Most of us aren’t accustomed to being cooped up at home all week long, especially when spring is in the air. Then again, most of us haven’t been through a pandemic before.
If you have time on your hands, we suggest turning your attention to accomplishing several tasks that will bear lasting fruit in your financial life. A few of these will put more money in your pocket, others will reduce your expenses, and still others will help you get better organized. Most can be accomplished online or by phone, so being stuck at home is no obstacle to getting them done!
For some items, we’ve included footnotes to SMI articles where you can find more details.
Ways to get money
- Change your income-tax withholding.
If you receive a big refund each year, fill out a new W-4 form asking your employer to withhold less from each paycheck. This will get more of your earnings to you more quickly.
- Open a high-yield savings account.
Why let your savings languish in a low- or no-yield account at a local bank when credit unions and online banks offer higher rates?
- Set up an auto-draft for monthly savings.
This is easy to do online, and it will ensure that you are steadily adding to your savings and earning interest.
- Get a “rewards” credit card.
Some cards offer “cash back,” others reward you with air miles or retail discounts. But beware: A rewards card must be used wisely to be of real benefit to you.
Ways to save money
- Check your PMI.
If you bought your house with less than a 20% down-payment, you’re probably paying for private mortgage insurance. Once you build up at least 20% equity, you can drop that insurance. Check with your mortgage company to see how much equity you have.
- Shop for cheaper insurance.
You could save a few hundred dollars a year by reviewing your homeowner’s and auto insurance and making changes.
- Cut back on phone service.
Still have a landline? If you don’t need it, get rid of it. Also review your mobile bill and compare what you’re paying with plans other providers are offering.
- Ask your Internet provider for a lower rate.
You might get it — especially if you’ve found a better deal from another company and you’re willing to jump ship.
- If you don’t want to negotiate bills yourself, use a bill-negotiation service.
In return for a percentage of the savings, companies such as BillFixers and Billshark will negotiate everything from phone bills to gym memberships.
- Check your travel rewards.
If you’re accumulating frequent-flyer points from an airline or frequent-guest points from a hotel chain, find out if any of your points are due to expire soon. If so, see what minimal step you could take to protect those points.
Ways to get more organized
- Create an online budget.
Free tools such as Mint and EveryDollar (basic version) make it easy to track your cash flow. Or you can use a more robust paid service such as Tiller, YouNeedABudget, or EveryDollar Plus. An online system will help you to truly manage your money and make progress toward your financial goals.
- Automate payment of bills:
Create auto drafts from your bank account for your phone bill, water, electricity, gas, etc.
- Update your beneficiary designations.
In many cases, you can review (and change) designations online, not only for bank accounts but for insurance policies and investment accounts.
- Improve your cybersecurity.
Two suggestions: Strengthen passwords (perhaps using a “password manager” such as LastPass or 1Password), and add multi-factor authentication to your most sensitive accounts.
- Make sure your computer has an ongoing back-up.
Losing key information to a computer crash can be costly and time-consuming. Use an external back-up drive or a “cloud” service such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Create a photographic inventory of your home for insurance.
Take still photos or a video and store those images “in the cloud” or in a bank safe-deposit box. The pictures will come in handy should you need to file a claim.
- Organize health insurance paperwork.
There’s no better time than now to sort through claims and benefits forms and implement a filing system.
- Check your credit reports.
Identity theft is a concern, so check your reports periodically. You’re entitled to a free report each year from the three credit bureaus via annualcreditreport.com. Look for accounts you don’t recognize. If you find any, take the steps outlined on the reports.
- Freeze your credit.
A credit freeze can help prevent ID theft. Go to each of the three credit-reporting agency sites to request a freeze. (Should you later need to apply for credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily.)
- Get your Social Security statement.
Setting up online access to your Social Security account (at www.ssa.gov/myaccount) will enable you to download your annual benefit statement. Review the statement for any errors in your earnings record. (Errors will negatively affect your eventual level of benefits).
- Make a will or update an existing one.
You can write a will with help from downloadable software such as from LegalZoom or Quicken WillMaker. If you’d rather use a local attorney, get the ball rolling with a phone call or email to a local law firm.
- Write a “letter of instruction” for your family and heirs.
Such a letter fills in practical details not included in a will, such as recommendations regarding your funeral plus information about where to find essential documents.
Many of the tasks suggested above are probably things you’ve intended to “get around to someday.” Well, someday is here! Investing some of your stay-at-home time in these tasks can help reshape this time of social distancing and quarantine into a season of fruitful stewardship.