This Week

What will this week be like for you? Will it be an ordinary week at work, with the normal routines? Maybe you’re retired and this will be a week like any other, with the usual tasks to be done.

Will it be an ordinary week? Or an extraordinary one?

This week, you could change your entire financial direction. It’s up to you.

This week, you could sign up for a retirement plan.

Perhaps you have a retirement plan at work that you’ve always thought about signing up for, but haven’t ever done so because of some reason or another: You can’t afford to lose $10 or $15 out of your paycheck, or it’s too much work to walk over to the HR office.

End that story this week. Step away for a few moments, go over to HR, and sign up for the plan. Contribute 5% or so for starters – or be a little aggressive and contribute 10%. Just mark down that you want to contribute to a target retirement investment, sign on the dotted line, and you’re good to go.

What if your workplace doesn’t offer a retirement plan? What if their plan is poorly regarded? You can always open up a Roth IRA for yourself (or a traditional IRA if you’re a high income earner). It’s easy to do – you can sign up for one online at your investment house of choice (I use Vanguard). Just sign up, put your money into a target retirement fund, set up an automatic contribution from your checking account, and you’re on the road to retirement.

This week, you could set up next summer’s wardrobe.

Right now many stores are deeply discounting their remaining summer apparel and making room for winter clothes. Take advantage of this by going clothes shopping this week… not for winter stuff, but for the cheap summer stuff. Use it as an opportunity to rotate out any worn out summer items you have – ditch the scroungy t-shirts and the worn polos and replace them with discounted new items.

You can take this even further and check out secondhand stores. Right now is a great time to buy summer clothes at secondhand stores because many people have been dropping them off as of late and people aren’t going there to shop for summer stuff, either, so there’s usually plenty to choose from. You’d be surprised how often new or nearly new high end clothing pops up at secondhand clothes shops and consignment shops at a crazy low price, and this is a great time to grab summer clothes there.

Don’t wait around until next spring to buy your summer clothes at full price. Buy them now at 60% off and put them in storage for a few months.

This week, you could set up your estate documents.

Do you have a term life insurance policy? If you have people at home who are dependent on your salary – a spouse or children or dependent parents or someone else who relies on you – you might want to consider signing up for a term policy just to ensure that they’re taken care of should something happen to you. It’s pretty easy to sign up for one – you could have your policy taken care of in just a week.

Do you have a will? It’s a document that spells out where you want your personal effects to go and some very broad instructions for what remains of your estate. It might also state your preference for guardianship for your children. You can easily get one of these prepared this week.

Do you have a health care power of attorney? This designates someone who is legally allowed to make decisions on your behalf if you’re in a medical state in which you can’t make decisions for yourself. What about a living will, which is a document stating your wishes for your own health should you be unable to make those decisions? Again, it’s easy to prepare these documents, and you could have them in place before the week is out.

Stepping up to the plate with these kinds of actions is a sign of a responsible adult who has taken care of the people around them.

This week, you could prep your home for winter.

Most of the preparations that a person might do to get their home or apartment ready for winter are pretty straightforward. They just take a little bit of time and attention. The benefit? They end up saving you a lot on your winter energy bill.

One great simple step to take is to reverse all of your ceiling fans so that the blades spin clockwise when viewed from the floor. Ceiling fans run at a low speed in a clockwise direction in the winter create a gentle updraft, which forces hot air near the ceiling to circulate downward into the room where you can feel it.

Another thing you can do this week is go to every window in your home and check it for air leaks. They’re most noticeable when the temperature outside is significantly different than the temperature inside – you’ll feel either cool air or warm air coming through the edges of the window panes. If you feel that, go to the hardware store and get a caulking gun and a tube of window caulk and a putty knife with a rounded corner for smoothing out caulk. Simply shoot a stream of the caulk around the edges of the leaky window and smooth it out with the rounded putty knife corner so that it looks fine and is pressed into the crack. No more air leaks!

Another thing you can do is look for where there’s air flowing into or out of your home under doors. If you can feel air blowing in or out under a door, it’s probably a good idea to install a weatherstrip on that door to block that air flow.

All of these strategies serve to keep your house from losing heat easily during the winter and to maximize the effectiveness of the heat produced by your furnace this winter. Together, these strategies can easily cut hundreds off of the energy bill for a single winter in a large northern home.

This week, you could shop around for better insurance.

Car insurance. Homeowners insurance. Renters insurance. It can all add up to a pretty big expense, especially if you’re still riding on an older policy that you haven’t shopped around in many years.

Take a couple of hours this week and shop around for a better rate on your car insurance and your homeowners insurance or renters insurance. See what kinds of rates are available to you by getting some quotes from competitors. If you find one that offers up a much better deal, particularly if it’s a well regarded insurance company like AFLAC or Progressive, switch to the new package.

This simple move can save you hundreds of dollars a year and it’s something you can take care of in a couple of hours in front of a web browser and on the phone. It just takes a few web quotes and a phone call or two. Start by visiting the website of a few top insurance providers and seeing what kind of quote they can give you.

This week, you could cut the cord on your cable bill.

Still got cable or a satellite provider? Paying for a bunch of channels you never watch or only flip through? This might just be the week where you jump ship.

We did this ourselves not long ago and the process was pretty painless.

First, we got a simple digital over-the-air antenna and made sure that it worked in our house. It did – we pick up a ton of channels. (We were pretty sure it would work because AntennaWeb told us that there were several television networks broadcasting within six miles of our house.)

Then, we simply called up our cable provider and cancelled our subscription. We kept saying “no” to every counteroffer that they made and eventually they cancelled.

Our television viewing now consists of Netflix (about $15 a month), over the air channels, and YouTube, and it’s more content than we can ever watch. We’re saving about $75 a month to boot.

