10 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve your Financial Situation
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This content may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. However, I only recommend products or services that I genuinely like and trust. I am not a financial professional and I do not offer professional advice. I share my story to inspire others to make their own decisions on how to improve their finances or lifestyle.
#1 Test Out Being a One-Vehicle Household
Many households have two vehicles by default. Either each person brought one into the relationship, or two vehicles were, at some point, determined to be needed for you to feel your own sense of freedom. This is understandable. However, given the recent encouragement to stay home, maybe you’re inherently driving less often than usual.
We Made it Work
If this is the case, I highly recommend you assess whether sharing a vehicle is a possibility for you. We did this a couple of years ago. My husband’s vehicle needed a few repairs and he was planning to do them himself. It was a dark and rainy time of year so there wasn’t a lot of motivation to get them done right away. We decided to put his insurance on hold and try carpooling. I was easily able to drop him off at work on the way to the office, so it wasn’t too inconvenient. Overall, this is my personal favourite ‘lifestyle hack’ of the 10 simple things you can do right now to improve your financial situation.
However, to be transparent, it was my idea to try carpooling, so I had an optimistic outlook and was willing to be flexible. For example, I had an hour of free time before I had to pick him up from work, so I built a routine where I would go to the gym or get groceries during that time. Eventually, I built a routine and it wasn’t inconvenient at all! I would do my errands during the week or on Saturday, and my husband could use the car on Sunday to go for a bike ride each week. Generally speaking, we spend most of our weekends together anyway.
We Saved Money
By sharing a vehicle we were able to start saving more money, as follows:
- Car Insurance: The vehicle we got rid of didn’t have any debt owing on it, but by eliminating the vehicle, we immediately saved $78/month on car insurance.
- Fuel: We saved ~$105/month immediately after making the decision to share a vehicle and start carpooling.
- Repairs & Maintenance: Since our second car was older and lacked maintenance over the years, we were probably putting $500 into it each year just to keep it running. That’s about $42 each month. It had clutch problems and was getting old, and big-ticket items like new tires were still occasionally required. We no longer have the expense of maintaining the vehicle.
Now is the perfect time to take a small, calculated risk, and test out being a one-vehicle household to see if it could stick long-term. I know it seems unrealistic at first, but if you’re flexible and treat it like a challenge, you might just find it simplifies life, which I love.
Supplement with Active Transportation
Further, actively commuting like biking or walking can improve your lifestyle and save you even more money!
Try putting the second vehicle’s insurance on hold. You will still be insured as a driver since you’ll be on the insurance of your main vehicle. Its important to note that during this trial period you should turn your vehicle on a every few days, since they don’t really like to sit unused.
#2: Work on Improving your Credit Score
Having a good FICO (credit) score provides for more flexibility and opportunity for gaining access to loans and mortgages, and you can typically get better rates. Improving your credit score will save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. There are a couple things you can do at home to improve your credit score today.
I recommend starting with a tool like Credit Karma to review your credit score and credit report. I’m sure there are other free tools, but I use Credit Karma as it’s free and does everything I need. By reviewing your credit report, you can see if there are any accounts or payments on file which you did not authorize. The first step if this is the case is to begin investigating this further to see about having items removed. You want to start at a place where your report is accurate. Additionally, at this point you can assess whether there is room for improvement of your credit score. In my opinion, if your score is 750 or less, you should try to improve it.
Disclaimer: Only take action on the following suggestions if you think it is your best interest and you have the self control to not spend more money as soon as you have access to more credit.
Improve your credit score today with the following tactics:
Improve Credit Utilization Ratio
Improve your credit utilization rate by paying off more debt, and applying for access to more credit. One way to do this is to request an increase to your existing credit limits for credit cards or lines of credit. I would only recommend this if you pay down your balance on your loans each month. This is a good way to increase an already decent credit score.
