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10 small money moves that make a big difference

There's no need to spend hours on end to adequately manage your finances. Here are 10 small money moves you can make right now that will pay off big in the long run.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 2, 2014 12:15PM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News. 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyHow much time do you spend on your finances each week? A couple of hours? Or do you rarely spend any time at all?

Many shy away from what appears to be a daunting task for a number of reasons, including fear, time constraints and, in some cases, laziness.

Regardless of which excuse, if any, applies to you, one thing's for certain: Choosing to be involved can save you a ton of time, money and headaches in the long run.

I've heard over and over that if you take care of your money, it'll take care of you. Unfortunately, the saying goes both ways. If you refuse to get your financial house in order, there's a strong chance that it may eventually come crashing down. Don't believe me? Just think about those individuals who were once wealthy, but lost it all.

Here are 10 simple money moves you can make to tremendously improve your financial situation.

1. Modify your spending habits

This one is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many individuals complain about not having enough money to make ends meet, yet refuse to cut back on variable expenses.

Can't think of anything to cut back on? How about those quick runs to the nearest fast-food joint, frequent movie nights, daily trips to Starbucks or cable upgrades, just to name a few?

You can also improve your spending habits by shopping smarter. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Buy secondhand. Craigslist and garage sales are my best friends when I'm searching for big-ticket items because I simply refuse to pay full price. In fact, I've saved over 50 percent in some instances on items that would have easily cost more than $1,000 in the store.
  • Bargain shop. You can also reduce your spending drastically by avoiding full-priced items in the store. I can’t remember the last time I paid retail for a piece of clothing; the clearance rack is my best friend. This may seem difficult initially, but the best way to avoid temptation is to embed in your brain the following: "If it's not on sale or clearance, I'm not buying it." Sounds corny, but it works!
  • Never pay full price. As I said before, avoid the regular-priced racks altogether. Also, check online for promotional offers and check the store policies to see if they allow price matching. (You may have to dig deep because some retailers don't openly advertise their policy.)

2. Create a spending plan

Having a hard time keeping your spending under control? A budget will do the trick and help you spend less than you make. Develop a concrete set of figures by which you will dictate where your money goes each month.

  • Track what you spend for at least two weeks to gauge your actual spending patterns. A free online service can do it for you.
  • Determine if your expenses exceed your income, and make cuts if necessary.
  • Decide which financial goals you want to accomplish first.
  • Consider implementing an envelope system to control variable spending.
For additional tips to get you started, take a look at "How to develop an effortless budget you'll stick to." 

3. Open a savings account

If you haven't already done so, contact your financial institution to open a savings account. Already completed this important step, but still struggle with increasing the balance?

  • Allocate a percentage of your monthly income to your stash, either manually or electronically. The latter may work best to guarantee that you won't be tempted to skip a month.
  • Make a plan for irregular income before you receive it. Still expecting a hefty tax refund? Or even better, has management decided to hand out raises at your place of employment? Saving it is a great way to boost your emergency fund, unless you have a mountain of debt hanging over your head.

Money in pocket © Tom Grill/Corbis4. Be vigilant of your account activity at all times

Haven't paid much attention to your statements in the past? Now's the time to start as identity theft is at an all-time high, and your account activity may serve as the first indicator that you have been victimized.

Start by reviewing the activity on both your bank and credit accounts at least once a week, and review the comprehensive statement when you receive it at the end of the month.

5. Check your credit

Reviewing your credit report takes only a few minutes, yet so many choose not to do so. Would you want to end up with a higher interest rate on a loan because of a mistake on a credit report that lowered your credit score -- a mistake that could have been corrected with a quick call or letter to the creditor?

The Federal Trade Commission says, "A Federal Trade Commission study of the U.S. credit reporting industry found that 5 percent of consumers had errors on one of their three major credit reports that could lead to them paying more for products such as auto loans and insurance."

