By Gregory Karp
Lots of people have more time than money nowadays. If you’re one — maybe you’re taking a staycation or you freed up commuting hours by working from home — optimize that extra time by making smart financial moves that won’t cost a dime.
“If you have time but no money, it’s time to become the best version of yourself,” says Ryan J. Marshall, a financial adviser in Wyckoff, New Jersey. “What separates successful people from people who struggle financially is often how they spend the time they are given each day.”
From the quick-and-simple to the more-involved, here are ideas to create your personalized money to-do list when you have more available hours than dollars.
This is the obligatory recommendation to develop a household budget, perhaps using the 50/30/20 method to divvy up needs, wants, and savings or debt repayment. But creating a budget should be about liberation, not deprivation — about finding money to spend on things you care about and cutting ruthlessly on things you don’t.
— More free money moves: Calculate your current net worth (all you own minus all you owe); calculate a nest egg amount for retirement.
Recurring expenses are the black hole of regretful spending. Examine your credit and debit card statements to identify subscriptions and re-justify them. When a recurring expense makes the cut, try to get a better price — we’re looking at you, cable, internet and cellphone bills.
One big potential payoff? Compare auto insurance premiums by yourself or with help. “It can be a pretty painless process, by just forwarding your current insurance to a broker and having them shop it with multiple carriers,” says Autumn K. Campbell, a certified financial planner in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some brokers work on commission only and don’t charge a fee.
— More free money moves: Plan a “spending fast” (no spending for a number of days); learn about online cash-back shopping portals; decide on an allowance for children (you don’t have to begin until you have the cash).
Plan Debt Payment
Develop a plan for paying down debt. Two popular strategies: Pay extra toward debt with the highest interest rate (debt avalanche) or pay extra toward the smallest debts to wipe them out quickly and get a sense of accomplishment (debt snowball).
— More free money moves: Refinance your mortgage; refinance your student loan; transfer debt to a lower rate.
Deepen Money Smarts
Money knowledge is the gift that gushes benefits over your lifetime.
Money advice online is abundant, but don’t forget about at-home digital access at your unsung public library. Beginners can check out the book “Personal Finance for Dummies.” Or you can consult Consumer Reports to get better products for the money you spend.
And while not everyone enjoys investing topics, you should have a basic understanding. “There are countless wonderful free resources such as Morningstar’s free investment classroom and Vanguard’s free articles hosted on their website,” says Avani Ramnani, a financial adviser in New York City.
— More free money moves: Spend one hour every Sunday night researching an unfamiliar money topic.
Your creditworthiness matters to your financial life, far beyond qualifying for a new loan. People with better credit live easier and less expensively. At minimum, learn about the main factors that affect your credit: payment history, credit utilization, credit history length and credit mix.
— More free money moves: Check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com; check your credit scores (numbers that summarize your credit reports, available many places online); initiate a credit freeze if you’re worried about credit identity theft.
Reconsider Housing and Cars
Where you live and what you drive steer your money life more than most money decisions. Think critically about how your mortgage or rent, along with the cost of your vehicles, fit your financial life.
New cars lose value like they drove off a cliff, while used ones can be bargains. That’s why you can buy a 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan for the same price as a new Kia Forte. If your mortgage or rent is more than 28% of your gross monthly income, it’s time to ask hard questions about where you choose to live.
— More free money moves: Renegotiate rent; create a next-car account and plan to fund it; consider moving/downsizing.
After you make a good money decision, put it on autopilot. That way, you won’t forget to stash away money or pay bills. And ultimately, you’ll have more time and money.
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Gregory Karp is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.