It’s nowhere near anything anyone would call “a new year.” So it makes sense that it’s kind of the “low season” when it comes to things like goal setting, and tackling new projects, and just generally starting stuff. (Other than drinking on patios, that is, because I am all set for that to start anytime now.)
But it turns out, it was only a few weeks ago this time a few years ago that I finally
took the plunge took the entirely-too-easy first step towards getting my money life in order. I wanted to take a look at the other steps I took in that first year that felt like Really Big Financial Things, but in all honesty, took me less than an hour to do — in most cases, much less than an hour.
If you’re in the mood to take steps too, and you’re ready for a push, consider this it.
If you haven’t done everything on this list — what are you waiting for? Pick one, set a timer and just do it. I wish I had done this all years ago, or at the very least know how easy it would be to do once I finally just sat down and got it done.
Be a rebel. Make a June 27th resolution.
(Because everyone does New Year’s resolutions.)
1. Sign Up for a No-Fee Checking Account
I’ve written before about how happy I was to switch to Tangerine, which is unsurprising given that one time, I paid $50 a month in bank fees out of nothing more than sheer ignorance about how much I was being charged per debit transaction. You know what’s nice? Not worrying that I’ll be paying $1 every time I want to rely on debit instead of credit to pay for things.
That said, this seemed like such an easy thing to do in theory, but it took me forever to do it. I knew — like, deep in my bones knew — I would be cool with online banking, and that it suited me perfectly, but it took me years to finally do it.
Don’t be like me. Don’t spend years paying bank fees. Sign up for a no-fee checking account. (Read reviews of some of the best ones here.)
2. Separate Your Savings Accounts
Once upon a time, I used one single savings account for everything other than retirement.
Saving up for vacation? That went into the account.
Emergency fund savings? Add it to the account.
Vet bill savings? Yup, throw it in there.
In my head, this really was my “emergency fund” savings, but trust me when I tell you I thought nothing of withdrawing four-figure amounts to cover vacation expenses when they came up. In news that will surprise no one, that account never really accumulated a significant balance. It hovered right around the $2,000 mark for as long as I had it, and anytime it went above that, something always just seemed to happen.
Funny how that works.
Thanks to my newfound decision to take control of the bank fees I was paying by switching to Tangerine, I already had the momentum to look at my banking setup, and I decided that wow, this “only using one savings account” thing wasn’t really working out for me.
So I set up five savings accounts instead, and gave them all names.
If I wanted to buy new stuff for the house, that got its own savings account (mama wants a king sized bed someday).
If I wanted to go on vacation and have a slush fund for gifts, that got its own savings account.
Same goes for a house downpayment, an emergency fund for the dog, and an emergency fund for me.
All of a sudden, my emergency fund — my real, separate emergency fund — has way more than $2,000 in it. The simple change of adding a few extra savings accounts with the click of a button has probably been one of the highest-impact things I’ve done for my finances over the past year.
So just do it. Go log into whatever online banking system you use. Add a savings account to set aside money for a specific goal, and for bonus points, set up an automatic contribution to be added to it every month.Calculate A Savings Goal
3. Calculate A Savings Goal
Once you’ve got separate accounts for the things you’re saving for, it might help to figure out how much you’re planning to save up in some of the accounts. Not even so that you know how much you “should” have in them, although that’s important. More importantly — at least the way I look at it — is that if you have a set goal, you know when you can stop saving.
I’m not saying I don’t like saving or anything, but hear me out.
A great example is my emergency fund. I calculated a goal to save up $8,800 based on how much I spend each month and how long I estimate I’ll need it for. As soon as I hit that number, the money I’m contributing to that goal can be sent towards other things, like my house downpayment fund!
Reaching a savings goal is nice, but having that extra money to throw towards other goals? Priceless.
Go figure out how much you need to save for just a single one of your savings goals — here’s how I calculated my emergency fund savings goal and my pet emergency fund savings goal, if you’re looking for somewhere to start! Bonus points if you can set up your savings account to keep track of that goal for you.
4. Track Your Spending
There’s not a lot more I can say about tracking your spending that I haven’t already said (if you want the recaps, try this post or this one or this one) but it will seriously change how you see your money — and how you feel about it, too. If you’re not convinced, try it for a week. Make a note somewhere — even on the back of a napkin if you have to — of what you spent money on that week, and how much you spent. I guarantee it won’t take that much time, and I also guarantee you’ll learn a lot about your spending habits.
You can even do this by pulling up your bank account and credit card statements and looking back at a week of spending you had recently, if you want to get it out of the way all at once. The data is right there waiting for you!
5. Start to Invest
Investing was always something I knew I should do, but I never really knew where to start. I tried once, and I went to my bank and asked about mutual funds. When I did that, my “advisor” told me I didn’t have enough money to invest — even though I probably had about $4,000 sitting in my Registered Retirement Savings Plan.
Pro: I didn’t get locked into high MER bank mutual funds.
Con: This was back in 2012, and I missed out on some pretty great years of market growth.
After that total non-adventure, I didn’t really do much about the whole investing thing. I knew a little bit about it, or at least enough to know…
- High management fees are usually something you want to avoid
- Trying to beat the market is for people who spend a LOT more time thinking about investing than I do, and
- I need something low maintenance, along the lines of a Couch Potato portfolio that tracks the market
The key word here is low maintenance, especially since the “getting started” bit was the one that really kept tripping me up. I knew just enough about the whole thing to know what I wanted, but not enough to know how to get there.
Until I discovered robo-advisors.
It was this moment of realization, like “Wait, you mean someone has built exactly the service that I wished someone would offer me, and I can sign up entirely online?!”
So I did. Literally that day, I opened up an account with Wealthsimple, and I haven’t looked back — even though I did invest right before a big market correction, I’m still happy I did it. Setting up and funding an account with Wealthsimple or another robo-advisor, like FutureAdvisor or Wealthfront, will take you no more than 15 minutes.
In retrospect, these are really the most impactful financial moves I’ve made in the past few years, bar none. It’s a little sad to think back and realize that every single one of them took me less than an hour to do, especially when I consider how freaking long it took me to do them.
But, in true learn-from-my-mistakes fashion, I don’t want it to take you guys as long as it took me.
If you haven’t done these things, what are you waiting for? It’s June 27th. It’s a day for fresh starts (apparently).
I’d love to hear from you guys — are you planning to take one (or many) of these steps? Is there anything you’d add to the list of “awesome finance moves you can make in under an hour”? Chime in!
Image via Unsplash