Haven't checked your credit in a while? Head on over to

6. Gather pertinent documents

Would you be prepared for someone else to handle your affairs if an unforeseen circumstance suddenly arose? If not, now’s the time to gather important documents that pertain to both your finances and health care. These include:

  • A will. If you don’t draft this important document and die without one, state laws will determine where your assets go. Is that what you really want?
  • A durable power of attorney for finances and for health care. This person or persons will oversee your finances and your medical care if you become incapacitated.
  • Life insurance documents. Don't leave your beneficiaries in the dark about the policies you have.

Of course, each of these documents should be stored in a safe place in your home or in the cloud. Make sure those who will handle your affairs know where to find them.

7. Renegotiate interest rates

Have you tried reaching out to lenders to secure lower interest rates on your debt?

  • Request a lower APR on your credit card. Pick up the phone and give the credit card company a ring to see if they can do anything for you. You never know until you ask, and the worst they can say is no. And if you're struggling with managing your credit card debt, check out "8 smart ways to pay off debt fast."
  • Consider refinancing your auto loan and/or mortgage. Depending on the loan, a reduction of a few points could save you thousands of dollars.

8. Reduce your tax liability

Does your tax liability or your refund always seem to catch you by surprise each year? Try using the IRS withholding calculator to determine if you need to adjust your allowances on Form W-4.

9. Maximize 401k contributions

If at all possible, contribute the maximum amount allowable under law to your 401k but certainly no less than the amount to capture your employer's entire match. You definitely don’t want to leave free money on the table.

There are other ways to build retirement funds:

  • Explore your options. Don't have a 401k at work? Explore other options like an IRA or a solo 401k so you won't be left scrambling when retirement time rolls around.
  • Maximize your Social Security benefits. We explained 13 ways to do that here
10. Make your money work for you

Are your investments in your 401k and other retirement funds getting a decent return? Are the fees taking too much of a bite out of your earnings? Are your investments allocated in a way that's appropriate for your age and your risk tolerance? See: "How to Evaluate Your Retirement Funds in 15 Minutes or Less."

Also, remember that the earlier you invest, the more time compounding interest will work in your favor.

Does this list sound arduous? Well, I can assure you that if you sacrifice now and make these small money moves, you will reap the benefits of financial fitness in the long run.

More on Money Talks News:

May 3, 2014 4:49AM
New Number 1 - Live below your means. Everything else becomes easy.
May 2, 2014 11:57PM
I think that much light has been made of all the articles posted in this venue.  Most of what I read states very simple steps or habits that everyone should be doing.  If anyone considers the financial well being of our citizens the result would be that we suck.  Most folks don't have a clue on how to live on a budget.  It is far easier to blame the government, greedy business people, my ex wife or whomever else is handy. Sorry folks each and everyone is responsible for our collective lives.   Blame yourself if you have debt or find yourself in financial peril.  Try and learn from these posts they are spot on, simplistic and worth your time.  I am a retired man who carried a dinner pail for 40 years.  I paid my way through sweat.
May 3, 2014 6:32AM
Without commenting on these very-obvious points, I think one very simple thing people should do is buy a file cabinet and carefully file all of your business records and documents.  So many people I know keep all their records, receipts, etc. in boxes or somewhere else where they couldn't find anything specific if their lives depended on it.  I am in the process of figuring out my parent's business affairs.  They are both in a nursing home, and I have power of attorney to deal with this.  In their house, I have found huge boxes of unsorted documents, and garbage bags full of stuff labled only as "2005" or some other year.  I found almost $8000 dollars of uncashed checks in unopened envelopes; social security checks, tax refund checks, IRA required distribution checks, etc.  I have begun to get on top of it, and have set up direct deposit or electronic funds transfers, so most of it is now automatic, though I make sure I check the bank statements.  This has all been a nightmare.  Parents should make some effort to keep records of their business affairs in some kind of order.  Otherwise, their children or someone else will eventually have to try to make sense of them.
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