13 Simple Steps to Start Getting Your Finances Under Control This Week

Updated February 23, 2017
by The Penny Hoarder

Disclosure: This post includes an affiliate link. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

You know your finances could use some serious TLC, but you’ve been putting it off… and off… and off.

When you finally do sit down to think about it, you immediately become overwhelmed. Which goal do you attack first?

You need a budget, a savings plan, a debt repayment strategy, a better credit score, a plan for retirement, and… oh, you’re running away again, aren’t you?

Calm down, and come back. To tackle big goals, you have to start small.

Here are a few simple steps you can take today to get your finances under control and start working toward a healthier financial future.

1. Open a Separate Bank Account

Money management
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The first step we recommend for organizing your finances and boosting savings is opening a separate bank account.

Operating everything out of one checking account can make your finances muddy and contribute undue stress to your money management.

To simplify, open a second account for a dedicated purpose. One of our favorites is Aspiration’s Summit Checking Account — there are no fees and you’ll earn up to 100 times the interest rate of other banks.  

This online-only checking account comes with a debit card and free ATMs, so you can easily access your money when you need it.

After you open your Summit Checking Account, use it to split your income:

  • Automatically deposit a portion of your income into your existing bank account, and use that to cover basic expenses like rent and bills.

2. Protect Your Identity

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If you’re like me, once you have your money under control, you won’t want to lose any of it — especially not to scammers or an identity protection service that prevents scams.

We recommend using a free site like True Identity to keep tabs on your finances. It’ll send you an alert by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. Then, you can easily freeze your TransUnion credit report until you’re all clear again.

Think you’re invincible? So did our staff writer, Jamie Cattanach. When she was 18, someone opened an AT&T account in her name. She assumed it wasn’t hers, so she didn’t acknowledge the bill — until debt collectors began phoning her.

Before driving face first into a total credit nightmare, you might as well keep tabs on your stuff — especially if you can do it for free.

3. Have a Glass of Wine And Look at Your Credit Score

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I know, I know. None of us want to do this. 

But did you know that 25% of Americans have an error on their credit report that is likely bringing down their score? And those poor scores can hinder every part of your financial wellness…

Banks and credit card companies aren’t the only ones who look at your credit score. I’ve had to authorize a credit check whenever I want to move into a new apartment, rent a car with my debit card and buy a new phone.

So, pour yourself a glass of wine and check your credit score for free on a site like Credit Sesame. You’ll also get a free credit report card to show you exactly where your credit shines… and where it could use some improvement.

There are other sites that do this, but I like that Credit Sesame offers personalized recommendations so I can learn more about my own credit and debt situation.

4. Start a Passive Income Stream

Money management
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We’re at no loss for smart ways to earn extra money without doing extra work, but here’s one you can actually start right now.

Install these apps on your smartphone, and earn money every month you keep them installed — $600 or more per year!

+ ShopTracker: This is another set it and forget it platform. This company will pay you up to $40/year to share what you’re purchasing on Amazon. It’s not a ton of money, but it takes about 2 minutes to set up and then you never have to think about it again.

+ Paribus: It turns out that deleting your emails could be costing you serious money. Intrigued? My new secret weapon is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. Once you do, they will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from Amazon, Target or one of the other 16 retailers listed on their website, it will track the item’s price and issue you a refund anytime there’s a price drop! You don’t have to do anything!

Smart Panel – This app will pay you up to $75 for the first year you keep it installed on your smartphone. It’s run by Verto Analytics, a trusted analytics firm — and usage stats are anonymous. Once you’ve qualified and downloaded the app, you’ll receive $5. Keep the app installed for at least two weeks, and you’ll get another $10. Then for every month you keep the app installed, you’ll get another $5. You can redeem your rewards via Paypal or an Amazon gift card.

+ SavvyConnect — You can earn $5 per device (phone, tablet or computer) for each month SavvyConnect is installed. That’s a total of up to $180 per year to help rank the most popular sites and apps. Make sure you keep it installed at least a month to get your first $5 per device.

Nielsen Mobile Panel – If you have a smartphone, this Nielsen panel will pay you $50/year to keep this app on your cell phone and browse the web like you normally do. After you’ve installed it for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). I won a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads & Samsung TVs.

Digital Reflection Panel – This company will pay you over $200 a year for attaching a simple device to your router and letting it gather information about your internet habits in hopes of one day making online experiences even better. It takes about seven minutes to fill out the necessary panel and survey to participate.

+ FusionCash – This company has a ton of simple ways to earn extra income, including watching videos, downloading apps, taking surveys and playing games. You’ll get $5 just for signing up and taking a quick survey.

5. Cut Wasteful Expenses

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Are you still paying for Netflix, even though you use your roommate’s account now? Or paying for Spotify Premium — but always using Pandora instead?

You’d be surprised how easily those recurring expenses can slip your mind! They can add up and eat away at your bottom line throughout the year.

You can use the new app Clarity Money to find your forgotten subscriptions and cancel them.

The app can help you cut spending other ways, too, by negotiating with your service providers to lower your monthly bills. Plus, it tracks your spending, so you’ll see what habits might be blowing your budget.

