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5 Smart Ways to Improve Your Financial Health

Andrea Woroch

Taking steps to achieve financial health is just like setting a goal to lose weight -- it doesn't happen overnight. Setting yourself up for financial success requires time, dedication and maintenance. Still, many people want to see results quickly or they lose the drive to make critical financial changes. This may explain why 40 percent of Americans admit to struggling financially and can't stay ahead of their bills, according to a 2016 survey from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

[See: 10 Foolproof Ways to Reach Your Money Goals.]

"Consumers have a hard time reaching their financial goals because progress usually feels so slow," says Jeff Proctor, personal finance expert and co-founder of DollarSprout.com, a site that provides financial information to help consumers make smarter decisions with their money. "People lose motivation after not seeing the results they want right away and that's when they revert back to their old habits."

If you're looking to get your finances in shape, here are five easy ways to save more.

1. Automate savings. When living paycheck to paycheck, it can seem impossible to put money away. But if you prioritize savings before other expenses, you'll be forced to live within your means. The act of saving money every month requires motivation and that can fade over time. To remove willpower from the equation, experts suggest automating savings.

Setting up automatic transfers from your checking account makes saving a cinch, says Stefanie O'Connell, personal finance author, expert and speaker at StefanieOConnell.com. "This will get you motivated to save even more," she says. O'Connell suggests using Digit, a free automatic savings app that calculates the perfect amount of money to set aside each day based on income and spending.

Proctor also suggests automating bill payments to reduce the stress of remembering when different payments are due and to avoid potential late fees. "Automating bill payments will make you feel more in control of your money," he says. Making timely payments can help boost your credit score, but be mindful of your bank balance to avoid incurring overdraft fees.

2. Cut recurring expenses you don't need or use. You can make extra room in your budget instantly by reducing and eliminating recurring monthly expenses that you don't use or value. Start by reviewing your cable bill, cellphone plan, streaming services, gym membership and monthly subscriptions. When it comes to your TV package or mobile data allotment, you may be able to opt for a lower-cost plan without affecting your usage level, so make sure to review and compare price options. With others, you may have to cancel your membership or subscription completely. Even if you're only saving small amounts, cutting discretionary living expenses can help you stay on budget.

"Review your last few bank and credit card statements and make a list of recurring expenses," says Lucy Shair, a financial advisor at Action Point Financial, a fee-only wealth management firm based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "Decide if you use them and value them. If not, cancel them immediately."

Sam Schultz, co-founder of Honeyfi, a free app that helps couples manage their finances together, suggests canceling three nonessential recurring expenses to start with, such as premium cable channels, video streaming services, monthly home cleaning or delivery boxes. This doesn't mean eliminating these services or products forever, Schultz says. "If you still really want any of them in a month, sign up again," he says. "You might be surprised at how many things you pay for that you don't really need in the end."

Schultz suggests using free tools like the email management program Unroll.me and the subscription tracker Truebill for help finding and cutting any subscriptions that you don't use regularly.

[See: 8 Big Budgeting Blunders -- and How to Fix Them.]

3. Switch banks. With the hefty fees banks charge these days, you could be throwing away more money than you're saving. According to Bankrate's 2017 checking account survey, checking account holders who don't meet minimum balance requirements can expect to pay over $14 per month on maintenance fees. The survey also found that the average fee to use an out-of-network ATM is $4.69 and the average overdraft charge is over $33. Eliminating these fees is a quick and easy way to trim costs and can free up extra funds that can go toward other financial goals.

"It takes a few minutes to look up the fees associated with your checking account," says Erin Lowry, author of "Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together." According to Lowry, "If you're being charged a monthly maintenance fee or any other fee, it's time to switch banks."

Compare bank fees among financial institutions online to stay informed. Lowry also suggests considering local credit unions, which tend to offer lower or no fees. In fact, Bankrate's 2017 credit union checking survey found that 84 percent of credit union checking accounts have no monthly maintenance fees.

4. Compare insurance rates and raise deductibles. Consumers often spend time researching the best price on a homeowners or auto insurance policy when they first need it, but then forget about it. However, Joe Saul-Sehy, co-host and creator of the "Stacking Benjamins" podcast, says insurance rates change often, so it's important to comparison shop for coverage if it's been a few years to net the best price. "This could take only 10 or 15 minutes and could save you hundreds of dollars," he says.

Consumers can also save by raising their deductible or dropping coverage levels. "You're balancing risk and reward, so this may mean more out of your pocket, but if you have a good driving record and a fairly clean homeowners experience, it may save you money in the long run," Saul-Sehy says.

Also remember to ask about any available discounts, Saul-Sehy adds. Some insurance companies provide new policyholder discounts as well as deals of up to 10 percent on homeowners insurance for installing a smoke detector in an old home and up to 5 percent savings for adding a burglar alarm with central monitoring. Plus, some car insurance policies offer discounts for student drivers who have a high GPA. These rates and discounts vary widely between insurance companies, so shop around and inquire about potential discounts in advance.

5. Sell unwanted items. Give your finances a boost by purging possessions you no longer use or want. Clear out closets, drawers and your garage to find items that are worth selling online, such as furniture, electronics, clothing, jewelry, sporting equipment, toys and gift cards. You can sell large items such as sporting goods and furniture on listing sites such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Plus, you can exchange gift cards for cash using GiftCardGranny.com, sell old electronics at Gazelle.com, unload used books at Cash4Books.net or sell unwanted clothing at the marketplace Poshmark or a local consignment store.

[See: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.]

"Decluttering is an easy and great way to earn extra cash and keep peace of mind," says Lauren Bowling, founder and editor of the personal finance site FinancialBestLife.com and author of "The Millennial Homeowner: A Guide to Successfully Navigating Your First Home Purchase." Bowling suggests tackling a decluttering project over the course of a few days to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Spend one day cleaning and looking for things to sell and another day taking pictures and the last day posting the items for sale online.



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