Let’s say you live in the Golden State, you’re getting squeezed by crazy-high housing costs and your finances could use some serious TLC, but you’ve been putting it off.
When you finally do sit down to think about it, you get overwhelmed. Which goal to attack first? You need a budget, a savings plan, a debt-repayment strategy, a better credit score, a plan for retirement and … oh God, it’s too much.
To tackle big goals, you have to start small.
Here are some simple steps you can take today to get your finances under control.
1. Enjoy a No-Spend Day
Farmers market? Museum? Nature? It’s easy to get sucked into spending money on weekend outings, but there are plenty of free activities you can do today, instead.
You can search your local newspaper, magazines or websites for plenty of ideas. Here are a few to help you get started:
- Go on a penny date. The rules are simple: Have your date or a family member pick a number between one and 30, pick a street corner and have them flip the penny. If it’s heads up, turn right. If it’s tails up, turn left. Do this at each intersection for whatever number they chose. Wherever you end up is where you’ll spend the day.
- If the weather’s nice and you live near a body of water, head to the beach for the day! The beach offers a full day of entertainment and relaxation at potentially no cost.
- Not near a beach? Plan a day of hiking. You can find a ton of free tails. (If you live near a national park, take advantage of the free admission days.)
- The library is a treasure trove of freebies, including free museum passes. Maybe you’ll even check out a book or two.
2. This Company Will Pay You to Do the Dishes at Night
Chances are, you’re doing the dishes right after dinner just like everyone else in your area. Here’s the thing: All these dishwashers running at the same time costs the power company more money.
That’s why a new company called OhmConnect will pay Californians to do it just a little bit later.
Here’s how it works: OhmConnect will send you a text when a lot of people in your area are using power, and it will pay you to cut back for an hour — whether that means waiting to run the dishwasher, turning off your lights or A/C or even turning off your breaker.
The more you do, the more money you can make.
Some well-paid OhmConnect users use the hour to just leave their house and spend time at the park.
For example, Tanya Williams recently earned an extra $1,700 in one year with OhmConnect — more than $140 a month. A few evenings each week, the 45-year-old stay-at-home mom shut down her home’s electrical panel and took the kids to the pool, or just played board games.
Talk about easy money.
3. Turn Those Crumpled Receipts Into Free Gift Cards
What do you usually do with your receipts? You check out, they hand you a mile-long piece of paper, and you frantically stuff it to the bottom of a grocery bag. Pretty worthless.
But a free app called Fetch Rewards will turn them into gift cards. It partners with tons of brands to give you points for every grocery receipt you share. Then you can exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Walmart, Chipotle and dozens of other retailers.
And it’s perfect for those of us who don’t want to put a ton of work into this. All you have to do is send Fetch a photo of your receipt, and it does everything for you. No scanning barcodes or searching for offers — and you can use it with any grocery receipt.
When you download the app, use the code PENNY to automatically earn 2,000 points, and you’ll be well on your way to your first gift card.
Not so bad for a useless receipt, right?
4. Give Your Credit Score a Boost — Add up to 300 Points
A really easy way to do this is to get a “credit report card” from Credit Sesame.
Credit Sesame is like your favorite teacher from high school — without the pop quizzes.
It gives you a free credit score, plus lays out your credit history so you can see exactly how much money you owe and to whom. It even tells you your monthly payments and interest rate, as well as which debts (if any) are in collections.
And you don’t have to stay home to do it. The Credit Sesame app lets you keep track of your credit score and ways to improve it — on the go!
To keep a closer eye on your credit, you can also get a “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how you might address it.
James Cooper, a motivational speaker, raised his credit score 277 points using Credit Sesame. Now he talks to high school students about the importance of having good credit and uses what he’s learned through Credit Sesame as a blueprint for his lessons.
“We want to touch the Z Generation,” Cooper says “We’re not in the business of fixing credit. We want to get to you before you have to fix your credit.”
Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.*
5. Ask This Website to Pay Your Credit Card Bill This Month
Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder
No, like… the whole bill. All of it. All that debt racked up from the 300 destination weddings your friends made you attend (thanks!) could be paid by the end of this month.
Your credit card company is ripping you off with insane rates, and it’s getting rich off of you. But there are other, nicer companies that’ll help you out. A website called Credible knows the best ones and could pair you up as soon as tomorrow.