This week, you could cut the interest rate on your credit card and other debts.

If you’re carrying a balance on your credit card, chances are that you’re paying a significant amount each year in interest. If you carry an average of $1,000 month to month on a credit card with a 19.9% interest rate, that’s $199 a year that’s just disappearing. If you’re carrying more or the interest rate is higher, it’s even worse – and perhaps far worse.

The way around this is to simply request a rate reduction on your cards. Just call them up, say that you’re shopping for a different card and considering a balance transfer and that you’d rather stick with this one if they could lower your rate. If they won’t… well, then go find a good card that matches your usage (like a card with benefits at a retailer that you use, like a Chase Amazon card) and transfer your balance to the new card, likely at 0% interest and possibly with some benefits for transferring.

You can do the same with some of your other debts. For example, if you have multiple student loans, consider consolidating them and locking in a low interest rate on all of them. If you have a home mortgage and you’ve been making payments steadily, consider refinancing that mortgage as it might lower your interest rate and possibly remove any PMI that you’re paying.

These are all easy moves that you can do this week that can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in reduced interest payments.

This week, you could start moving toward a raise or a promotion.

“How could I do that in a week?” you might ask. Well, this week, you could simply ask your boss for a sit-down and then directly ask what you would need to do to be in line for a raise or for a promotion you’ve been eyeing. Just simply ask what you need to do to get from where you are to where you want to be.

If you have any sort of a good working relationship with your boss, this should lead to a fruitful conversation about what exactly you can do to make yourself valuable enough so that it’s easy for your boss to give you that raise. You should be able to walk out of that meeting with a checklist of things you can be doing in the coming months to improve your pay and solidify your situation at work.

If you don’t have a good working relationship with your boss… well, you might be at a different kind of career crossroads. It might be worth your time to consider whether or not it’s time to move into a different position, whether it’s with your current company or in new pastures.

In either case, this week is a great opportunity to add some clarity to your career path going forward, clarity that will likely lead to new opportunities and (hopefully) more pay.

This week, you could try a bunch of store brands when you go to the store.

When you go to the store this week, wherever you see a name brand product that you’d ordinarily buy, instead buy the equivalent store brand version. Do this for everything, then pay attention to what works and what doesn’t as the days pass by and you actually use these products.

Grab the store brand laundry detergent. The store brand garbage bags. The store brand breakfast cereal. The store brand milk. The store brand eggs. The store brand ketchup. The store brand everything.

The key is to pay attention as you use it. Can you really see any problems with the store brand product? Is it in any way worse than the name brand version you normally buy? Even if it is worse, is the difference enough to make up for the price difference?

You might just realize that store brands are the right call for you on almost everything you buy, and then you’re on track to perpetually spend less at the grocery store from here on out.

This week, you could have a real ‘money talk’ with your significant other.

If you’ve been in a long-term relationship for years and haven’t really sat down with your partner in a while to go over your finances together and talk about your big goals, do that this week. Pencil in an evening for the two of you to sit down and go through your finances. No anger, no accusations, no anything – it’s okay if either one of you have made mistakes. The goal is to figure out where you want to go together and what needs to happen to make it so, with both of you taking part in it.

If you’re new to a long-term relationship, are moving toward marriage, or are newly married, it’s a great time to sit down and have that first money talk. Open up your finances to each other – again, no anger, no accusations, no anything, and it’s okay if you’ve made mistakes. Talk about where you are, where you want to go together, and what you need to do to get there. How can you help fix each other’s financial problems? What things can you both do to get on the right track? What are your big goals that you share?

It can be intimidating. It can be kind of scary. It can be emotional. It can be hard work.

Yet, when you take on this kind of thing for the sake of your relationship and your future, you almost always come out better on the other side. You understand each other better. You have a plan.

This week, you could load up your freezer with make ahead meals.

Every time you make dinner this week, make quadruple the amount and then package up three full meals and stick them in the freezer, or break those extra full meals down into single-serving meals and freeze them all individually, according to your needs.

Yes, this’ll take a lot of containers (I recommend GladWare freezer- and microwave-safe containers as they work really well for this). It’ll take some extra time. You’ll have to buy some extra ingredients, though you can really take advantage of bulk buying here.

What you’ll get in the end is a freezer full of ready-to-go meals that you can pull out whenever you need them. Need to take lunch to work? Grab a single-serving frozen meal and take it with you. Need a family dinner? Grab one the night before, pop it in the fridge to thaw, and pop it in the oven when you get home. Hungry when you get home? Pop a single-serving meal right into the microwave.

This directly cuts down on your need to eat out going forward, which greatly cuts back on your overall food costs. No need to eat out in the evening if there’s an extremely easy to prep meal at home. No need to eat out for lunch if you can just grab a meal on your way out the door.

There’s the convenience factor, too. It’s a lot easier to eat at home as a family if the meal prep on a busy evening is really simple, so you’re more likely to eat at home than eat a restaurant meal.

Load up your freezer. It’s really not hard and you’ll be thrilled to see a freezer full of meals you prepped yourself.

This week could make all the difference.

What are you going to do with the next seven days of your life? You could take on one of these projects that applies well to your current situation. Completing that project is likely to have significant positive financial effects (and other positive life effects) going forward.

On the other hand, you could just keep doing the same old thing. You could let the days pass by, work for the weekend, and spend the weekend catching up on household tasks and having a little fun.

Then, next Monday, you’ll be right back where you started.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t let yourself be right back where you started next Monday. Be a step ahead in your journey. Do something this week that will really make a difference.

The choice is yours. Make this week count.

More by Trent Hamm:

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.