Make money moves: 30 simple ways to grow richer and smarter each day of Financial Literacy Month
The answer, luckily, is no. While “hard” inquiries for new credit (when you’re applying for a credit card or loan) may temporarily ding your score, so-called “soft” checks, like pulling your own history, won’t.
Maybe you are a wiz at financial literacy quizzes and already knew that. But if you didn’t — like 28% of U.S. millennials surveyed for Bank of America’s 2018 Better Money Habits report — you could certainly be forgiven. The world of personal finance is nothing if not head-spinning, comprising a major source of stress for young people across the country: Their number one financial worry, more than credit card debt, student loans or even job security, according to the survey? Not having enough cash saved.
Now of course, most financial issues, from debt to salaries to savings, are interconnected. It’s far easier to save up enough dough for the future, for example, once you have paid down your loans and bargained with your boss for a pay bump. And the good news is that a few simple principles can help you get ahead. But with a mess of challenges in front of you, it’s tough to get motivated, organize your priorities and make concrete moves toward greater financial fitness and freedom.
There is one easy excuse to finally get started: April is Financial Literacy Month. For inspiration, below are 30 specific steps — one for each day on the calendar — that will help you earn and save more, waste less and generally get in control of your financial future. Start off with some quick tricks you can do in less than five minutes, and even if you don’t get through the whole list this month, there’s always the next one.
1. Find some proverbial change in the couch cushions: Ever been to MissingMoney.com? If not, go check it out — and see if you are owed a random $100 you didn’t even know about from a bank, alma mater or phone company. (No luck? Try one of our other tricks for rustling up cash in 30 minutes or less.)
2. Bet better: Do you tend to buy lotto tickets? Open a prize-linked savings account instead for a chance to win thousands of dollars. Your savings are at least staying in your pocket, even if you don’t get lucky.
3. Try a switch to generics: By avoiding marked up brand-name products, from food to medicine to batteries, you could save more than $100 per month — in many cases without actually sacrificing any quality.
4. Bump your credit score: Great credit can save you tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Fast-track your way to perfect credit by avoiding credit myths (like that you just need to pay the monthly minimum); picking a debt management method that fits your personality; and lowering your utilization ratio by paying your card off an extra time each month or calling to negotiate a higher credit limit — or both.
5. Reframe desires: One natural human tendency that’s hard to fight is called “temporal discounting,” a phenomenon that helps explain why you pick short-term rewards (that Seamless order or Uber ride), even when you’d be better off investing in the long term (cooking or taking public transit — and pocketing savings plus interest). A research-backed mental trick can help re-train your brain to focus on opportunity costs: Rather than thinking of a choice as a little cash now or more cash later, remember that by indulging in the moment, you’re sacrificing money now — and getting nothing later.
6. Ask for a salary increase: Just getting over the awkwardness can seriously pay off. Eighty percent of millennials in the Bank of America survey who said they asked for a raise reported successfully getting one. Come prepared with specifics, avoid phrases like “I need” or “I heard” and suggest a reevaluation in three months if you can’t lock down a “yes” right away. But if you really can’t catch a break at your current gig, be ready to dust off your resume: Evidence suggests you could probably make more at a newer, smaller firm.
7. Make a phone call: Maybe it’s time to call a financial planner to get advice on seeking forgiveness for student debt — or a loan refinancer to see about getting a better interest rate. Debt-free? Save money with a call to your cable or phone company, credit card or insurer: Just ask nicely and use the “complaint sandwich” method (think: extra-friendly openers and closing lines, with your request in the middle) as you negotiate a better deal.
8. Step up your tax savvy: If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, get at it — and try one of these key tips for saving. If you’ve already filed, be wary of scammers, check your withholdings for next year and track your refund if you’re owed one. Already gotten a check no problem? Use your windfall wisely: By entering the SaveYourRefund contest, for example, you save some cash, while getting the chance to win a $100 weekly drawing or $10,000 grand prize.
9. Start planning your leap: Whether your dream is to buy a home, to launch a fun side gig that could blossom into a full-time business — or simply to finally squash your debt — it can help to get a plan (and timeline) in writing.
10. Prod yourself strategically: Use powerful psychological “nudges” in your work and personal life. That might mean buying more fruits and vegetables and putting them at eye level in your fridge, a move that could make you healthier and wealthier. Or consider using a money app that either reminds you to save — or automates finding hidden savings and stashing cash, so you don’t even have to think about it.
11. See what fraudsters are up to: Save money by not losing it to thieves in the first place. Today you need to beware of “skimmers” and “shimmers” in addition to scammers — and “vishing” and “smishing” in addition to phishing.
12. Diversify: Take one step today that increases your “diversification,” a principle that protects your money in case of an economic downturn — and that, broadly speaking, can help you build wealth by keeping your eggs spread across many baskets. Diversifying means making sure your retirement account includes risky stocks as well as safer bonds; investing in international as well as domestic equities; and putting savings in both a post-tax Roth and pre-tax traditional IRA (here’s how to open one). It even means diversifying your abilities, like by learning a money-saving DIY skill.
13. Do some math: There’s a good chance you have been undervaluing your time, especially if you do any gig work — and even if you don’t. Learn the equations to help you value your hours, so you stop selling yourself short.
14. Invest in your brain: Even if it has been years since you graduated, it’s not too late to take one of the surprising classes that will make you extra-marketable in the future: Anything from machine learning to fitness instruction in niche areas could allow you to charge more for your work than peers.
