You spent an average of 2,444 hours earning money last year—so how much of that time did you dedicate to managing it? It can be tough to gain perspective when you're in the midst of deadlines and meetings, but as we kick-start a new year, now's the best time to mentally step back from your schedule and take stock of your finances.
If time is your biggest barrier, let's start small. In fact, 10 minutes is all it takes to put some good financial intentions into action. Start by choosing the amount of time you can dedicate now (not this weekend, because, let's face it, that's not going to happen) and tick off one of the tasks below. From scheduling a "money minute" to revising your weekly budget, here's how to make the most pressing tasks on your financial to-do list seem a little less intimidating.
If You've Got 10 Minutes…
The Goal: Align your calendar with your goals.
The First Step: If you've only got 10 minutes to spare, that's okay. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to complete a tedious task in record time, though; the best thing you can do is check your calendar.
Treat your financial health the same way you do your physical well-being by making appointments. Like blocking out time in your schedule to hit the gym or see a doctor, set aside time to manage your money. Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, swears by scheduling a "money minute" at the start of each day. "Every single morning, without fail, whether it's Monday or Saturday, I log into my money center on LearnVest," the hub that links her credit cards, savings accounts, and more. This simple daily habit helps Tobel stay abreast of her spending and reminded of her goals.
If You've Got 30 Minutes…
The Goal: Check your credit score.
The First Step: Nearly one in eight Americans has never checked their credit score, and the vast majority are confused about the basics, a recent NerdWallet survey reveals. If you're among the group who don't know their credit score or haven't checked it in the last month, now's the time to do it. Sites like Credit Karma will tell you your score in seconds—no strings attached.
Once you know your score, use that information to find out if you're getting the very best deal with your current credit card provider. If your score has increased, you might be eligible for a better card. Making the switch to a card with a low APR and rewards tailored to your lifestyle can result in big long-term savings.
If You've Got One Hour…
The Goal: Identify upcoming milestones.
The First Step: It's virtually impossible to be in control of your finances without having some idea of what your future holds. Jenn Imbeault, CFP, vice president of Fidelity Investments Shrewsbury Investor Center, says it's crucial to set aside time to ask yourself (or your S.O.) what the big milestones are that lie ahead. "I like to write down what it is I want to accomplish, then prioritize them on a timeline," she told MyDomaine. "What's coming next in my life? If it's marriage, how do I pay for that?
If I want to buy a house one day, what does that involve?"
Once you've written down the biggest milestone in your financial future, delve a little deeper and consider the costs associated. "I write details under each priority so I can visualize what I need to do," she says. Granted, this chat will likely start a larger conversation about your future hopes and dreams, but dedicating an hour to think about big-picture changes is a good start.
If You've Got an Afternoon…
The Goal: Do a budget deep-dive.
The First Step: How often do you check your budget to make sure you're on track? If the answer is "rarely," spend an afternoon looking over your budget and making sure it's still relevant. It's likely your spending habits, priorities, and even income have changed in the last year, so take a moment to ensure your budget is accurate and achievable.
Don't have a budget? Start by saving this simple budget template and follow our guide to make sure you include all the essentials.
If You've Got a Day…
The Goal: Meet with the pros.
The First Step: One of the most damaging misconceptions is that meeting with a financial planner is for the rich—it's just not true. In fact, if you're struggling with paying off debt, it's even more crucial to chat with an expert to find out how to take control.
If you've set aside a day to tackle your finances, the best way to spend this time is by scheduling a one-on-one with a planner. Come to them with a snapshot of your currrent situation (debt, savings, and financial goals) and have an honest conversation about how to make your money work harder. "There's no cost associated with having a planning conversation," says Imbeault. "I recommend doing a formal review once a year to ask where were we last year, and where are we today? Has anything changed?
What's going well, and what needs to be addressed?"