The Ultimate Money Checklist for the New Year
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Do you feel like it’s impossible to get ahead? Are you tired of seeing a goose egg in your savings every month? Let’s get you back on track.
No matter where you are in your financial journey, you can start taking action now. I’ve created the Ultimate Money Checklist which is chock full of ideas to help you stop struggling and start saving right away. With this list, you’ll learn to use the money you have more efficiently, save more for things like retirement and college, and discover nasty fees and expenses that may be draining your bank account.
Are you ready to become a super saver? Let’s get started… and don’t miss the free gift at the end!
Section One: Create Your Financial Foundation
This is the most important part of the checklist. To win with money, you need to set a solid financial foundation. With these tools in place, you’ll be able to track your progress, plan for expenses, and survive financial emergencies. Without it, your whole financial world can collapse quickly. Here’s what you need:
- Start a Budget – Creating a budget is simply making a financial plan for the month. It helps you prepare for the income you have coming in and the expenses you have going out. It’s the best tool you can use to unleash the powerful potential of your own paycheck. Learn how to create a zero-sum budget here, create a budget with Excel, or check out one of these awesome money tools to help you get started! (Pssst…most of these are free!)
- Track Your Spending – To make changes, you need to know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Start tracking your expenses to see where you’ve been spending your money. Compare this to your budget several times each month to ensure you’re still on track. We teach you to track your spending like a boss here.
- Build an Emergency Fund – Let’s face it: S#it happens. Don’t let an unexpected expense derail your plans. Build an emergency fund to see you through the tough times. Get started with $1,000 and work your way up from there. You can do this. Learn more about starting an emergency fund here.
Section Two: Secure Your Future
Are you saving money for the future? If not, it’s time to get started. Here are some different savings vehicles to review and reconsider:
- Employer Sponsored 401(k) – Over the long run, compounding interest could help make you very wealthy. The more time you have, the more power it holds. That’s why it’s important to start saving for retirement right away. Many employers offer a retirement plan as a benefit to employment. Additionally, they probably offer some type of matching funds. Remember, this is FREE money! Be sure you’re contributing at least enough money to meet your company’s match, but don’t put too much money into a fund that isn’t optimized for your situation. This tool provides a free analysis of your 401(k).
- Roth IRA – If you don’t have an employer sponsored retirement account, or your account is loaded with high fees, open a Roth IRA immediately! Personally, we use Vanguard for all of our retirement needs. However, if you need a bit more guidance, consider using a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) or a program like Betterment to put your retirement savings on autopilot.
- 529 College Savings Plan – If you have kids and want to help them save for college, a 529 College Savings Plan may be the way to go. The rules are different in each state, but in my home state of Indiana, we get a 20% tax credit up to $1,000 every year. Check to see if a 529 plan makes sense for your state.
- Education Savings Accounts – Another option is a Coverdell Education Savings Account. Like 529 plans, these accounts allow the money in your college savings to grow tax free, provided they are withdrawn for qualified expenses.
- Cash Savings – Don’t forget to save cash too. While you don’t want to hold onto too much cash, having some money that is extremely liquid is a good thing. Of course, you want to earn as much interest as possible on that money. Try parking it in a spot with a high yield savings account, like they have at CIT Bank. (Follow the link to read our review.) With these types of accounts, you may be able to earn 100x more than with some traditional savings accounts.
Section Three: Search for Big Wins
Now comes the fun part! You can make a huge difference by questioning every expense you have. To make the biggest impact, search for big wins. Making changes in these areas can help you save thousands of dollars at a time:
- Check Your Investment Fees – Investment fees can literally cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. With annualized stock market returns averaging around 7% over time, a 3.5% fee on your mutual fund or 401(k) could be costing you about half of your growth!!! Use Personal Capital’s free Fee Analyzer to see what fees are costing you!
- Explore Student Loan Refinancing – If you’ve got student loans, it might make sense to refinance them. If you qualify for a lower rate, you can save money over both the long and short term. Click here for a list of some of our favorite student loan refinancing companies.
- Consider Mortgage Refinancing – Mortgage rates are low but they are rising. If you haven’t refinanced your home loan already, consider doing it quickly.
- Car Payments – Ideally, you don’t have a car loan already. But, if you do, pay that sucker down quickly. If you can’t afford the payment, consider selling your car, paying off the loan, and buying a cheaper (used) car that fits your income level.
