With the big weekend coming up, many of us are sitting around plotting all sorts of activities, both fun and not-so-fun. If you’re looking for something to do, here’s a checklist of twenty three things you can work on this weekend that will improve your finances. Each one you complete will pay long-term dividends for improving your financial situation, even if a few require a small expenditure now.
1. Install CFLs all over your home. I just compared my energy use from one year ago to the month just passed. Even though the weather was significantly colder this year compared to last (meaning greater energy costs for heating), I actually used substantially less energy during the month compared to the previous year – and thus my electric bill was not nearly as large. The only major change I made in that year was switching to CFLs.
2. Prepare a bunch of meals to store in the freezer.
To put it simply, homemade food is tastier, (usually) healthier, and less expensive than takeout or fast food, but it does require preparation time. To get around that, spend a weekend preparing some complete meals to stick in the freezer. Then, instead of stopping for take-out in the evening, just come home, open the freezer and grab a meal, and pop it in the oven. If fast food is your weakness, prepare hand-held foods in advance that can quickly be microwaved and eaten.
3. Air-seal your home.
Air-sealing prevents large amounts of air from circulating in and out of your home, significantly trimming your heating and cooling costs. It’s not that hard, just a bit time consuming. The Department of Energy has produced a very nice guide on how an individual can air seal their own home.
4. Purge a media collection.
Many people have a large collection of some media type or another, whether it be book, CD, DVD, video game, or whatever. Spend several hours purging the collection and selling the excess on eBay or your selling site of choice. This can easily absorb a pair of weekends, but you’ll usually wind up with a lot of cash and more room simply by getting rid of things that you’ll likely never look at again.
5. Call your credit card company and request a rate reduction.
Are you frustrated by high interest card rates? Spend some time and call the phone numbers on the back of your cards. Navigate their automated menu to get to a person, then ask to speak to a supervisor (as most ordinary phone jockeys don’t have the authority to lower rates). Tell them that you’re considering a balance transfer and ask whether or not they’re willing to lower their rates to keep you there. If you have a strong payment history and any significant balance, they’ll usually lower their rates (provided your rate isn’t already tiny). Now, just rinse and repeat for each card and then watch your payments go way, way down.
6. Install programmable thermostats.
Programmable thermostats are devices you can set to automatically lower temperatures at home while you’re at work or while you’re sleeping, and raise temperatures while you’re at home and active (or vice versa, depending on your climate). This has the nice effect of lowering your energy costs; your air conditioners and heaters automatically stop running when you’re not using them, thus trimming fat from your electrical budget. If you’re renting, even better: offer to install these yourself in exchange for the cost of the thermostats deducted from your rent, so you can enjoy the energy savings for free.
7. Air up your car tires.
For every two PSI that your tires are below the maximum recommended pressure, you lose about 1% fuel efficiency. What does that mean? If you’re like most people, your tires are ten PSI or so below the maximum recommended pressure, so you’re losing 5% fuel efficiency. If your car normally gets 20 MPG, if you properly inflate your tires, you’ll get 21 MPG. At $2 per gallon for gas, every 1,000 miles you drive, you save about $5. Over a normal year of driving, that’s $50. All you have to do is drive up to the free air dispenser at your local gas station and put some free air in your tires. Be sure to use a tire gauge to check the pressure, and also consult your car manual for appropriate pressurization.
8. Organize your financial records.
Well-organized financial records make it easier for you to do your taxes, be prepared for an audit, and understand your exact financial state. Select a filing system appropriate for you and invest some time implementing a solid filing system for your financial data. It might not immediately pay off for you, but it will pay off greatly in the long run.
9. Map out your life in detail.
Make sure that your day to day actions are actually in line with your overall life goals by creating a “life map”. In essence, this is an exercise that moves you from the most central goals in your life all the way down to individual action items for today. Thus, instead of filling your hours with idleness playing video games and shopping at the mall, you can be working towards much larger goals – ones that can bring you your financial freedom.
10. Get your free credit report from the FTC and review it.
The Federal Trade Commission guarantees all citizens an annual look at their credit reports, which you can retrieve at annualcreditreport.com. Download it and make sure there aren’t any surprises. Be sure, however, that you don’t use freecreditreport.com, though, as they attempt to trick you into spending money for something that’s free.
11. Plan and execute a talk about finances with your spouse.
If there are any signficant unresolved financial questions between you and your spouse (such as how much credit card debt you each hold, what your goals are, and so forth), take the initiative to sit down and talk about these things. This can be quite tricky, however, so you may need some help getting the conversation started.
12. Do some coupon brokering.
Coupon brokering refers to the process of collecting coupons out of the free Sunday newspaper fliers and selling them for a tiny price on the internet. You can either find a coupon broker to save you a significant amount of cash on your grocery bill or even get started doing it yourself, if the desire strikes you.
13. Draft a will.
Do you have any property at all that you wish to be given to anyone in the event of your death? Do you know what will happen to all of your assets? Do you want something specific to happen to them? If you’re unsure about what might happen with your assets, spend some time and draft a will. After you do, have a lawyer make sure that the document is legal in your state.
14. Clean out your car’s air filter.
A regularly cleaned air filter can improve your gas mileage up to 7%. It’s simple to do (just look through your auto manual for details): just undo a bolt, pull out your filter, tap or blow it clean, and put it back. And what is it worth? Using the same car mentioned above, you can save about $75 a year by just cleaning your filter a time or two.
15. Clean out your storage space.
You know all that junk you have in storage on your property? Spend a weekend digging through all of it and getting rid of the things that you’ll never use again. Some of it may have some resale value, meaning you can put some cash into your pocket, too.
16. Donate time to a local charity.
Instead of spending the weekend golfing or shopping or something similarly expensive, spend a weekend volunteering for a local charity. Why? You might discover that your priorities are a bit out of whack, or you might find a new passion in life. To get you started, take a look at my favorite charity.
17. Decorate your home with some simple elegance.
It’s not hard to make beautiful, elegant, personal home decorations on a small budget. For example, taking photographs and matting them yourself is an excellent way to refresh a room – and perhaps subtly increase the value of the property as well, as first impressions of rooms are accented by quality decoration.
18. Challenge yourself to spend the weekend without spending a dime.
Make a pair of one day commitments to not spending money. See what you can find to do that doesn’t cost anything. Walk to your destinations – or just stay home. Find free activities to do at home. You can even put in special effort to minimize energy use at home.
19. Read a personal finance book.
Puzzling about your finances, but don’t know where to start? Spend the weekend curling up with a good personal finance book. We’ve reviewed a lot of books on here; you might also want to check your local bookstore for recommendations.
20. Organize a series of potluck dinners – and host the first one.
Potluck dinners are a great way to have a social activity and still save money. At ours, it was tradition to leave the leftovers with the host, which meant that your week was a week where you could eat leftovers for a couple of days. Even if you bring a dish to someone else’s potluck, it’s still usually much cheaper than a night out on the town. Call up a bunch of friends and suggest having a potluck dinner.
21. Repaint a room.
Repainting a room not only improves the property value of your home, but it also increases the aesthetic value, particularly if you have a drab room. Pick some colors and spend a weekend refreshing a room.
22. Have a yard sale.
If you cleaned out your storage space, as per an earlier suggestion, you likely have a bunch of stuff you’d like to get rid of. Have a yard sale and turn all of that old rubbish into cash.
23. Start a financial self-analysis.
If you really want to get your finances in order, spend a weekend with a guide evaluating your money situation and your perspectives on not only money, but your life goals and directions. I quite like my own 31 Days To Fix Your Finances, but you may want to find a personal finance workbook at your local bookstore to work through and think about.