15. Get paid for your data: You know your digital information is already being sold anyway. Why not make some cash in exchange for letting companies track your shopping habits, online gameplay or survey responses?
16. Kondo your career: Just as tidying guru Marie Kondo suggests you purge your home of any clutter that no longer brings you happiness, it might be worth auditing your job and career for similar results, she said in a 2017 interview with Mic. Need new inspiration? By refocusing your priorities, “you can discern which projects at work excite you and spark joy,” she said. On the other hand, you might also identify what makes you unhappy — and learn how to say “no.”
18. Work faster, finish earlier: Getting more done is like getting an hourly raise if it creates more free time in your schedule. Interestingly, even though juggling too many things at once can impede you (and breaks are important), research suggests deliberate task switching can actually make you more productive, by stimulating more creative thinking when you hit a mental block.
19. Rebalance your portfolio: Retirement savers can sometimes end up with something called “portfolio drift” — where they end up with too much in equities, for example — if they don’t periodically rebalance their assets once or twice a year. That means making sure your mix of stocks, bonds and any other assets are being held in the proportion you want them to be, so your investments stay a better match for your risk profile.
20. Invest in relationships: Remember, not all wealth is measured in dollars and cents, and the surest path to health and happiness might be stronger ties to friends, family and community. Nourish relationships by practicing generosity better in 2018 — and consider research about the ideal salary to maximize contentment as you make tradeoffs around work-life balance.
21. Get over a past error: If you’re still smarting over a financial or career mistake, try to shake it off — which is the first step toward getting to a better place. Maintaining gratitude and perspective can help, as chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain advised in a previous interview with Mic: “If you find yourself above the surface, above the water for once in your life ... make the most of that opportunity,” he said. “Try to make smart moves from that point forward. You don’t get a lot of breaks in your life — most people don’t even get one — so if you do get one? Try to not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
22. Find inspiration: If you’re trying to learn the basic money skills everyone should master as adults — like how to budget, manage debt and read terms agreements — it’s nice to have muses. Follow these 21 accounts on Twitter that will help make you smarter about finances, or read one of these five books.
23. Project confidence: Whether you’re trying to land a deal, impress in a job interview or negotiate a raise, appearing your best helps — and posture is part of that. One 2016 study found that you’re best off standing or sitting in a comfortable, neutral way — rather than a stereotypically “strong” pose with open limbs — if you want to be judged as confident, approachable, professional and highly compensated. And what really helps nail this effect? Being smartly dressed, the researchers found. So skip the “power pose” but maybe invest in a nice suit.
24. Shop opportunistically: With a few smart shopping hacks, you can stop paying full price and save money on everything you buy. Banish impulse purchases and weekend surcharges, and snatch up some discounted gift cards, which conjure savings out of thin air. And zoom in on seasonal savings in April, when deals abound on sneakers and used cars.
25. Get realistic: Want to retire early? It’s crucial to be honest with yourself about how tough it is: One study suggests adding 1 percentage point to retirement savings shortens how long it takes to retire by just up to six months, assuming you receive Social Security. Not just negotiating — but also banking — raises is key, if you’re serious about retiring sooner. By putting any new income directly into savings, you don’t only build your nest egg but also avoid the “hedonic treadmill” that tempts you to fritter away cash on new “needs” you didn’t have before.
26. Court a mentor: Good mentorship is key for expanding your own professional (and personal) opportunities. “Most people, myself included, actually rely on other people to inspire them, push them, challenge them, scold them, cheer them to get through. It is what is required to be successful,” as broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien told Mic in a previous interview. And if you’re lucky enough to have someone already? Pay it forward and help mentor someone younger and less experienced or advantaged than you.
27. Scrutinize new purchases and priorities: Call it the “should you buy bitcoin” test: Before you buy or invest in anything, review Mic’s guide to ranking financial priorities. Don’t yet have an emergency fund? Then, no, you probably shouldn’t buy cryptocurrency. Even for more defensible-seeming activities — like paying off your student debt before saving for retirement — you should probably talk to an expert first, and be sure you know key personal financial metrics like your net worth and debt-to-income ratio.
28. Work hard, but protect your health: Life is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you’re feeling signs of burnout because of an overbearing boss or tough schedule, know where to draw the line. For reference, the average U.S. workweek is 47 hours but research suggests that a healthier range might be between 38 and 43.5 hours per week, depending on how much responsibility you have outside of work. Consider whether a pivot to a new role, company, lifestyle, career or city of residency could be a better fit for you.
29. Talk — and listen — better: Hoping to build strong relationships and even friendships with coworkers? Watch for how you sound when you speak, and respond when you listen. While talking, banish filler words by simply pausing if you get nervous (or forgetful) and taking a breath. And when you’re on the listening end, remember to mute the thoughts in your head so you can actively hear and respond to the speaker — and aren’t just waiting your turn.
30. Schedule a vacation: Yes, there’s a correlation between taking the time off owed to you and getting more raises and promotions. And days off work — whether you’re traveling or doing a staycation reset — can help your brain stay sharp. After all, evidence suggests novel information, physical exercise, practicing positivity and tuning out distractions all help you maintain cognitive health longer. But the best reason of all? Vacation makes your life feel richer, even when it’s done on a dime.
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