Increase your Length of Credit History
If your credit history is fairly new, you likely have a lower credit score. This should improve with time, so hang on to your oldest credit card. Alternatively, if you don’t yet have a credit card, apply for one with no fee and that has attractive qualities (points, cash-back, etc.) to ensure its a good fit for you to keep long-term. Check with your bank to see what their entry-level credit card is. If you are having trouble getting your credit card accepted, look into applying for a secured card, where you provide a deposit up-front.
Pro tip: if you aren’t sure whether you can be responsible with a credit card, choose a small recurring payment (such as Netflix or your cheap cell-phone bill) and put it on the new card, and then stash the card away at home. Don’t forget to set your bank account to automatically pay your credit card off each month!
Diversify your Credit Mix
Another way to gain some extra points on your credit score is to diversify your credit mix. Ideally you will have a couple types of credit, such as credit cards, recurring bill payments, and loans. You can easily apply for a credit card or line of credit with your bank. Set up a recurring bill payment on your credit card like your phone bill or Netflix, then ensure your credit card gets paid automatically through your bank account. Forgetting to pay the bill will negatively impact your credit and all progress will be lost.
Limit “Hard” Credit Inquiries
#3: Enhance your Banking Strategies
The Essentials: Emergency Fund, Sinking Funds, Cash Buffers & High-Interest Savings Accounts
If you don’t recognize the terms above, you NEED to read up on emergency funds, sinking funds and keeping a cash buffer to see how they can benefit your current financial setup. They’re actually life changing.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, you make yourself vulnerable by relying on your credit card for unexpected costs, like car repairs or travel to visit a sick family member. Start with $1,000. If you can have that money as backup, emergencies no longer feel like such a big deal. Three cheers for not getting super stressed out every time something needs replacing or fixing.
Automate Bill Payments & Savings
Are all of your bill payments automated? You can automate student loan payments, to your phone bill, to another one of your sinking funds. If it’s automated then it doesn’t get forgotten, and you can put your mental energy into other projects while knowing everything is set up to be taken care of just as you left it. The main reason why we are able to save and pay off debt as much as we have is because our transactions are automatic. We treat our savings and extra debt payments like bills so it all gets allocated every two weeks when we get paid.
Use a Separate Bank for Savings
Also, we keep our savings in a separate account (EQ Bank) from our main bank. This is because EQ Bank consistently offers the best interest rates in Canada and allows 5 uniquely named savings accounts. It’s perfect for savings goals or sinking funds (think holiday gifts, vacations, auto maintenance, etc). Using a separate bank for savings creates an extra barrier to using the funds. You have to plan ahead, which makes it great for using the money for your intended purpose rather than a last minute dinner out.
Take a close look at how your personal finances are set up and take a minute to identify your goals. Maybe you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck, or set some money aside for larger annual bills (like insurance, taxes, vacations, or holiday gifts. Figure out what works for you. Is your banking set up more complicated than necessary? Simplify it. We want it to be intuitive and work for you, not against you.
#4: Write a List of Things you No Longer Buy
Maybe tough times have challenged you to try some more DIY projects than you are typically inclined. Have you cut your other half’s hair? What about becoming an even better home barista? Or creating your own starter for sourdough bread? If you lean into what worked for you during tough times, you could come out more self-sufficient and resilient over the long term. And of course, who doesn’t want to save money on haircuts, delicious coffee or artisanal homemade bread! I don’t know about you, but a good loaf of sourdough bread, where I live, can run at $6 or so (and its our favourite).
During COVID-19’s infamous quarantine I taught myself how to make yeast breads. One benefit to that is that I learned to make the BEST pizza dough. The artisanal, neopolitan style. We used to pay $11 at Costco for a 4-pack of generic pizza crusts. I realized I can home-make four pizza crusts, which I think taste way better, for less than $1.50 total. It’s official; I can say that I no longer buy store bought pizza crust!
Quarantine required businesses to offer limited options. Maybe this had you eating out less, or cut off your access to slurpees. It may have forced you to work with the ingredients you had at home rather than making a”quick run” to the grocery store.
