase of your next car, that bathroom/kitchen/basement renovation you’ve been wanting to do, or new shoes, delaying these purchases typically doesn’t greatly hurt your quality of life and can sometimes greatly improve your finances.
- One Strategy That Immediately Limits Spending
- How the Practice of “Delaying” Can Boost Your Finances
32) Go On a No-Spend Challenge
Have you considered going on a no-spend challenge? This may sound like an extreme measure, but it can work similar to the “delayed” spending tactic. If you force yourself to not spend money in a given week, month, etc., you by default must find a way to get by with what you have.
A lot of people do this with food. If you feel like your cupboards, fridge, and freezer are packed, but you constantly have food going bad before you can eat it, a no-spend challenge can force you to really look at what food you have on hand and eat that rather than purchase more food.
33) Open a 529 Account for your Children
The amount of outstanding student loan debt in the United States is nearing $1.4 trillion. The average college graduate in 2015 who graduated with student loans had around $35,000 in student loans. Student loan debt is real and there is no end in sight.
If you have children one of the best things you can do this month, if you haven’t already, is open a 529 account in their name. Each state administers their own 529 accounts, so they can vary state-by-state, but look into what your state offers. You can also open an account in other states as well.
These accounts allow you to save and invest money that can be used tax-free for qualified college expenses. With the high cost of college, every little bit helps, and a 529 plan can help your child graduate with less debt.
34) Go the DIY Route
I have a friend who has Summers off because he is a teacher. He tries to do one bigger home project each Summer. It’s the ideal time, as he has plenty of time to go through the project slowly and go the DIY route in virtually every aspect of the project.
A couple years ago he renovated their bathroom. He took everything down to the studs and even redid the wiring with the help of one of his relatives. The project ended up great and saved him anywhere from $5k – $25k.
While we may not all be able to go to the DIY route, it can be a good option for saving money. If you have extra time and aren’t pursuing other side hustles with your spare time, you can potentially save thousands or tens of thousands of dollars that otherwise would go to contractors. Consider the DIY route for your next project and see if you have the time and capacity to make it happen.
Become More Financially Literate
35) Read a Book about Personal Finance
One thing I’ve been really focused on since starting Young Adult Money four years ago is helping others gain financially literacy. I think of financial literacy as a lifetime learning program: there’s always more to learn.
There are so many books out there about personal finance. Literally thousands upon thousands! So how do yo pick one? If you look at the links below we have a number of suggestions for you.
36) Start a Personal Finance Course
Courses are becoming more and more popular. The most popular course by far is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which you can do from the comfort of your home.
Beyond Dave Ramsey there are all sorts of personal finance courses out there that cover both broad topics and more focused, niche, topics. One of my former writers, Cat, now writes for blogs full-time. She created a course to help others become freelance writers (for blogs in particular). She has a passion for helping others gain freedom through starting a writing side hustle that can eventually turn into a full-time income.
Consider going on a side like Lynda and browsing the options.
37) Learn about Tax Strategies
We’ve already mentioned HSA, retirement accounts, and recording all your donations, but typically most people don’t think about taxes as a way to save money. In reality if you are strategic about the opportunities given to you (i.e. 401k, HSA, etc.) that can save you money on taxes, you could greatly lower your tax bill at year-end.
A lot of tax savings has to be done over the course of a year. If you take some time this month to look into ways to lower your taxes, you may be surprised at how little you are actively doing to lower your tax bill. With our complicated tax code it’s natural to not want to deal with it or think about it except at year end.
I encourage you to take some time to analyze your tax strategy this month. And if you don’t have a “tax strategy”, consider creating one.
- 6 Tax Advantage Savings for Millennials
- 5 Reasons You Should Plan for Taxes Year-Round
- Here’s How You Can Make Taxes Easier Next Year
38) Subscribe to Young Adult Money’s weekly newsletter
Can you blame for including a selfish plug here ;) I’ve started to put more time and energy towards our newsletter, and it can give you a quick recap of what posts were new the past week as well as other news and links to popular posts.
We are really committed at Young Adult Money to helping you make more, save more, and live better. Who doesn’t want those three things? Fill out the form below to join our community:
39) Work Out on a Regular Basis
The statistics don’t lie: Americans aren’t the healthiest. While there are two sides to the health equation, both eating healthier and getting more exercise, I wanted to specifically call out working out on a regular basis as a way to improve your finances.
I won’t bore you with countless stats on how exercising makes you healthier and at lower risk for various diseases. We’ve all heard this. But one thing I’ve noticed about exercise is that it really is about getting in the habit of making time for it. Once you are in the habit of going to the gym or exercising outside a few times a week, it does get easier.
There are some health conditions that simply can’t be prevented by exercise. I had two sinus surgeries and it had little to do with how many days I went to the gym. With that being said, if you can improve your health in general and in turn save money, it’s a good way to kill two birds with one stone.
40) Minimize Stress
My wife will probably read this tip and say “listen to your own advice!” I’m not the best when it comes to handling stress, but I do recognize that when I am calm and feel like I have control over a situation I generally handle situations better. This obviously has an impact on my job performance, side hustle performance, and ability to make wise financial decisions.
It’s incredible the amount of stress people are under from demands at work, packed schedules, lack of sleep, and anxiety in general. Some people have huge expectations put on them by others, while some put the expectations on themselves. It’s important to identify the source of stress and decide what you can do about it.
Most people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, have some sort of financial stress. For some it can become crushing. That’s why I am so passionate about financial literacy and proposing side hustles as a way to be proactive about taming debt and getting in a better spot financially.
Regardless of what your source of stress is, take some time this month to acknowledge the source or your stress. List out exactly what you can do to deal with it better and/or minimize the underlying issue.
What will you do this month to improve your finances?