Updated: May 17
Being at home for an extended period has led many people to some truly inventive and bizarre activities, from recreating famous works of art with whatever’s lying around the house to creating new sports to play with pets to those who have gotten truly desperate and done a whole-house deep clean. (Shudder).
While I’m a big proponent of indulging in whatever creative and time-consuming activities will get you through the day (I’m a fan 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, personally, because I have always been a party animal kind of girl), activities that not only stimulate your brain but also help you feel more in control of your situation are an excellent addition to your usual routine. (And if your routine is anything like mine, it’s mostly intermittent snacking punctuated by social media scrolling).
Specifically, taking a little time each day to work on your financial health can help you feel more confident about your money and your ability to weather whatever comes next.
For many people, the idea of working on some financial homework right now may not appeal. But just as you always feel better after you start washing the dishes compared to the low-level guilt you felt while avoiding the chore, I promise that taking care of these financial tasks in the coming days will improve your outlook, and get you better prepared for your financial future.
Here are some easy tasks you can do this week to improve your finances, even while you are stuck at home:
1. Kill your zombie charges
No, these are not undead credit cards. Zombie charges are the recurring subscription charges that you don’t want and don’t use. In a world that’s gone subscription-crazy, it’s easy to miss recurring charges on your accounts for items you forgot you subscribed to. With some of your extra time this week, take a walk on through your credit card and bank statements to see if your money is being preyed on by these walking subscription corpses.
Finding such charges is the easy part. The harder part can be unsubscribing. (Anyone who has tried to cancel their Planet Fitness membership knows just how hard it can be to quit the gym). However, once you’ve identified companies that are still siphoning money from your account or credit card every month, you can make calling and getting them to stop doing that part of your routine until you’ve killed every one of these zombie charges truly dead.
2. Freeze your credit
Though most people are kind, generous, and willing to help each other out in times of great trouble, there’s a subset of people who see major disasters as an opportunity to do some really scummy scamming.
Among the many, many, many types of fraud you see in the wake of disaster, identity theft is one of the most common. When things are topsy-turvy, people are more likely to let their guard down and click on a legitimate looking link in an email claiming to be from the CDC or state government, or give information to the nice person calling to help expedite your relief check. (Note: don’t do any of these things. The government doesn’t contact you like this. Ever.)
In addition to taking your normal precautions to protect your identity, credit card, bank account, and other sensitive information, it’s also an excellent idea to use some of your free time to freeze your credit.
When you freeze your credit, no one, not even you, can open new credit in your name. Which means that identity thieves are left pounding sand when they get hold of your sweet identifying information because your credit is locked up tight. The freeze lasts indefinitely, so there’s no need to remember to renew, although you will need to “thaw” it the next time you want to open a new line of credit.
You may have intended to do this after the Equifax hack back in 2017 (at which point the term EPIC FAIL was officially retired), but it’s the sort of urgent-but-not-important task that gets put on the back burner.
So the next time Netflix asks if you’re still watching Grey’s Anatomy (YES, Netflix. There are 359 episodes, and I intend to watch them all, so stop judging me!), take a quick 10 minute break from bingeing to freeze your credit.
Freezing your credit is really easy. You just need to go to each of the three nationwide credit bureau websites and follow their prompts:
Once you’ve done that, you can rest assured that no one will be living large on your credit history.
3. Make a record of your stuff for insurance
Speaking of important-but-not-urgent tasks, I have personally been meaning to make a video of my various and sundry items for nigh on eight years. Insurance professionals recommend that everyone keep an inventory of their stuff in case of loss. There’s two reasons for this: first, you need some proof that you owned your stuff because of the people who try to enrich themselves after a tragedy, as we mentioned in point 2 above. Second, you don’t want to be standing in the fishy wreckage after the sharknado has taken out your house, trying to remember all the stuff you owned.
In the old times, making an inventory of your stuff meant getting a pen and paper and going through it all, piece by piece.
Thankfully, we live in the future when you can easily make a video with the technological marvel you use to look at cat videos and get into flame wars with your uncle. Now you can take about an hour to go through all the things you own, making a video recording each item and narrating the scintillating film with details of the approximate value of everything you own.
For me, I plan to narrate my video like I'm doing an episode of MTV Cribs, because if we’re going to be doing a boring chore, why not have some fun with it?
4. Update your beneficiaries
When’s the last time you checked on who you have named as beneficiary of your life insurance and retirement accounts? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t thought about it since you signed up originally.
But what’s happened in your life since then? Marriage? Divorce? New baby? End of a lifelong blood feud? A new oath of unbroken fealty with your former nemesis? If you've been through any of these life-changing events, your beneficiary designation may no longer reflect your actual preferences for who should inherit your money.
Unfortunately, the law states that beneficiary designation overrides any other indication that you’ve changed your mind, including your will. So if your beneficiary designation isn’t up to date, that could mean that your current nemesis (and former BFF) is your heir.
Now’s a great time to double check on your beneficiaries. Contact your life insurance company and retirement accounts to get updated beneficiary forms (or to ask who you currently have listed). Once you’ve done that, make a list of each account, the beneficiary you have designated, and the date. Place this list in a binder with other important information, and check it about once a year to make sure it stays current. You'd hate for a happy blood feud to end in anger and confusion because you forgot to update a form.
Getting Your House in Order
Financial housework may not be nearly as fun as making memes, but fun is in the eye of the beholder. Even your boring money chores can be made more interesting when you’ve got literally nothing else going on!
Also, in a time when we’re all feeling out of control, taking care of these tasks will give you back a little control. Think of it as self-care for your money, and try to fit it in between your Netflix and snack binge. You’ll be glad you did.
Note from Emily:
Things are chaotic right now. People are losing jobs or learning to work from home, kids are schooling online, and money is tight for a lot of families.
I want to help. Book a free 15-minute call with me and we’ll create a plan for how you can weather this difficult time. I can guide you through getting your financials in order, creating a plan for your stimulus check or just help you prioritize your bills.
Simple, easy, no catch, no push to hire me for more. I just want to help you be as financially secure as possible through all of this. Find a time and book your call here.