7 Money Fixes You Can Make When You're Stuck Inside Because of the Weather
Crazy winter weather have you stuck indoors? Take advantage of your lazy snow days around the house by digging deep into your finances to make a few (and perhaps much-needed) tweaks.
1. Call Your Service Providers About Reducing Rates
Recently I had a couple bills lying on my desk — one from the IRS and another from my doctor — that I had been putting off because I wanted to call their respective offices to ask about the charges and, ideally, reduce them. The bills sat there for weeks because I didn't have time to spend 30 minutes or more on the phone during my regular work hours (the IRS call took an hour and 45 minutes!). I made good use of my time inside during the recent blizzard to follow up.
The calls saved me about $200. Outside of questionable charges and bills you may want to investigate, now is a good time to check in with your service providers to see what kind of new deals for which you may qualify, too.
"Whether it's your cable bill, car insurance, or even trash service, calling these providers regularly to ask about rate reductions is a great way to save money every month," says Kendal Perez, savings expert at Coupon Sherpa. "Often times the threat of departure is enough to get someone to reduce your rates, but be sure to do your research to find out if there's a lesser-cost alternative out there. If your current provider won't budge and there's a viable alternative, take the snow day to get accounts switched over."
2. Download Some Money-Saving (and Making) Apps
You've probably heard about how smartphone apps can make and save you money, but maybe you haven't had the time or patience to download the apps and learn what they're all about. Now's your chance, and there are several ways you can boost your bottom line in just a few taps of your fingers. (See also: 8 Ways Your Smartphone Saves You Money)
Apps like VarageSale and Wallapop let you sell unwanted items (like Craigslist, but way easier to use), while grocery-specific apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 help you earn cash back on your purchases. (See also: The 8 Shopping Apps That'll Actually Save You Money in 2016)
If you're really ambitious (and also looking for a sort of side gig), check out DogVacay, where you can watch people's pets and get paid for it, or Airbnb, if you have extra space in your home that you'd like to rent out to earn more income. All of these apps also have similar alternatives, providing plenty of platforms from which to choose.
3. Review Your Recurring Payments and Make Adjustments
As a personal rule, I don't have any automatic payments set up because I don't like the idea of an institution pilfering money out of my account when I'm not actively monitoring the fees. Errors happen all the time, and all the time they go unnoticed. That's not to say that you should avoid automatic bill-pay altogether — there's something to be said for its convenience — but you should, every once in awhile, check in to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.
"Automatic bill-pay is a great way to ensure you're never late on a payment, but these set-it-and-forget-it systems can be detrimental to your finances if you don't pay close attention to the charges," Perez says. "Review recurring payments to determine a) if the charges are what you expect, and b) if it's still something you want to pay for. You may decide a gym membership or streaming membership are no longer worth your dollars."
4. Organize Your Finances on an Easy-to-Access Spreadsheet
One of the biggest problems that people with financial issues have is that they lack organization — and chaos begets chaos, as the old adage goes. Nip that problem in the bud once and for all by creating a spreadsheet that comprehensively compiles your finances across the board for easy access and upkeep.
Harrine Freeman, financial expert and CEO of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, details a few category options to help you get started.
"Create a list of company names, account numbers, passwords/PINs, security questions/answers, account balances, minimum monthly payments, interest rates, how often you receive statements, due dates, customer service phone numbers, hours, customer service email addresses, and any other information you feel you may need," she suggests.
5. Purge Your Inbox of All Those Solicitation Emails
Cards on the table, I love my marketing emails — especially around my birthday (three cheers for free pancakes, cheeseburgers, ice cream, and candy!) — but they can become overwhelming, especially if you don't stay on top of your email regularly. I have friends who have thousands of emails in their inbox — and I just can't! For that reason, I love that Gmail now has a separate tab that auto-files promo messages, but it's also not a bad idea to go through and weed out what no longer interests you and unsubscribe.
"Snow days are a great opportunity to clean up your email, and when it comes to unnecessary spending, retail newsletters should be the first thing to go," Perez advises. "While you may have received a nice coupon upon sign up, subsequent emails are only tempting you to spend more. The urgency associated with these messages coupled with the tempting images of stuff you desire most are tough to pass up, but can be immediately fixed with the click of a button."
6. Create the Budget That's Been on Your To-Do List
Don't have a budget established to keep your money on track and in the black from month to month? Tisk. I probably don't have to tell you that this is one of the touchstones of positive personal finance, and it's about time you caught up.
"A snow day is a perfect opportunity to [create a budget]," she says. "Brew some coffee or tea and create a spreadsheet of all your recurring expenses. Record how much you've spent on groceries, gas, dining out, and any other activities over the last several months. This will give you a good idea of where your money goes and how you can economize to meet your financial goals, whether it's building an emergency fund, contributing more to retirement, or saving up for a vacation."
This budget can and should be different and separate from the previous spreadsheet that you created, which serves as a broader and more comprehensive compilation of your whole financial picture. Your budget may fluctuate from one billing period to the next, while your overall financial spreadsheet may just serve as a reference guide.
7. Establish a Budget-Tracking Account
Prefer to manage your finances the new-school way? Skip the desktop-based system and go the cloud route by tracking your finances with an app.
"If a spreadsheet doesn't work for you, consider taking the time offered by a snow day to set up a budget-tracking account with a service like Mint," Perez suggest. "You can list all your accounts including checking, savings, retirement, mortgage, etc., to get a full picture of your finances and budget. You can also set up alerts for when upcoming bills are due and when you're close to spending your limit in a budget category."
What are some ways you'd spend your snow day making money fixes at home? Let's discuss in the comments below.
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