Here’s how it works: Credible will match you with a loan that’ll cover your credit card tab. Use that loan to pay off your debt, then make monthly payments to repay the loan. It could lower your monthly payments and help you pay off that debt a lot faster. Plus, no credit card payment this month.
Fiona won’t make you stand in line or call a bank. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could save you thousands of dollars. Totally worth it.
Now you can finally stop holding a grudge against that friend who thought a Mexico wedding was a good idea.
6. Reduce Your Car Insurance Bill
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder
You know how there are eight different places in town that claim to make the best pizza? You know it can’t be true, right?
Well, maybe. It depends on what kind of pizza you like.
Car insurance is kind of like that. Every company claims to have the lowest rates, but what you really want to find is the best policy with the best prices for you. Insurify helps you do this — online.
If you want to find the best rate for you and your vehicle, you need to get specific. What kind of car do you drive? Where do you live? Insurify can use this information to show you what kind of discounts exist and offer tailor-made quotes.
At Insurify, you can get personalized quotes from national companies — including all the discounts you qualify for — in just two minutes. It’ll even keep tabs on the rates and send you an email to let you know when a better one is available.
OK, car insurance isn’t pizza, but you do want to find the one that works best for you.
7. Invest Like a Tycoon (Even If You’re Not Rich)
It’s no secret: Investing can a great way to grow your money. But that’s something only wealthy people do, right?
You don’t have to be Warren Buffet to get started with investing.
In fact, you can get started with just $1, using a company called Ellevest. Plus, when you sign up through The Penny Hoarder, you’ll get a $25 bonus in your Ellevest account.*
You don’t even have to know how to pick stocks. When you sign up, Ellevest will build an investing plan just for you. Even better: The whole platform is designed for women, by women and in support of women-owned businesses. In fact, the company was founded to address the fact that women statistically get paid less than men (and live longer!), which most financial companies typically ignore.
Take that, Monopoly man — money’s not just for men.
8. Get $1,000,000 in Life Insurance
Johnny Greig/Getty Images
“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin. “Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most ‘financial advisors.’”
You might still consider a basic life insurance policy, which can be useful if you have loved ones who rely on your income — a significant other, a child or even a relative you help out financially.
A company like Policygenius offers you an easy way to compare and buy life insurance. Unlike traditional providers, this online-only platform provides an easy way to apply, and it offers instant quotes from top carriers online to help you make a quicker decision.
To get your quotes, you’ll just enter some info about yourself and your health online. Once you choose a life insurance company, you can apply right online, and a Policygenius rep will give you a quick call to ask a few follow-up questions.
9. Protect Your Home and Belongings
It’s OK to feel protective over your home; you worked hard to purchase it.
That’s why you need homeowners insurance — to ease your mind, at least a little. But navigating policies can be difficult, and plans can be pricy.
The good news is your options are shifting, and it’s easier to find the best coverage — with the best price tag — for you.
A company called Hippo gives you accurate and free quotes online in about 60 seconds. It saves customers hundreds of dollars a year, because it automates the process and passes the money saved along to you.
Plus Hippo will help cancel your existing insurance policy at no extra cost and automatically switch you over to your shiny new plan.
10. Love Your Phone Bill as Much as You Love Your Phone
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
Your phone is your everything. You use it all the time. Between classes, during class, after class. But are you paying entirely too much for your service plan?
Try switching over to a discount prepaid phone carrier like US Mobile, where the average user’s monthly phone bill is $15. This can save folks, on average, more than $670 a year.
Want to see if the switch could be worth it? Run a hypothetical.
Create your own custom plan by entering the number of minutes you talk, the number of texts you send and the amount of data you consume each month. You’ll get a free estimate within seconds. Or you can opt for one of US Mobile’s unlimited plans starting at $35 a month.
Once you choose your plan, order a SIM card. If you’re a student, it’s free; otherwise, it’s a $3.99 one-time fee with the starter kit. If at any point you decide you need more or less data, you can adjust accordingly through the US Mobile dashboard.
Plus: US Mobile operates on two of the largest cellular LTE networks — T-Mobile and Verizon (heard of them?) — and covers more than 320 million Americans.