Section Four: Question Everything
While you’ll feel the impact of big wins quickly, the little things add up too! A few times a year, we look at all of our expenses and decide first if they are necessary. Then, we search for options where we may be able to get the same service cheaper – either through switching companies or negotiating rates. Consider this list of common expenses:
- Rent/Mortgage – Your biggest expense each month is most likely your rent or mortgage payment. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you may be house poor. Consider refinancing your mortgage, downsizing your house, or renting a new place to cut costs.
- Utilities – Your utility bill is a little tough to control, but you can definitely make a dent in it. Be conscious of how much energy you’re using. Shut off lights. Turn down the heat or A/C. Don’t waste it. In some areas, you may be able to check out different companies to see if their rates are better. You won’t save a ton, but every little bit helps.
- Groceries – Your food bills can absolutely destroy your ability to save. One easy way to save is by reducing your grocery bill. Now, that doesn’t mean eating garbage foods. What it means is planning your meals better, shopping store brands, and looking for sales. You might consider going meatless a few nights a week. If you need help, you can always try a cheap meal planning program.
- Gasoline – Here’s another living expense that can be tough to control, especially if you are traveling to work. Track how much you’re spending a month on gas, and search for ways to reduce your usage. Again, you won’t get rich, but every dollar counts.
Other Monthly Expenses
- Cell Phones – Twenty years ago this expense didn’t really exist. Now, many of us pay several hundred dollars a month on smartphones alone. No wonder we can’t get ahead. Good news – you can still get a great smartphone and save huge money. Try a discount plan like Ting. Instead of paying a flat rate, you’re charged for the talk, text, and data you use. My bill usually winds up at about $30-35 a month, but you can do it even cheaper. Read my full review of Ting and their “bucket pricing” model here.
- Cable TV – Cable TV bills are out of control. When we were getting back on track, one of the first things we did was cut the cord to cable. Now, it’s easier to do than ever. Just pick up a subscription to a streaming service like Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu Plus. Mix and match them if you want. You’ll still come out ahead… and you’ll have more time for other things.
- Internet – Chances are good you have more than one internet service provider available in your area. Compare prices, see who is running a sale, threaten to switch, and save big money.
- Telephone – You’ve got a cell phone. Do you really use or need that landline anymore?
- Childcare – Yes, it may feel prestigious to send your child to Goldplated Childcare, but if you think it is going to help them get into Yale you’re fooling yourself. Why pay a mortgage payment every month for childcare when you could pay far less somewhere else. Question if you can get it cheaper, then move on it.
- Restaurants – Spending at restaurants used to be our biggest budget buster. In fact, we spent over a $1,000 a month on food – mostly on restaurants – and, we were even bringing our lunch to work! If you’re spending $12 a day just on lunch, that’s $60 per week. Start brown bagging it and you’ve already saved about $240 a month. And that’s just on lunch… for one person.
- Entertainment – Do you even know what you’re spending on entertainment each month? How much is it costing you to go to the movies? What are you spending at the bar? Start tracking those expenses and you may be surprised how much you could save by cutting back.
- Clothing – The same thing goes for clothing and shopping. Even just $50 a week adds up to $200 a month!
- Personal Care – Have you been getting your nails done and your hair did? That stuff can really add up. Consider what it is costing you and think about doing it yourself.
- Snacks – All those little stops at the store add up. Track your snacks and see if there is room to save.
- Coffee – Got a coffee habit? It could be costing you. Start tracking what you spend and see if making coffee at home (or drinking it for free at work) can help you save. Remember, it all adds up.
- Miscellaneous Extras – All those extra purchases add up. $5 here and $10 there sends you straight to the poor house. Again, cutting out $5 to $10 a day in extras could save you $150 to $300 a month!
- Banking Fees – Make sure you’re not paying more than you should for banking. Avoid overdraft fees, utilize free checking accounts, and ensure you’re carrying any required minimum balances at all times.
- Healthcare – Be sure to shop around to get the best health insurance rates possible. This is especially important if you’re self-employed. We got whacked hard by Obamacare and had to look for other alternatives. We finally settled on using a healthcare sharing ministry instead. It isn’t health insurance, but it functions similarly. Here’s a piece detailing the medical cost sharing program we use, and this piece compares several Christian healthsharing ministries.
- Car Insurance – At least once a year, be sure to shop around for the best car insurance deals. Check your rates, compare them with others, and see if it makes sense to move. Also, consider the type of coverage you need. If your car is getting old, it might not make sense to carry comprehensive coverage anymore. You might have the best rates already, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Compare some free quotes here.