These are examples of small enjoyments that we used to take for granted, but now think more carefully about. I admit…it’s hard not to just slip out to the grocery store for that thing I forgot to pick up on the weekend. However, I don’t think I will feel so inclined to get food and treats on the go as much as I used to. I’ve become accustom to throwing some granola bars in my bag and meal prepping, which saves me a huge amount of time (and cold hard cash).
Writing a list of things you no longer buy sets the intention, but may also double as a de-cluttering activity. For instance, I no longer buy new books. Before I buy a new book, I will see if I can get it from the library, listen to it on audiobook or find it used. Since I set this ‘rule’ for myself, I have not yet had to purchase a new book.
I challenge you to assess what you could live without. Try out a month long no-buy challenge, or review your bank statement to identify things that you tend to purchase, that don’t make you happy and don’t support your goals.
Make a list of things you don’t buy to avoid trading your time (at work making money) for stuff you don’t want or need. I encourage you to test out buying second-hand or borrowing from a friend, the next time you want to try something out (bread maker, juicer, instant pot) before spending your hard earned money on something that will clutter your home.
#5: Make Note of Free (or Frugal) Activities that you Enjoy
Determine free (or cheap) activities that make your life better. Highlight these and try to incorporate more of them in your life. My husband and I enjoy ourselves while taking part in low-cost adventures in our community. It keeps like simple, and allows us to spend lots of quality time together.
Some of our favourite activities include:
- mountain biking
- visiting with family
- indulging in delicious food and wine (picnic style)
- going for big walks (8-20kms)
- hiking to the mountain from our house
- play disc golf
- board games
- eating dinner at the beach
- having homemade date nights (homemade pizzas are our favourite lately).
You name it. There are tons of activities that don’t cost much; and the thing is, we do these things intentionally because we like them and not just because they save us money.
Spending more time outdoors is a great way to live in the present moment, get some fresh air and socialize. Another activity I enjoy is cooking. So I spend a decent amount of time on Sunday prepping, cooking and baking. I get to listen to podcasts or call my best friend. As an introvert, these activities fill my soul and don’t cost me an arm and a leg.
Start with a brainstorming list. Think of activities that make you happy: running, reading, cooking, yoga, writing, painting, baking, playing tennis, swimming, doing yard work, gardening, jogging, learning, or visiting with family. Which of these activities are free or frugal? Whatever they are, make note of them and spend more time doing these things.
I think you will find the most meaningful activities are free. List all of the things that bring the most happiness to your life, and then pay special attention to the ones that don’t cost much extra: such as spending time in nature, exercising, or visiting family. This empowers you to feel like you are more in control of what makes you happy.
#6: Negotiate Fixed Expenses
Fixed expenses are your regular bills you pay each month to support your lifestyle. These are generally must-haves in your budget that are felt to have a set rate. Think your rent/mortgage, phone bill, auto or home insurance, loan payments and maybe even cable. Many people think of these fixed expenses as “locked-in”. In some cases this may be true. But in other cases, there may be some flexibility to negotiate a reduced rate, or find a cheaper alternative.
Cable, Insurance, Credit Cards & More
For example, you can always call to see if you can negotiate down your rate for insurance or cable. If you owe on a credit card bill each month, why not call and let the company know that you’re paying regularly but its difficult to make headway at the current interest rate. See if they can offer you anything lower. Get on the phone now and spend some time working toward a lower rate.
Further, house hacking might be an immediate solution to putting more room in your budget. It’s certainly an easy way to reduce your cost of living. This could mean renting the suite in your house, or even renting a room.
Find a Cheap Cell-Phone Bill
Finally, my personal favourite expense to negotiate, as it is quite impactful, is your cell phone bill. If you are spending $192 on your combined cell phone bill each month (we were, for two of us), then you should probably buyout your contract and find a new, cheaper cell phone plan. We went with Public Mobile for their cheap plans, intuitive online experience, and Telus towers, so we have no issues with cell coverage. They also occasionally offer free bonuses like extra data that you can accumulate in case you go over your limit one month. I feel like they genuinely created their service with the customer in mind. We now pay $68 for both of our fairly new iPhones. While it did require an up-front commitment (of about $600) to buy out our phone contract, we now save $124 every single month on that expense. Again, after 35 years invested, that’s $265,678. If you’re in a contract and have the ability to buy out your phone, or you just don’t have a cheap cell-phone plan yet, this is probably the first thing you should put on your list today. Other than switching to being a one-vehicle household, this is my #1 favourite long-term money saving tip of the 10 simple things you can do right now to improve your financial situation.
