Checklist For Success
Whether you work with a professional financial planner or handle everything yourself, ticking off this checklist is a great place to start-
- Pay Yourself First- Now is the time to save like it’s your job, because at this point, it is your job. Compete with a friend or partner to see who can save the most each month or use an app like Digit to make saving fun and easy.
- Reduce Your Debt- Focus on paying down what you owe. Saving alone won’t get you closer to your goal. You also need to manage your debt. Doing both will not only ease your mind, but quickly improve your overall financial health.
- Know Your Tax Situation- Are you making the most of your tax deductions, Roth IRA, etc.? Your allowed contribution goes way up after you turn 50, (known as catch-up contributions).
- Monetize a Talent or Hobby- Supplement your retirement income with a side hustle. Do you paint or love to garden? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of tutoring, dog-walking, or baking. This is your chance. These bonus earnings can add up quickly.
- Have a Social Security Plan- Can you wait, in order to collect more? If married, decide together now who will file when.
- Review Your Insurance- If you’re not adequately protected, all of your hard-earned savings can be gone in a flash. You’re probably familiar with life insurance, but also consider coverage for long-term care, supplemental health, and an umbrella policy. Once you stop working, you may want to drop disability insurance. Schedule regular insurance check-ups to make sure you have what you need, and cancel what you don’t.
Stick to Your Plan
Once you have taken control of your money, don’t become complacent. While it may be tempting to relax your newfound discipline, it’s critical that you stay the course. Remind yourself of your goal- retirement! Let your progress fuel your determination as you watch your debt shrink and your savings grow. Aesop wrote, “It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.”
Small Amounts Matter, So Do Percentages
Think about how comfortable you are with risk, early withdrawal penalties, and timing in general. All of these factor into where and how you choose to save. Over time, these can make a huge difference. Saving a little per month from age 45 can add up to a healthy number come age 65. Committing to a longer term can yield even more. Kelly Chris is a financial advisor for Edward Jones in Columbia, TN. She illustrates the over 42K difference here-
$250/month in short term investments offering a 2% rate of return= $73,822 at 65
$250/month in long term investments offering a 6% rate of return= $116,088 at 65
You’ve covered the basics. Now it’s time to think out of the box and rev up your saving plan. Spending less might be easier than you think. Most people are unaware how much they spend on unnecessary items every month. By identifying these expenditures, you can redirect that cash into your savings.
Break Up With Convenience Services
Can you live without Spotify? Try it for a month and see. Would you be able to manage without food deliveries? Cook for yourself or pick up dinner on your way home. Each time you forego a service, tip yourself instead. Monthly gym membership fees can be erased by working out at home or with friends. Many churches offer no-charge fitness classes, or locate a free calisthenics park here.
Literally Watch Your Balance Rise
If you’re a visual person, utilize a chart or bar graph to monitor your progress. Most online banking sites include pie charts or graphing tools to help you see exactly where your cash is going and growing. You can also create your own using Excel or Mint. Seeing your hard work pay off can be a powerful motivator to keep going.
Free Money is Not Free Money
It’s easy to treat unexpected gifts, bonuses or prizes as free money, but don’t sabotage yourself by spending what you could be saving. You’re only pushing your retirement finish line farther away by doing this. Instead of splurging on something you don’t need, deposit that money (the faster, the better), into your savings account.
Try a Financial Fast
When you hear about fasting, you probably think food, but you can apply this practice to your spending, too. For one month, try not to spend more than $5 on anything you don’t absolutely need. You’ll be forced to pack lunches, skip cocktails, do your own nails, walk more, and think twice before ordering anything online. This radical exercise isn’t meant to last forever, but even one month of financial fasting will change how you view your everyday purchases.
Put Your Home on a Diet
Your home may be costing you more than you realize. Utility bills can be reduced by up to 10% when you adjust by a few degrees during the most extreme months. You may not feel the difference in the temperature, but you’ll definitely feel the savings. Are you paying for unnecessary insurance or PMI? Speak with your insurance and mortgage companies to look for ways to reduce your monthly payments. Consider taking over your own yard work or pool upkeep in lieu of paying for these services. It’s easy to dismiss these costs when only considering the relatively small monthly amount you pay, so keep these bills in perspective by adding up annual spending.