- Life Insurance – Do you have all the life insurance coverage you need? Probably not. Life insurance is incredibly cheap, provided you buy term. We recently added another $750,000 of coverage on Holly for under $30 a month through Haven Life. Get your free term life insurance quote here!
Section Five: Create a Plan to Pay Off Debt
Debt sucks. It drains the power of your paycheck and makes it extremely difficult to get ahead. Consider destroying your debt for good by creating a debt repayment plan. Here’s how:
- Try the Debt Snowball – This technique helps you pay off debt quickly by focusing on paying off debt based on the amount you owe to each lender. Learn how it works here.
- Try the Debt Avalanche – This debt repayment technique focuses on paying off your debt based on the interest rate. Learn how it works here.
- Consider a Balance Transfer Card – Do you have credit card debt? Who doesn’t, right? If you have a plan to pay it off QUICKLY – like NOW, you might benefit by transferring it to a balance transfer card. These cards allow you to pay your debt off quickly by providing a 0% APR for a limited time. That way, your whole payment goes toward the principal. Remember, this only works if you A) pay it off before the introductory APR expires and B) don’t use it to rack up more debt. If you can do that, you may save some money. Some of our favorite balance transfer cards are listed here.
- Read Zero Down Your Debt – We wrote Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love to help show you how this whole money checklist works in unison. In the book, we give you a step-by-step plan for making it all happen. Grab your copy here.
Your Free Gift: The Ultimate Money Checklist
I hope you’ve enjoyed this checklist and that you find it helpful for getting your money back on track. To help you out, I’ve created a condensed version that you can download and check off. Just fill in your info below to download your money checklist! Enjoy!
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This is an awesome checklist! It’s basically a to-do for people wanting to get on the path to FIRE this year. I know a lot of people look for a checklist of sure-fire ways to get out of debt; this is pretty spot on. 🙂
I would argue that making a plan should come first, though. It can be as vague as “I want to get out of debt.” As long as you have that guiding principle, it will control all of your subsequent actions.
Thanks Mrs. Picky! I hope this checklist is useful for everybody, whether they are in debt or just want to do better with their money. Have a great week!
This is a GREAT money checklist for 2017!
My main thing is to figure out a better option for internet. We will stick with our Verizon data plan (there’s nothing better for RVers at the moment), but I need to get a cheaper plan. Paying around $10 per GB is just insane!
Sharing on Twitter! 🙂
Thanks Michelle 🙂 It’s tough when you don’t have good wifi options. We had to use a Verizon data hot spot for a while, and it was super expensive… especially if you want to watch videos. But yeah, $10/GB is ridiculous!
I especially love Section 4 and I was NOT good at doing any of those things! It’s amazing what you are charged for or what you can pay less for when you actually question charges. We are in the middle of a college tuition situation for my daughter where she may have paid $1500 extra if she didn’t stop and question a charge. So important! Great (and thorough) list!
Great list! The balance transfer really helped turn me around this year. I need to implement more of these strategies in 2017.
Thanks for the checklist, Greg, and I found out that there were still some items missing in my checklist. I hope I can cover all after this.
My fiancée and I used the debt snowball and it helped us become debt free within 1 year! Thanks to that alone, it freed up our paychecks so that we could MAX out 3 separate retirement accounts. Debt can be the biggest obstacle one faces when trying to become financially independent.
I will definitely refer to this list and see how I can improve more in 2018!
That was a solid list of suggestions. It truly is as easy as following the process that you provided. The trick is to be consistent. If a person lives what you suggested day after day, they will be in great financial shape.
Consistency really is key to getting ahead with money!
This is great. I’m always looking at financial checklists, and it’s always a great feeling when I can put a check mark next to everything (well, not literally, otherwise I’d mess up my screen!)
I keep my electric bill low by using LED light bulbs everywhere – it diminishes the effect of trying to always keep lights off, but that’s a trade off worth having!
Since I’m currently in grad school, my student loans are currently in deferment and not accruing interest, but I will definitely have to consider refinancing them when they come due. They’re federal loans, but I don’t really qualify for any of the extra benefits attached to those.
Awesome Joe! Glad you liked it 🙂
This is a pretty awesome list! I will download it! What did you use to create your course? I am interested in developing my own!
We used Teachable.(Shameless plug alert!!!) Here’s an affiliate link if you want to try it out 🙂
I just cut $267 off our monthly expenses so far by cutting out 2 bills and questioning everything so it really does work.