#7: Start Investing
A quick reminder that I am not a financial professional, but I like to share my experience for educational and inspirational purposes.
So…investing. Don’t write this one off. If you have enough money to save $25 per month, you have enough money to invest. It’s true, there’s a lot you can learn about investing and optimizing your accounts, but it’s intentionally made to be complex to make you feel like you need help, ie. a financial advisor. The short answer is, you don’t. You can do it yourself pretty much as easily as you can set up a savings account. Investing is easy, and its WAY better than keeping that money in a savings account. I’m sure you know the power of compound interest, but here are two examples:
If you save $20 in a high interest savings account (1.5% interest) every two weeks on payday starting at age 25, you will have $28,486 by the time you reach age 65. That just won’t do. If you instead invested that money and received an average return of 8% annually, you would end up with $139,822 by the time you reached age 65.
Now, if you invested $100 every two weeks on payday starting at age 25, you will have $699,108 by the time you reach age 65. This will be having invested $104,000 of your own money, and gaining $595,108 in interest alone. Compound interest helps people get rich. If you don’t invest now, set a commitment for yourself to get started and try it out. If you need help, ask. But it is NOT hard.
There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you do a good job at investing. You can learn the rest as you go. Here’s a bit of info to get you started, keeping in mind, this is my personal opinion and I am not a professional.
- Know your accounts. If you’re in Canada, our main funds which are valuable for retirement are the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA). There are a number of differences between these accounts, and you should be aware of them- especially if you are going to be DIY investing. When investing for retirement, both are good options, and you can have both. If you aren’t sure whether you might need access to these funds before retirement, start with a TFSA. RRSP’s offer a credit at tax time, but that comes with penalties for withdrawing early. It’s important you learn the difference between these accounts so see what works best based on your savings goals. In the US you have your IRA and Roth IRA, which are somewhat comparable.
- You will have to buy your investments through a brokerage, and it’s easy. An online brokerage is just a website that allows you to purchase investments. If you want to keep it very simple, with an accessible “bank account” feel, I would start with a robo-advisor like Wealthsimple. Wealthsimple is a great option for beginners because its platform is easy to understand, easy to customize, has great visuals and offers an intuitive online experience. If you understand investing a little better and you know which funds you want to buy specifically, you can begin DIY investing with an online brokerage, such as Questrade. I use Questrade as well and am very happy with it.
- You want to invest in a diversified portfolio, and at an appropriate level of risk for your length of time until retirement. This is very easy to do and when you sign up for a robo-advisor (online brokerage for investing) like Wealthsimple they set you up to be diversified and within an appropriate risk level by having you complete a questionnaire. If you are DIY investing through a brokerage like Questrade, you will have to do a bit more research on diversification and risk to define what is appropriate for your savings goals.
- Buy and hold. This is to say, only invest funds that you plan to keep in the market for least ten years. Even better, until retirement. The purpose in saying this is to reduce risk of having to sell when the market is down, and to avoid losing money to trading fees.
- Invest in low-cost index funds. Ensure your portfolio includes an index that tracks the market (total stock market index fund or S&P 500 index fund). Indexes tend to have lower fees, and buying an index rather than an individual stock reduces risk. This is more important for DIY investing, as Wealthsimple takes care of choosing the investments for you.
- Avoid trendy investments and buying individual stocks, unless part of a diversified portfolio or using a small percentage of your portfolio for fun. Again, focus on index investing, which is not “exciting” but fairly predictable (it tracks the market).
- Practice dollar-cost averaging. This just means you should set up automated payments to contribute a set amount, regularly, rather than trying to time the market. Research shows that time in the market beats timing the market. Once you do that, you can ‘set it and forget it’ until you learn more about investing, or want to contribute more.
