There are two categories of tasks that keep the financial machine running smoothly — essential tasks and beneficial tasks. Most people recognize the essential tasks as something they should do at least once a year: Open or review your retirement account, re-balance your portfolio, review your insurance needs, etc.
But somehow the beneficial tasks don’t seem to get the same attention. It doesn’t occur to many people to do these tasks because they are not essential, yet they are extremely beneficial when it comes to saving time and money. So here is a list of the beneficial tasks. It’s time to do all the things you’ve been putting off!
Review your medical spending
Open enrollment is right around the corner. People often wait until the last minute to fill out the form and pick a plan that sounds reasonable at that time. Same deal with flexible spending accounts. Instead, if you take the time to review your medical spending, make an inventory of what kind of medical needs you had during the year and what you expect in the way of future medical expenses, you can do a much better job of picking the right plan and saving the right amount of money in your flexible spending account.
Time required: 30 minutes.
What to do? Log in to your insurance (health, dental, and vision) sites and…
- Review the list of claims
- Add up how much you paid in co-pays
- Use the list to remind yourself of any upcoming visits/procedures
- Use the insurance website’s calculator to check how much it will cost you for those procedures
Review your credit card benefits
We spend a lot of money (small things add up!) on things that are available to us for free. No, I am not talking about credit card rewards. I’m talking about the other benefits your credit card provides, like rental car coverage, stores that offer a discount for using your particular brand of card, and whether your card will extend warranty benefits so that you can skip adding it during checkout.
Time required: 15-30 minutes.
What to do? Log in to your credit card website and look for card benefits. Also check the main Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover sites for general benefits.
- Car rental collision damage waiver
- Travel/trip cancellation insurance
- Roadside assistance
- Premier lounge access
- Purchase protection
- Extended warranty
- Discounts to stores, cell phone insurance, etc.
Review all your membership benefits
Similar to the previous point, this is unfortunately even less like to be remembered. Your car insurance, health insurance and AAA membership may have quite a nice list of perks. For example, my health insurance provides discounted rates for gym memberships and my car insurance & AAA membership also have a laundry list of discounts and coupons. Don’t forget your professional organizations, sororities or fraternities. I am a member of the freelancer’s union and get a discounted cell phone plan and Zipcar membership, among other things.
Time required: Approximately 1 hour (depending on how many organizations you need to check.)
Visit your local library
The library is a treasure trove for frugal folks. Most people think of libraries as the home for books and movies, but they offer so much more. My library offers a plethora of benefits — free passes to local museums, free digital magazine subscriptions, several career services, notary services, homework help and story time for kids, and Kill-a-Watt rental to name a few.
Time required: 1-2 hours.
Put an end to the junk/unsolicited mail
Junk mail is more than an annoyance. It clogs up your mail box, could potentially cause you to miss important mail, and opens the door for identity thieves. Spend some time to stop the unsolicited offers. You’ll be so glad you did!
Time required: 15 minutes.
What to do?
- Use www.optoutprescreen.com to opt out of pre-screened credit card and insurance offers. (You can opt out for a 5-year period or permanently.)
- Use the National Do Not Call Registry to register your phone number. This will greatly reduce the telemarketing calls that waste your time.
- Use the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) to opt out of general commercial marketing mail. They also have eMPS to opt out of junk emails.
Shop your closet
Take some time to organize your closet based on season. Take an inventory of what you have and what you need. Remove the clothes that are old or no longer fit and donate them. (Make sure to get a receipt for your donation and use it during tax time). Look through your accessories and plan some new looks.
Time required: Depends on your closet size. If the task is too time-consuming, divide it into more manageable chunks over a couple weeks.
Browse through your HR website
Many companies offer perks to their employees; but in my experience, the benefits are not always communicated very well. You could be missing out on a discounted Costco membership or reduced rates for rental cars.
Time required: 15-30 minutes.
What to do? Log in to your HR site to see what perks you get.
- Make a list of perks that will be relevant to you.
- Consolidate the lists from credit cards and membership sites.
- Keep the list where you can easily access it when you are using a particular service.
Review your use of utilities
Can you make a small lifestyle change that can save money on your utilities? It could be as simple as reducing your thermostat down by 1 degree or changing the sprinkler time from afternoon to early morning. Review your usage over the last year to see if there is anything you can change. Many utility companies offer great usage graphs and are happy to make helpful suggestions that you can implement in a few minutes.
Time required: 30 minutes to review.
Cancel services you don’t need
Now that you have a list of the services you have access to, review your needs and see if you can cancel or change any of your services. For example, I cancelled my subscription to a number of magazines when I found out I can access them digitally for free through my library. Your employer may offer an extra 10 percent off your mobile phone rate which could reduce your bill — in which case, it would be time to call your phone company to add that to your account!
Time required: 30-60 minutes.
Create a maintenance calendar for home and car
I used to postpone my oil changes due to poor planning. I would have a tight schedule for the week when the oil change light would come on, and I would try to push it out so that I didn’t have to reschedule a lot of appointments. It is important to come up with a rough calendar that shows when things need to get done so that you can plan accordingly. Use Google calendar (or whatever you’re familiar with) to set a date for small maintenance — check the fire alarm battery one weekend and change your vent filters the next. Make a list, set up a date, and create reminders so you know it is coming.
Time required: It took me a few hours to set this up initially. As a first-time homeowner, I spent quite a bit of time looking for what needed to be done. If you know this already, it should take a lot less time.
What to do? Make a list of tasks that need to get done by season and assign a date for each task. I used the HUD’s Home maintenance checklist (pdf) to get my list started.
Schedule your annual wellness checkup
Nothing is as important as taking care of your health. Most health insurance policies offer free annual wellness checkups. Take the time to schedule your appointment for a health tune-up.
Time required: 5 minutes.
These are just a few of the things you can do to supplement your fiscal health. Taking a few hours every six months to a year to get these things done can save you a lot of time and money.
Do you take advantage of all the benefits for which you are eligible? Do you include these as part of your financial plan?