With your expenses under control, the app also lets you set up an automated savings account, to set aside a few dollars every week or month toward your savings goals.

To connect your accounts and find your wasteful expenses this week, download Clarity Money for iOS.

6. Start Investing Without the Hassle

Money management
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I’m kind of obsessed with Stash (and not just because they give you $5 for signing up).

Stash is an app available for both Android and Apple smartphones, and it makes it super simple to (finally) take the dive into investing, even if you don’t have a whole lot of spare cash. 

To get the $5 bonus, just enter your email here, download the Stash smartphone app and setup your account with the same email address. Within two business days you’ll see the bonus added to your account.

7. Sell Your Old Stuff

Money management
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Another simple way to boost your savings with a quick injection is to sell off some of your old stuff. You probably have more than you think!

Clear your shelves of unused video games, CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays, and sell them on Decluttr.

Do you really need to hold onto your dusty copy of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for another year?

Decluttr is a lot easier than selling direct through an online marketplace. You can unload all your old media at once, ship to Decluttr for free and get paid cash within a day, once they accept your order. Plus, enter PENNY10 at checkout to get an extra 10% for your trade-ins!

Similarly, get rid of old college textbooks and earn extra money using Bookscouter.

BookScouter helps you find the best-paying and most reputable textbook buyback companies online. Just type your book’s ISBN into the search, and you’ll see which companies will offer you the most for it.

Most buyback companies offer prepaid shipping, so you won’t have to worry about that. And you can choose how you’ll be paid, usually via PayPal.

Do you still have a prom outfit from, like, 10 years ago? It’s never going to fit — or come into style — again, but something just keeps holding you back from sending it to Goodwill. Instead of storing clothes indefinitely, try selling them on an app like Poshmark.

For virtually anything, you can use letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. Not only does it remove a lot of the hassle of selling things online, it’s also 100% free to use.

8. Take Steps to Consolidate Your Debt

Money management
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This step could substantially lower payments you’re already making on your debt and help you save more money each month.

Most of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates that are north of 20%. If you’re in the same boat, it might be worth seeing if you can consolidate and refinance your debt.

A good resource is Even Financial which can help you borrow up to $35,000 (with no collateral needed) and compare interest rates from several lenders.

If you do decide to consolidate your credit card debt, be sure you don’t close your old accounts. A huge part of your credit score revolves around the length of your credit history and closing active accounts can definitely hurt it.

9. Join a Savings Challenge

Money management
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One of the best motivators for achieving major goals is, simply, success. Once you see how much you can achieve with just a little effort, the next steps become easier.

The Brightpeak Financial $500 Savings Challenge offers a great start to tackle your savings goals.

Boost your financial health with this challenge to put away $500 in seven days. Sign up for free to get a week’s worth of daily saving activities and expert advice delivered straight to your inbox.

Along with this savings account injection, you’ll also learn tips and tricks to develop smart saving habits, so you can build on this week’s success.

10. Pay With Miles

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It’s no secret: Traveling is expensive — and earning miles to use for flights usually involves actually buying flights.

However, an app called Frequent Flyer makes earning miles a passive activity. And it’s free.

The app offers frequent flyer miles in exchange for your location data.

Translation? All you have to do is keep it running in the background of your smartphone.

Plus, you can earn even more miles by entering sweepstakes, completing surveys and referring friends.

11. Pay With Points

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If you’re smart with your spending and responsible with a credit card, you can actually make purchases with points and miles.

In many cases, this strategy can also make it easier for you to travel.

For example, if you use a rewards credit card like the Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard, you’ll get 1.5% cash back on every purchase. You can redeem the cash back for a deposit into your bank account, a statement credit or gift cards.

Just make sure you pay off your card at the end of the month so you don’t rack up any interest.

12. Open a Retirement Account

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It’s never too early or late to start saving for retirement.

Whether it’s through an employer 401(k) or an IRA (individual retirement arrangement), you can get a tax break on the money you sock away for your golden years. The earlier you start, the more compound interest you’ll accrue and the bigger your nest egg will be.

If you want to open an IRA and have money to deposit, or already have a 401(k) at work you want to roll into an IRA, Lending Club is offering a bonus for opening an account.

Depending on how much you have to deposit, you could get a $150-$3,000 bonus.

13. Get a Free Financial Advisor  

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Let’s be honest, we all need to get our money under control.

Financial advisors can cost more than you’re even trying to invest, especially if you’re just getting started. But there are free online services out there like WiseBanyan that can provide the same kind of support.

The service is completely digital, eliminating the usual management, trading and rebalancing fees, but it still offers the same services as traditional financial advisors.

Once you sign up, you can create a “Milestone” by entering your goals (whether it’s saving for retirement or a jet ski) and a time frame. WiseBanyan automates everything, from suggested deposits to rebalancing your accounts to help you achieve your goal.

And the best part is you can sign up and invest as little as $1, so there’s really no reason not to start working toward your goals.

Your Turn: Will you take the challenge to boost your savings this week?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. Adding these links helps us keep the lights on in The Penny Hoarder HQ, which makes it a lot easier to play shuffleboard after a long day of deal-seeking!

by The Penny Hoarder
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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