There are so many financial tasks that we “know” we should do, but who has the time to even remember them, let alone do them. But now that we are all in social distancing, do we have a lot of excuses?
I’ve compiled a list of 50 quick and simple financial tasks you can complete in quarantine to get you jumpstarted on your money goals. These aren’t all clearly “financial” but every part of your life impacts your finances – your health, your relationships, etc. I wouldn’t do them all in a day, but any one of them is feasible in a day. These are all beginner tasks but stay tuned for another post with more advanced tips.
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A. Get Your Money in Order
B. Prepare for the Inevitable – Death and Taxes
C. Prepare for Retirement
D. Get Your Body in Order
E. Improve Your Security
F. Improve Your Relationships
G. Improve your Career
H. Improve your Life
A. Get Your Money in Order.
1. Check your bank accounts/credit card transactions.
In 2016, the information from three of my credit cards was stolen. Before I had Mint, it was way too much effort for me to check all my bank and credit card accounts. I’m not going to necessarily recommend aggregating your bank accounts into one app (it’s a security risk after all) but it’ll only take you a few minutes to log into your accounts and make sure there isn’t any suspicious activity.
2. Check your credit report.
Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your three free credit reports. You can choose to get all there at once, to get it all done with at once. Remember though, you only get these reports once per year. Thus you can also consider getting one or two free reports now and then checking the others within a year just to do an audit. Whatever you do, set a reminder exactly from one year from when you check your reports so you can remember to check them again in the next 12 months.
3. Review your spending.
With online banking, credit cards, and apps, it’s never been easier to check all your financial transactions. You don’t need to carry a notebook to write down every expense you make (although that can be a good idea!) – but have you ever taken the time to review your monthly expenses?
You should know how much money you’re spending and saving. Your knowledge should also extend to knowing how much you’re spending on things that you enjoy and don’t enjoy, how much on necessities and how much you can cut if you lose your job, and what categories are the biggest expenditures for you.
4. Review or create your budget.
As a confession, I don’t have a strict prescriptive budget. But I look at the percentages on what I spend and I ask the following questions:
- Am I spending less than I earn? If not, is there a good reason (i.e. paying off debt) or do I need to reevaluate my spending?
- Am I reaching my goals?
- Does this budget match my values?
They say that you can tell a lot about what someone values by looking at how they spend their money. So if someone who didn’t know you saw your budget, what kind of person would they think you are? Do you like this impression?
5.Cancel a recurring bill that you don’t care about.
The average American spends $237.33 on subscriptions per month. That astounded me as well, but between my gym, newspaper, NYT crossword, magazines, Hulu, etc. that could easily be $150. And maybe you love all your subscriptions, but you could also try cutting out one or two to see if you might miss them.
There’s plenty of free programming without Hulu. There’s plenty to read without the newspaper. There are ways to exercise without the gym. I’m not judging your decisions to pay for any of these things, but it helps to remind yourself whether you’re really enjoying these subscriptions. Sometimes we get so used to certain things, that we forget the thrill of the new purchase. Taking a hiatus might help you appreciate these subscriptions even more – or maybe you find that you don’t care that much. Either way, it’s a win.
6. Try to Get a Better Deal on your Recurring Bills.
Now that you’re reviewed your budget, if you’re not saving as much toward your goals you would like, it might be a good time to start thinking about where to cut. I called my cable company and got a downgraded plan – saving me $40/month. I’ve been very happy with my GoogleFi phone service – it’s way cheaper than what I used before. I called my airlines to see if I could get a refund for flights booked before the coronavirus pandemic – and though it was outside their free cancellation period, all airlines gave me a credit. You never know what can happen if you don’t ask.
I’m not saying this will be successful, but who has time to look for stuff like this when you’re working?
7. Find out when you’ll finish paying off your debt.
This calculator from Bankrate allows you to see how much faster you can get out of debt with recurring payments. Maybe this timeline will inspire you to add more payments, or maybe it isn’t worth the effort. But you’ll know what your options are and whether you want to take them. See also – How I Paid Off $112k in Law School Student Loans in 18 Months.
