Saving

The One Small Step That Can Put You on the Right Track

Marianne Hayes

Staying motivated can be tough when you're working toward a big financial goal. But small wins can go a long way in building the momentum you need to see it through. Need some quick-hit inspiration? Here’s one simple move that’ll put you on the right track to accomplishing eight common money goals. 

Goal #1: Pay off student loan debt

The move: Start paying biweekly

Paying your bill twice a month—not double payments, but two halves—means sneaking in an extra payment each year that you can apply to your principal. (Instead of 12 payments, you’re submitting 26 halves, or 13 full payments.) Vince Schiano, a Chicago-based PR executive, says this move alone helped him shave an extra $4,000 off his loan in the last four years.

Goal #2: Pay down credit card debt

The move: Negotiate your interest rate

New York-based freelance writer Shannon McNay successfully pulled this off in 2012. One creditor refused when she called up to ask for a rate adjustment, but another recognized her as a valued customer and cut her rate by 2 percent—easily saving hundreds on her debt payments over time. "The key is having patience and always asking to speak with a supervisor," she says.

Goal #3: Save more

The move: Collect your spare change

My husband's spare change, which he collects in a glass jar and cashes in at an exchange kiosk, nets us a couple hundred bucks a year. If you’re trying to boost your emergency fund, Certified Financial Planner Chloé Moore suggests parking these easy earnings in an online, high-yield savings account that’s not connected to your checking account, so it’s harder to access on a whim.

Better yet? Digitize your efforts—and help your money grow—with the Acorns app, which automatically rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, then invests the spare change.

Goal #4: Boost your credit

The move: Ask for a limit increase

Your credit-utilization ratio, or how much you owe compared to your limits, makes up 30 percent of your FICO score. If you can't immediately reduce your debt, try to increase your limits. All you have to do is call up your creditor and ask.

Goal #5: Spend less

The move: Embrace a weekly no-spend day

"One day a week, I commit to not spending any unnecessary money," says Moore. "This may mean packing a lunch, not buying coffee or finding other creative ways to substitute spending money." If this proves too challenging, choose one thing from your budget—like an Uber ride or dinner out—to cut this week.

Goal #6: Stick to a budget

The move: Automate your bills and savings

Bola Sokunbi, founder of Clever Girl Finance, put her bills on autopilot about 10 years ago for the convenience factor—saving money was an unexpected perk. "Some companies have given me discounts for making auto-payments, and I've never forgotten to pay a bill," she says. Setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to savings is another sure-fire way to ensure you’ll stick to your savings goal.

Goal #7: Get your retirement savings on track

The move: Invest more with every raise

Next time you get a pay bump, funnel a percentage to your 401(k) or IRA. A 3-percent raise, for example, could equal a 2-percent increase. "This is the easiest time to boost your savings because it's money you're not used to having, and [it] really adds up over time," says Moore.

Goal #8: Earn more

The move: Offload stuff you don’t need

Haven’t started spring cleaning? Now’s the time. Moore says one of her clients recently raked in several hundred dollars by cashing in unwanted stuff at consignment shops. (Digital platforms like Poshmark and Decluttr make this easy.) "It's a good way to make some extra cash and also assess your needs versus wants," she adds.

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