How Can I Shop Smarter?
You don’t have to become a coupon king or queen like we see on TV to save a significant amount at the grocery store. Find out if your store has a senior savings day. Many offer 10-15% off for those who meet their age requirement, which usually varies from 55-60.
Plan ahead to avoid impulse buying. When favorite items are on sale, buy more to freeze. Eat leftovers for lunch to avoid those restaurant expenditures. Lastly, go ahead and use those coupons. Just be sure and compare against store brands first, then go with the better price.
Declutter For Cash
While you’re unlikely to discover a treasure fit for Antiques Roadshow in your closet, you are likely to have more in your house than you actually need. Why not trade that extra stuff for cash? It’s easier than ever, thanks to multiple selling sites competing for your business. You already know about garage sales and consignment shops. These are still viable options, but you’ll find far more potential buyers online.
Selling on eBay is as easy as taking and posting pictures, writing a brief description, and posting your items. If you’re unsure of value, do a quick search of what similar pieces have sold for recently and go from there. Be careful not to overprice, and be clear about defects and condition when posting.
If you’re comfortable with buyers coming to your home, Facebook Marketplace provides quick cash via “porch pickup”, or PPU. Simply place items on your porch, and buyers retrieve them, paying via Venmo, PayPal, or leaving the money in an envelope. Poshmark and ThredUp are great for selling clothes, shoes, bags, kids’ items and home decor. Try DeCluttr for selling tech items like phones, computers, video games and consoles, even books and LEGOs.
It’s Just Stuff
Dostadning is a meld of the Swedish words for death and cleaning. It’s a practice growing in popularity for good reason. The idea is to clean out your home yourself before you die. This way you spare family or friends from having to sort through your every possession.
Don’t assume you need to “save it all for the kids”. As trends and styles change, fewer people will want their parents’ furniture or that piano that’s always been in the living room. The upsides to “living giving” are benefitting from the sale of anything you choose to let go, as well as the joy of gifting items of sentimental or monetary value. It can be very satisfying to hand down personal letters, jewelry, or artwork. Imagine handing your grandson the keys to your prized convertible, or deeding the family summer cabin to your daughter as a wedding gift. Do you wear that string of pearls often, or would its proceeds be more valuable as a quick boost to your bank account? You can’t take it with you, but you can simplify your life by paring down your belongings.
Back to Basics
Sometimes the old stand-bys are popular for a reason. They work. Your first saving method was probably a piggy bank. It worked then, and it can work now. Get into the habit of emptying all change and small bills into a drawer, safe, or actual piggy bank at the end of the day. Not only will you be accumulating money painlessly, but you never know what you might find. When Don Lutes, Jr. was 16, he spotted an unusual penny in his change from the school cafeteria in Massachusetts. He saved it. Years later, it sold for $204,000!
Talk Your Way Down
Did you know that many fees considered to be standard are actually negotiable? If you’re willing, you might be shocked at how many monthly charges you can lower just by asking. Most phone and internet providers have retention departments. Their purpose is to retain their customers. They often do this by offering to lower your rates, add on complimentary services or channels for a period of time, or even provide a free month as a way to keep your business. Call and ask to speak to someone in retention, or to discuss disconnection. It may not be comfortable for everyone to attempt this, but the potential savings may persuade you to give it a try.
It’s not uncommon for people to leave money behind without knowing. It could be from an old bank account or abandoned safety deposit box, a business refund, a check sent to the wrong address, unpaid wages or a tax refund. When this money sits long enough, it’s considered unclaimed property. There are state and national sites where you can search for any potential money you may be owed. You will likely be asked for your social security number, former legal names, past addresses and employers, etc., so confirm the service’s legitimacy before disclosing sensitive information.
You may also wish to consider searching the names of anyone who died and left you as beneficiary. Might your deceased parents have left an account somewhere? Mary Pitman wrote a book about this, entitled, The Little Book of Missing Money. In it, she suggests entering terms such as heir, trustee, estate, etc., instead of a last name, then searching the results for your relative’s name. Her techniques have proven so successful that she has earned the nickname, “The Unclaimed Money Fairy”. It can’t hurt to look!