- Set up an investment account with an online brokerage. DIY investors might like Questrade or similar, and entry-level investors might prefer Wealthsimple or similar.
- Once your accounts are set up and your identity validated, test out a small transaction. Maybe $25 so you can see what it does when you transfer money in. You will see it’s not so scary after all. For Wealthsimple, you’ll just need to pick which account you want to send it to (RRSP, TFSA, Savings, etc) and for Questrade, you will need to purchase shares of a fund within an account to invest your money once it has arrived.
- Realize that this is the easiest investing experience you have ever had, and set up automated payments to fund your retirement or other long-term savings.
- Transfer any existing accounts. This is to simplify and ensure you are getting the lowest fees possible. If you have any retirement accounts with other banks or a financial advisor, you can transfer your accounts to your new brokerage very easily, without even consulting the existing bank/financial advisor. I would compare fees between what you have, and your new brokerage to see how much extra you could keep in your pocket (instead of paying your advisor) each year. Also, have a look to see if your new brokerage will cover any transfer fees. I didn’t have to pay any fees when I transferred my existing RRSP’s.
- Once your accounts are all set up with automated payments, it’s time to set it and forget it. Pay yourself first: treat it like a bill payment, even if its only $15 every payday to start. If you always find it hard to make ends meet (if this is an ongoing pattern) you are going to be trying to make ends meet in retirement too, likely working as part of that “retirement lifestyle”. Once you become more familiar with the accounts you will be more confident in contributing more. Just start. Get better later.
- Stay the course. During tough times, the stock market will be volatile, meaning it will go up and down fairly rapidly. Don’t act out of emotion. Continue with your plan to dollar cost average with your regular contributions, and you will be rewarded. If anything, buy low, sell high. So if the market is down, and you have your emergency fund set, your bills covered and you STILL have extra money left over, feel free to invest extra while market prices are down. BUT if you are starting out, or tend to act on emotion, just stay the course! It’s important to remember that whatever plan you made for yourself was done during normal times without the added emotion. Stick to your plan and don’t make emotional decisions.
#8: Start Your Own Business / Side Hustle
Other than investing in yourself generally, starting your own business is an investment that has the highest potential for return. If you aren’t a natural born entrepreneur, my recommendation would be to try to start with a side hustle that requires no or low capital at startup.
If you don’t have any ideas but want to get the ball rolling to start saving money to fund a larger idea down the road, it might be worthwhile to either start a local side job related to your skills (handyman, fixing computers, landscaping, etc.) or start freelancing, which is similar to above, only online. I’m biased toward an online business as it allows for more flexible hours and you can do your work anywhere…in your pajamas.
Virtual assistance and freelancing are location independent, meaning you can do it anywhere, any time you like. That sounds like the best, right?! There is such a variety of jobs you can do, you are sure to find something that fits with your skills and interests. You could ghost-write for a blog, do voice-over, or do consulting work of any kind. One of my first side hustles was managing a company’s Facebook group, which in turn funds this blog. You could try virtual assistance, which is generally related to admin work. Do a bit of research and figure out what companies need help with, or focus on your strengths. If you want more control over being able to make income quickly, and you have the ability to hustle, you may want to start learning to do freelance work so that you can fund longer-term projects (which is what I did).
Maybe you are the creative type and decide to take this course on making e-printables…where they take you step by step through creating your very own Etsy shop. Imagine…you create something, anything, for your purchaser to print at home. You create a planner, goal-tracking graphic, children’s height chart, checklists, gift tags or printable quotes for wall art. Then you upload it to Etsy. Someone buys it and just prints it out at home.
This may make you $15 here and $25 there, but over time it can add up. Keeping in mind, your only effort was made up front to create the printable, with no need to manufacture or ship anything. Maybe you notice one of your designs took off more than your usual content and this inspires you. You brainstorm some ideas and spend more time on creating those types of printables. Once you’ve done the up-front work for creating the printable, anyone can purchase it any number of times. It’s super lucrative, scalable and maybe it even starts to replace your main source of income. Perhaps you split your time between creation and marketing of your products. You can create anything to suit your personality and interests, and anyone can do it. You have started a business.
