10-Minute Money Tune-Ups
This article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.
We call it “put-off-ability.”
The longer we put something off, the more we continue to put it off. And those small tasks that will help our financial lives can sometimes be the ones that we put off the longest.
The key is to keep moving, and pick the low-hanging fruit. To that end, we bring you a few quick wins to get you started.
If you have a spare ten minutes and wonder what you can accomplish in them, stop wondering–here are ten things you can get done.
Create a Charity Box
Teach your kids the importance of giving to others by creating a box (or jar, or tin can, or anything you want) to store money for charity. You can even make it a rule that any time anyone finds change on the street or under the couch cushions, it automatically goes in the charity box.
You can set up something basic in well under ten minutes. This could be as simple as taking out an old mason jar or using an old shoebox and cutting a coin slot into the lid. If you have more than ten minutes, get your kids involved by letting them decorate the charity box however they want.
Evaluate Your Allowance Structure
Allowance is very personal and unique to every family situation, but it's important to review periodically and adjust as your child grows, as well as to make sure the system is serving its purpose—teaching your kid good financial habits—rather than just giving away money. A good rule of thumb is to give your child one dollar per year of age (so an 8-year-old might get $8).
Go on a 10-Minute Run
Studies have shown that exercising our bodies can actually improve our mental function. So, using these ten minutes to go on a quick run can actually help you be more alert to tackle your finances.
So the next time you're dreading balancing your checkbook or opening that 529, why not go for a jog? It's the best way to help your brain make good on your positive financial intentions.
Set a Savings Resolution for the Month
Balancing all your competing savings needs (your retirement, their college funds, a vacation someday...) is tough to begin with, but it’s even tougher when you have a family to provide for.
To accomplish this task, make a list of your top five savings goals, and how much you’re contributing to each. Then, decide to change just one habit this month to help contribute to the most fun goal on your list. For example, you might resolve to bring lunch every day for the whole month and contribute the savings to your travel fund.
To teach your kids good savings habits, get them in on the act by encouraging them to save some of their allowance money toward a goal of their own (their spending money on that vacation?).
Look Through Your Fridge and Pantry
Feeding a family of two or four (or ten) is expensive, so taking ten minutes to optimize your grocery shopping can save you in the long run. Do a quick audit of your fridge and pantry, taking note of any food items you consistently have trouble finishing before they go bad. Should you start buying smaller milk cartons? Fewer eggs?
Also take note of the sorts of foods your kids have been eating. Are they finishing up all the Fruit Roll-Ups within days of your buying them? Now’s a good time to note any unhealthy patterns and alter your future shopping lists accordingly.
Clean Out Your Wallet
A clean wallet leads to a clean mind...in a manner of speaking. Spend a few minutes emptying your wallet of old receipts and other junk.
Open a Savings Account for Your Kid
One of the best ways to get your kid started on the right financial track is to open a savings account for her. Minors will need custodial savings accounts. The name might sound foreboding, but you can open one of these babies online in under ten minutes. You’ll likely get the best interest rate at online-only banks like Ally or ING, but you might choose to open an account at a bank with brick-and-mortar branches if you want your children to have the experience of walking in and handing over money to deposit.
Come Up With a Fundraising Budget
By spring, the end of fundraising season is in sight—but inevitably the fundraising requests from school, church/synagogue and extracurricular programs will be back soon enough! Take a few moments to review how much money you’ve donated to your child’s organizations over the past year, and whether that fits into your overall budget. Use this number to figure out what your ideal budget would be for these fundraising pleas. Write that down somewhere you won’t lose it and keep it in mind over the coming year, straight through to Christmas wrapping paper season.
Spring cleaning is in the air, and it’s easy to conquer when you divide it into manageable chunks. Choose one aspect of your child’s clothing, like shoes or winter coats, and take stock of his closet. If he’s outgrown certain items, now you’ll know in advance so you can budget accordingly. This is also the time to note which items he hasn’t outgrown, so you don’t accidentally buy duplicates. And donating what he has could add up to tax savings for you.
Increase Your 401(k) Contribution by 1%
It may feel like a big deal to increase your contributions toward your retirement fund, but in actuality it takes less than ten minutes to log in to your online account and change your contribution amount. Today, make it your goal to increase your contribution by 1%. Give yourself some time to get used to it…and then plan to increase it by another 1% six months from now.
Although it’s tempting to feel guilty about saving for yourself rather than, say, socking away money for his college fund, remember: You can always take out student loans, but there’s no such thing as a retirement loan!