Avoid Guilt Buying
Gifts should come from the heart and show the recipient that you care. Exchanging presents can become a burden, or even a competition, if not careful. Think of your fondest memories from holidays or your birthday. You’re probably thinking of the people who were with you, the food you shared, or your birthday cake. Keep this feeling in mind when tempted to overspend on a gift. Would having them over for their favorite dinner mean just as much, or even more than a pricey gift? A framed picture of the two of you together or a letter recounting a special memory would be priceless.
Study after study shows Americans prefer experiences over things. If you suggested exchanging cards only from now on, switching to shared activities like concerts or hikes, or limiting gifts to a certain price, you might well be met with relief and eager agreement. You don’t need to break the bank to maintain relationships.
What If I Lose Control?
No one is perfect. You wouldn’t hesitate to seek professional advice for a medical issue. You hire pros for electrical problems or legal questions. If you needed help getting into shape, you’d hire a personal trainer, right? Well use that same approach to your financial wellness. If you start falling back into your spendy ways, it’s okay to ask for help. There are plenty of apps to keep you on your game. Find the one that appeals to you. Some services are virtual only, others offer in-person coaches to help keep you focused on saving. Financial Gym offers both, in selected cities.
Save When You Spend
If you don’t already have a cash rewards card, get one now. The trick is to buy everything you need with it, but nothing extra. By consolidating all expenditures to one form of payment, a clear picture of your money quickly crystalizes. You’ll see what you’re spending, easily compare month to month and year to year, and all while earning cash back. Be sure and research before you apply. Get the best rate and lowest fees so you can keep those rewards in your account. Use a comparison site like NerdWallet to find the sweetest deal.
Work Those Online Savings
When purchasing from your phone or computer, you can save time and money. You don’t need to drive, park, or deal with the temptations of the mall food court and window displays, either. You can also pay less by knowing where to look. You may have had luck finding deals or using promo codes before completing an online purchase, but why not let someone else search for you? Using Rakuten, RetailMeNot, or Honey can save you a bundle, and they make it easy.
Do I have your attention? Good. This one can be huge. Talk to your doctor about switching to a generic medication whenever possible. When this works, it works big. Another major saver is ordering by mail. Contact your prescription provider and ask if they offer a discount for multi-month, (usually three), orders by mail. It’s not unusual to see a savings of 50% or more when said and done. The last tip is to use the Good Rx app. Enter your pharmacy and drug name and check for a coupon. Print and give the coupon to your pharmacist when you pick up your order or show them the coupon on your phone, and watch your price fall.
That’s a Latte Money
I know that for many, your morning coffee run is as much ritual as it is for the actual beverage. Stop and think about the cost, however. If you’re dropping $6 a day on coffee, that’s $168 a month you can save by making your own at home. You might miss your barista, but you’ll always get your order right, and no waiting in line!
Don’t Be Late
If you’ve ever been taken by surprise by missing a bill, you likely already have most of your payments on auto-pay. This helps you avoid having to remember all your due dates, as well as the late fees when you don’t. Do a quick check of all your expenses and make sure you’re set up for automatic direct-pay wherever available. This keeps you from being hit with late charges and helps protect your credit score, too.
Just Say No to the ATM
Why should you avoid the ATM whenever possible? One reason is some people are more likely to spend impulsively when they have cash in their pocket. The biggest reason, though, is the fees. When making a withdrawal outside your own banking system, fees average $4.72, according to a 2019 Bankrate study.
Tell Them What You Want, What You Really, Really Want
With maturity comes wisdom, and by now, you know what you like. Why not get compensated? Earn extra cash by sharing your opinions online. Time required to complete surveys varies, but most make it relatively easy to bank some coin while waiting for that always-late doctor, getting your oil changed, or just bored at home. Earn gift cards from Opinion Outpost or Project Report Card. For more payment options, visit Inbox Dollars and get paid with free samples, gift cards, or PayPal deposits.
Come on Down!
You may think this sounds crazy, but you can substantially increase your income by winning a game show. I should know, I’ve played three. If I can do it, anyone can. The trick is to choose which game you’re most likely to win. Is trivia your thing? Are you a puzzle whiz? Maybe you’re a master of manipulation, born to rule Big Brother. Don’t think it can’t happen. Someone has to fill those contestant slots. It may as well be you.