Selling e-printables allows to spend a bit of time up front creating products, so that the selling of them is fairly passive. You can let it sit if you get unmotivated, and come back and make more when a moment of inspiration strikes. This could be a new chapter for you. It might take time but it could really grow. Just make sure you’re doing work you love, and you will have the best job ever, and you won’t feel like you’re working at all. Learn more about the e-printables course and get your free
There has never been a better time to start an online business and create your dream job. To take back your time and create your own income instead of relying on your employer for your “security”. How secure has your job been lately, anyhow?
#9: Practice Gratitude
People go through tough times. Heartache, loss, and plain bad luck does not discriminate. Sometimes, it helps to realize that you cannot always be in control of what life throws at you, but you CAN control how you react in a given situation. It pays off to practice gratitude for what you do have.
Gratitude is SO meaningful for overall life quality and satisfaction. It is so important that I wrote a post all about “The Importance of Gratitude for a Better Life”. Gratitude is contagious, facilitates open conversation, and mitigates resentment. It makes me feel lucky to have all that I have, each and every day.
Also, expressing gratitude helps me realize that when something goes wrong, I can make it through because I know I am surrounded by so much goodness in life. It’s in the little things every day that make your life better. Showing gratitude is hands-down, the difference between a someone who sees an unforeseen problems as a minor inconvenience versus someone who becomes absolutely distraught and thinks life is against them, in the same situation.
Okay, so I generalized. I know people go through periods where it may seem like everything is going wrong…lets consider those to be anomalies and therefore not applicable to my above comments. I’m basically talking about personality and mindset. Be the person who appreciates what you have, and realizes it could always be worse. Every day is a new day and you can always aim for 1% better.
Finally, the more gratitude you put out into the world, the more abundance you tend to attract, at least this is my experience.
10. Take Action and Believe in Yourself
Some of the ideas in this article take some guts to execute on. Umm…start my own business??? Yeah okay. But lets just take a minute and daydream a little as I share my story.
For my first side hustle, I made approximately $600 CAD ($430 USD) per month as a “Facebook Community Manager” for a major podcast. I’ll remind you…while I am a fan of the podcast, I never had any virtual assistance or freelance experience. I spend a few hours a week before my full-time job, and for a long time it was just “my little side-hustle”. That side job supplements our income and helps pay for this blog. I began to acknowledge what I’d achieved and that felt so empowering and motivated me to want to write about it, to encourage others. It fuels my passion, and it never hurts to diversify your income streams, so that if something happens to one of them, you have others.
You can do ANY of the ten items above if you prioritize and focus on them a little bit more. I’m not saying do all of them. All I am saying is go through the article, pick a few that jump out at you, and that would work for your situation. Make a commitment to yourself to improve your financial situation, and check some items off on this list. It’s amazing what you can do if you just set your mind to it. You would be selling yourself short by not taking action today.
Thank you for coming along and checking out the above ten simple things you can do right now to improve your financial situation. Many people are feeling the struggle right now. You might be facing a lot of pressure to reduce spending and save what you can. For many, it’s impossible to put money away without first lowering some expenses. I have been on a journey to better my financial situation and have gone through the process of all of the items mentioned in the article. It takes time to improve your finances, and I am still working on building my business. But as long as you are taking some action every day, I can assure you it will get better. Aim for 1% better every day. Alternatively, if you get in your own way and don’t take my advice, you will be selling yourself short and not living to your fullest potential. You are capable, and you can do this.
I hope you benefited from these ideas and I would love to hear what you have accomplished! Please share your own journey and tips in the comments below, and let me know how many of the ten challenges you completed. Many of the items above not only improve your financial situation, but are life-enhancing. I’ve just shared with you ten ways to IMPROVE YOUR LIFE, right now. I encourage you to scroll back up and think a little. Which suggestions are you ready for in this season of life? It’s time to take action. You deserve it.