8. Check your debt.
If you’re in a loan forgiveness program, this might be a good time to check to make sure everything is going smoothly, that you’re filing all the right paperwork, that you’re in a qualifying job, etc. Check out these common mistakes in applying for Public Student Loan Forgiveness.
9. Check out a book about money.
Everyone has more to learn when it comes to money. Some great books to consider The Simple Path to Wealth, Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required, I Will Teach You to be Rich: No Guilt. No Excuses. No BS. Just a 6-week Program that Works, Financially Fearless by 40, and Your Money or Your Life.
10. Find a cause to support.
I’m a big believer in charity, but I know it’s not a priority for some people. I’m not saying it should be your priority or not – but if you are looking to start giving to charity, it can be a bit of an involved process.
First, you have to find a charity that you want to support. Personally, I tend to support local charities where I’ve volunteered in the past – that way, I can see the impact and know the people involved. You can spend your day off researching charities in your backyard and seeing if they have events you can attend. You can also contact people who work for the charity to find out more. In my experience, and just based on common sense, the people who work at charities are more than happy to answer questions for potential donors.
If you want to get a tax deduction but don’t know the charity yet, you can open a donor-advised fund on your day off (opening a donor-advised fund is also a quick and easy thing to do on your day off!). This allows you to get your charitable tax deduction but doesn’t require you to pick the charity as of yet.
11. Automate your bills and savings.
You should always check your financial transactions to make sure that there’s no suspicious activity (See tip #1). And I know people who are committed to paying their credit cards at a certain time every month.
But I also know that if I didn’t automate my bill-paying, I would have hundreds of dollars in late fees and interest payments. Automating is one less thing to think about. If you’re someone like me, it’s always good to have your bills automated because life gets busy and you are human. Save yourself the worry of missing payments.
12. Increase your savings/investments.
While you’re automating your savings, you might as well bump up the amount you’re saving and investing.
13. Review your pay stub.
If you got a big tax refund last year, consider altering your exemptions so that less is taken out of your check each pay period. It’s like getting a small raise.
14. Do a small money thing.
Return something to the store before the return period is over. List something semi-valuable on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. Recycle used electronics on Gazelle. Donate old items clogging up your home and get a receipt for a charitable deduction. Look into some side hustle ideas like Rover.com (I personally love dog sitting). Check some of the places you love to shop at to see if they’re hiring part-time positions.
B. Prepare For the Inevitable – Death and Taxes
15. Start thinking about writing your will.
When I mean start thinking, I really just mean thinking. Writing a will is not that quick and fast to do (even with services like Tomorrow and Free Will). But really start thinking about your assets and your debts, who you want to be your personal representative, who your heirs will be, who your guardians will be in case you have children or pets. You can also consider your memorial service, how you want to be remembered, what to do with your body – all that fun stuff. That way when you’re ready to write your will, you won’t be starting from scratch.
16. Add beneficiaries to your bank, investment, and/or insurance accounts.
Though this seems fairly straightforward, updating my beneficiaries took me days to do. I had to look up all my accounts, gain access to all my accounts, figure out how to update this info, as different types of accounts and different institutions have different methods, find the information for all my beneficiaries and then fill out online forms and/or mail in other forms.
C. Prepare for Retirement
17. Figure out your retirement number.
There are countless retirement calculators out on the web (try this one from Vanguard). In a few seconds, you can figure out if you are mostly on track, ahead of or behind your retirement goals.
18. Open up a Roth IRA.
Go to your bank’s website and click on a few links to open your Roth IRA and contribute some money while stocks are on sale.
19. Rebalance your portfolio.
Last year, I looked at my 401k and rebalanced my portfolio for the very first time. I thought it would require a lot of effort, but when I clicked on managing or changing my investments, my 401k provider guided me through some questions to rebalance my portfolio easily. Now I just have to remind myself to do it more often!
20. Think about what you’ll do in retirement.
Personal finance experts spend so much time talking about retirement but no one ever considers what your retirement will be like. There’s some hazy idea about golf and volunteer work. But what if you hate golf and have no idea what kind of volunteer work you want to start doing? This is a good time to look into some ideas – community service in your area, hobbies, group sports, art, etc. If you can visualize a happy retirement, it will be easier for you to save for it.
