You don’t need as long as you think to get your financial life in order. Just squeeze in these 12 easy moves—some of which take a mere 15 minutes to tackle.

By Stephanie AuWerter
Updated November 22, 2011
Heads of State

With longer work days complicating the already Herculean task of juggling job and family, you probably don’t have a minute to spare. Like many people, you’re eager to find ways to get the most done in the least amount of time. That helps explain why you find yourself answering e-mails in the grocery store checkout line and eating in the car while shuttling between activities.

Lack of time may also be to blame for the fact that financial tasks all too often fall to the bottom of your to-do list. According to government time-use studies, the average American rarely gets to money-management chores; those who do will spend a scant 15 minutes a day on them.

Granted, it’s not just time that gets in the way. Many financial projects can seem overwhelming because of the sheer number of choices (which investment is best out of the thousands available? which credit card? which cable provider?). Studies show that when people are presented with too many possibilities, they can become paralyzed, a phenomenon known in social science circles as the paradox of choice. Carnegie Mellon economist George Loewenstein, who studies consumer behavior, explains that people do nothing because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. But as Baltimore financial planner Tim Maurer notes, “Inaction is a decision too—and ordinarily not a good one.”

Fortunately, you don’t need more than a coffee break, a lunch hour, or a Saturday morning to make some smart moves with your money—moves that can cut your expenses, boost your savings, and protect your family’s finances. “The key to meeting long-term goals is to break them into short-term steps that are easier to accomplish,” says Loewenstein. Click on the links below for a dozen small steps with big payoff, whether you have 15 minutes or a few hours to spare.