5 Simple Money Moves That Will Impact Your Finances in a Big Way


Photo by Melissa Oholendt

Two years ago, I started a new job. With it came a new desk, a new dress code, and a new 401k. Right away, I knew I wanted to roll over my retirement savings from my previous job into this new 401k. I like to keep my finances as simple as possible; having two separate retirement accounts nagged at me. But for months (and months), “Merge old 401k with new 401k” languished on my to-do list. The process seemed complicated and I didn’t know where to start, so I kept putting it off and putting it off…

Sound familiar? Managing your finances can be logistically, administratively, and emotionally burdensome. There are forms to fill out, hoops to jump through, and a whole financial vocabulary to learn lest you feel like an ignoramus. It’s easy to let yourself be paralyzed into inaction, to float along with your financial status quo rather than try to jump the hurdles between where you are and where you want to be. 

Managing your finances can be logistically, administratively, and emotionally burdensome. . . . Some financial chores are inescapably complex. But some of the most influential changes you can make to your finances take almost no time at all.

Some financial chores are inescapably complex. But some of the most influential changes you can make to your finances take almost no time at all. Each of the five money moves below will impact your finances in a big way, but you can complete each one in an hour or less.

1. Analyze your spending.

No matter how good you are with money, we all have weak areas in our budgets—categories where we’re more susceptible to impulse or overspending. Tracking your spending can help you identify these areas—and change your habits for the better.

Tracking your spending is so easy. You can use apps like Mint, you can export spreadsheets of your transactions from your bank or credit card accounts, or you can do it manually with pen and paper or Excel (personally, I love me a spreadsheet). But the important thing is not just tracking your spending, but analyzing it. 

Which category totals surprised you? Where could you cut spending if you challenged yourself to? Whichever method you use to track your spending, sit down once or twice a month to review the numbers and make a plan for any changes you’ll make moving forward.

Estimated time: 1 hour per month

2. Open a high-yield savings account.

The average interest rate for savings accounts in the U.S. is 0.09% APY (annual percentage yield, or the real rate of return factoring in compound interest). That means if you have $1,000 in your savings account, you will earn just 90 cents of interest in a year. Boo.

High-yield savings accounts, on the other hand, offer an average 1.70% APY, or $17 per year on a balance of $1,000. After 5 years, you’ll have earned $88 of interest—and that’s if you don’t add a single penny of additional savings to the account. 

High-yield savings accounts are one of the best ways to passively grow your money, especially if you’re saving for shorter-term goals (such as a down payment, tuition, or an emergency fund) and don’t want to risk the ups and downs of the stock market.

Online-only savings accounts—whether through truly online-only banks like Ally or traditional banks such as Capital One or Barclays—offer the best APY. You can open an online bank account in 10 to 20 minutes, although it will take a couple of business days for the account to process your first deposit. 

Estimated time: 20 minutes

3. Increase your retirement contribution by 1%.

If you have a retirement account, log in and add 1% to your contribution rate. Like, right now. You’ll hardly notice the difference in each paycheck, but the long-term payout will really add up. Even a 1% increase can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time you retire.* Now consider how those gains would multiply if you made it a practice to bump your contribution by 1% every year or every six months… 

Don’t have a retirement account yet? Spend an hour researching the types of accounts available to you and make a list of next steps for getting started. That way, when you return to the task, you’ll have clear and actionable direction.

* Dependent on: Years to retirement, annual earnings, and average market performance during the investment period.

Estimated time: 5 minutes to 1 hour

4. Apply for a rewards credit card.

Are you surprised that opening a new credit card would be considered a beneficial money move? Don’t be. Not only are credit cards essential for building good credit, but cards today come with countless rewards that you can cash in to travel in style, erase purchases, earn cash back, secure exclusive discounts, and so much more. Credit card rewards can save you hundreds or even thousands a year, depending on the card and your spending habits.

Shop around to find a card that aligns with your spending patterns and offers rewards that align with what you value (travel? cashback? fine dining? there’s a card for everything). When you’re ready, actually applying for the card is a breeze. As with any credit card, remember to pay yours off at regular intervals to avoid interest rates piling up.

Estimated time: 20 minutes

5. Audit your subscriptions.

We live in an era of subscription services. Television streaming, ad-free music or podcasts, meal kit delivery—the list goes on. Once these services are set up, they’ll continue pulling money out of your account forever whether you’re really using them or not. Each service may only cost $10-15 a pop, but add them all up and you may quickly be looking at $100+/month.

Make a list of everything you pay a monthly subscription for and then interrogate them. When was the last time you logged into Hulu? Are your meal kit dinners turning into leftovers that sit neglected in the fridge? Are you keeping up with your audiobook credits? 

Identify one or two of your least used services and cancel them. There’s a good chance you won’t even notice they’re missing. 

Estimated time: 1 hour

Do the first thing and the rest will follow.

It took me a year and a half, but I finally did manage to roll over my old 401k to my new one. And now I have one single beautiful happy retirement account that I like to log into when I’m having a bad day at work. (If you have a retirement account, I highly recommend. It’s encouraging to see that even on bad days your hard work is manifesting as an investment in your future!)

In finances as in work as in creativity, the hardest step is getting started. Once you do the first thing, you will find your momentum and every step that follows becomes that much easier.

The rollover process did take me well over an hour (it actually took a month from start to finish, counting the *nerve-racking* time my precious savings spent in transit between accounts) but it wasn’t as complex as I built it up to be. In finances as in work as in creativity, the hardest step is getting started. Once you do the first thing, you will find your momentum and every step that follows becomes that much easier.

If you’re in a financial rut and don’t know where to start, making an easy but impactful money move might be the small push you need to get the proverbial ball rolling.

BY Molly Geipel - February 7, 2020

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February 7, 2020 10:15 am

I love my Ally account even though the interest rate has been going down the past few months–for a minute there, it was at 1.90% and I truly thought we’d surpass 2.00%, but then it started going down. I believe it is at 1.70% now, which is still amazing compared to most other financial institutions, but just not AS amazing lol. At least when they lower the interest rate, they send you an email explaining why!

February 7, 2020 10:23 am

Thank you for this! I love reading finance-related blog posts. They make me feel energized. And seconded on checking your 401k when you’re having a bad day. I do this regularly and I find myself thinking, Go go go! Get it, money! !

February 7, 2020 10:51 am

Thanks! Literally just transferred my “emergency savings” from my normal BofA account to a new Capital One in about 2 minutes so that it’s earning more for me! My husband is newly self employed so now we’re trying to figure out how to continue saving for retirement for him. One thing at a time! (but would love any suggestions/tips self employed people have!)

February 17, 2020 12:07 am

This is very helpful! I have issues with my financial also. Thank you so much!

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