D. Get Your Body in Order
21. Review your health insurance.
This is a list of financial tasks, yes, but your health is a financial matter. It affects your sick days, your general well-being, your health-insurance, and how you interact with others. We all know we should exercise, but when you are working a lot, health falls by the wayside.
Do you even know what benefits you get? Do you think you are getting a good deal? Your human resources department likely sent you brochures or emails detailing your options but likely you didn’t have time or incentive to review all the material. Now might be a good time.
22. Evaluate your health.
It’s very easy to take your health for granted. But now more than ever is a good time to evaluate your health and ways to improve it. Do you know how many pushups or situps can you do? Can you run more than a mile? Check your body for any parts that are tight or sore and see if you can find yoga poses to open those parts up. Check the Women’s Health Network for some quizzes that help you gauge your health. If you don’t like your results, you can try the 100 Pushups challenge or a Couch to 5k Program.
23. Take a Walk.
If you have some time off, it’d be great to focus on adding a little more movement to your day. You might not have the ability to walk more on your working days so consider at least taking a nice leisurely walk on your day off.
24. Recover and stretch.
Just as important as exercise is letting your body rest. And I don’t mean sleep in (though that’s also a great thing to do on your day off!). I mean, moving your body in ways that counter the repetitive movements of your day. That means if you’re hunched over a keyboard, that you gently stretch your back the other way. You can foam roll. Consider treating yourself to a massage. I love massages – they make me remember to notice my body and they honestly make me feel human again, instead of robot-like. They can also help you pinpoint areas where you need to work – for me, it’s tight hamstrings and a tight butt (but not the good kind of tight butt!).
25. Schedule and attend your checkups.
It’s a good idea to get a physical, a dermatology checkup, vision test, two dental appointments. While some of these offices are closed now, for those that are open, consider scheduling all your annual visits now.
E. Improve Your Security
26. Change your passwords.
You know you’re not still supposed to be using the same passwords forever and ever into perpetuity, right? I’m not judging – I only changed mine recently. If nothing else, you should regularly change your passwords on all accounts that may have sensitive information (banks, credit cards, insurance, social media, etc.). You should also be wary of using the same passwords on multiple accounts in case of a breach and be wary of using extremely simple passwords (like “password”).
27. Calculate your Insurance Needs
Here’s a handy calculator to get you thinking about whether or not you have enough insurance.
28. Do (or review) your home inventory.
If you’ve purchased more stuff, since the last time you did your insurance payments, maybe you need more insurance. This might take more time if you have a lot of stuff, but those of us in apartments can probably do most of this in a day.
29. Cover your webcam.
They’re apparently very easy to hack and you don’t want someone spying on you. I just cover mine with tape but there are more advanced solutions.
F. Improve Your Relationships
Divorce will break your finances, so keeping your relationships in order is completely a financial task.
30. Consider throwing money at a recurring problem.
Housework seems to be a major problem among people who live together. I know it seems extravagant, but finding a new roommate, being unhappy, or fighting with your significant other might not be worth the cost of a cleaning service. Look up some cleaning services and book a cleaning.
31. Plan a date night with your significant other.
The most significant decision you make for your money is whom you choose to associate with, particularly if you marry someone. And it’s easy to be complacent. Don’t fall into that trap! Plan a romantic night or just a night to really talk about your relationship and reconnect. It could save you a lot of money and misery in the future to make your relationship happier now.
32. Schedule one-on-one time with a friend.
This is video cam primetime. During quarantine you may be socially distant, but you should not be isolated. Consider using Zoom, FacetTime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts or Facebook Messaging.
33. Plan a get-away with friends.
Anticipation is one of the most important parts of fun. Don’t buy plane tickets right now, because who knows when we’ll be able to travel again. But you can still look up itineraries and just…dream.
34. Send a positive note to one of your friends.
If you’re like me, you have a ton of unused stationery that is dying to be filled with a great little message and sent to a great friend. Why not use those cards and send something encouraging during this trying time.
35. Watch this video about nonviolent communication.
It’s three hours long (but you don’t have to watch the whole thing in one sitting. OK just watch the first hour). This has been so eye-opening in terms of learning to communicate better.
36. Read a book about improving relationships or emotional intelligence.
Consider the following classics: Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, How To Win Friends and Influence People, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love.
G. Improve Your Career
37. Check out if you’re being paid the market rate.
Check this calculator from Glassdoor to estimate your market rate. If you’re not being paid enough, then it might be time to prepare a pitch for a raise or to look for new jobs.
38. Look around at colleagues’ practice.
Are you keeping up with other people in your industry? I remember I had noticed that a coworker’s biography noted that she had cowritten several articles, which gave her greater credibility. Though a partner suggested that I write an article before, I just figured I had no time. But my coworker had clearly been making it work. Consider going the extra mile in your career.
39. Look around for jobs you might like.
The time to look for a new job is not when you hate your current one. Set up an alert for jobs that interest you and then review these weekly.
40. Evaluate your resume and what you need for the job you want.
My friend told me that she regularly evaluates her existing resume and compares her existing skills with those for the kind of job she wants in the future. She identifies any gaps in what she’s doing and seeks out ways to gain those skills so that when the job she wants comes up, she is ready to pounce. This also ensures that she isn’t stagnant in her job. This is great career advice for the go-getter.
41. Figure out/work on a passion project.
We all spend too much time watching TV and while it’s fun, it’s like junk food. After binge watching, we feel a little gross. Instead, spend an hour or two making art or researching an entrepreneurial venture.
42. Find your group.
Figure out some people who have the career that you want and research those people. Schedule an informational interview with someone whose job you admire. Meet up with someone in your network that you haven’t caught up with in awhile. Call an old friend. Too often we are busy rushing to and from, well, everything, that we leave our relationships behind. But your career network is paramount for the health of your finances.
43. Practice your existing skills.
They say use it or lose it and it’s largely true. Even if you were adept at a skill before, it’s the ongoing habits that keep your skills current. So practice your foreign languages, play your instruments, knit and crochet, shellac, build, etc.
44. Plan a trip for yourself.
This is about more than fun. This is about expanding your horizons, having new stories to tell, having something to look forward to, taking a break to refresh yourself. Again, don’t book tickets or hotels yet because we don’t know when we will be able to travel again, but consider looking at cities that might pique your interest. Maybe you might even find a future home for yourself.
H. Improve Your Life
45. Do the thing that’s getting in your way.
Maybe you want to start riding your bike but your bike needs work. Fill in the tires, charge the lights. Maybe you want to go out dancing but your outfit needs repair. If you want to start working out but have no sneakers, go buy them. If there’s something that you want to do and there’s something that keeps getting in your way, try to get that out of the way.
46. Organize a part of your home that is messy.
I don’t understand how tidy people do it, but their homes are perfectly neat. Even if you covertly open up a side closet, everything is perfectly in its place.
I, however, am not that neat. I do try to organize in bits and pieces by decluttering areas when I have extra time. Pick an area like one cabinet in your kitchen, your refrigerator, your nightstand, your junk drawer or one closet. Declutter, clean, sanitize. Pretend you’re that perfectly neat person even if only in one small area.
47. Write a thank you note.
It could be a Yelp review thanking someone for providing excellent customer service, but it’ll make you (and likely him/her) feel so much better.
48. Learn/try something new.
Just getting yourself out of your normal day-to-day circumstances can be great for jumpstarting a new perspective on your life.
Listen to podcasts. Watch some Ted Talks. Read a book. Listen to a new station on Pandora or Spotify. Watch a different TV show on Netflix. Open a book on your shelf that you haven’t seen before. Just open yourself up to something that could become a new part of your routine. Even having a new song in your rotation can make each day feel brand new.
49. Take a nap.
This is self-explanatory. We’re all stressed and exhausted and sleep-deprived. What I learned during my time off is that you don’t have to feel guilty for sleeping. When we are well-rested, we are better friends, parents, kids, citizens.
50. Start figuring out your “why.”
This is different than your passion project because this is more about your legacy. Ok this isn’t likely a one day type of activity, but it’s the kind of thing that you might need some down time to do.
Consider reading my post Why “Follow Your Passion” is Great Advice or reading the excellent inspirational book: The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
I hope I have inspired you to have a productive financial day under your quarantine. Good luck and good financial health!