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PFI newsletter: 5 high-impact financial tasks that take 10 minutes


Welcome to Personal Finance Insider, a biweekly newsletter that connects you with the stories, strategies, and tips you need to be better with money.



Alyssa Powell/Insider


Here’s what: It’s a good time for some housekeeping

The first two weeks of 2021 have been chaotic. January is usually a time to set lofty goals and hit the ground running. For me, that typical new-year attitude is proving difficult to muster. 

But I’m not writing off progress completely. In fact, I think it’s the perfect time for some financial housekeeping. Here are five high-impact tasks you can do today in 10 minutes or less to help stave off stagnancy — and even build wealth.

  1. Name beneficiaries. After years of thinking I’d named a beneficiary on my 401(k), I recently checked my online account to find it blank. Take a few minutes to ensure all your retirement or investment accounts have the right beneficiary listed (note that you’ll need your beneficiary’s Social Security number to make it official). This isn’t fun to think about, but it’s a small task that, if ignored, can cause more than a headache for your heirs. 
  2. Revisit auto-save (or set it up!). Automatic savings is a smart strategy because it doesn’t require any ongoing effort. But don’t forget to revisit the amount you’re saving, especially if your income has gone up or your goals have changed.
  3. Make a conscious spending plan. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, the pandemic made my values very clear. Now, I won’t spend money in ways that aren’t aligned with those values. Write out your own values and use the list as a rubric to guide how you spend and save this year.
  4. Check your credit report. It’s easy to forget about your credit status in between big purchases. But checking your report for errors or fraud is free, and no one will do it for you. Through April, you can review a new report every week on AnnualCreditReport.com, which might be a good idea if you’ve paused debt payments or received any government relief during the pandemic.
  5. Bump up your retirement contribution. You’ve heard this before, but it’s good to be reminded. Even if you increase your deferral rate to an employer-sponsored account by a mere 1%, or add an extra $100 to your monthly IRA contribution, it makes a difference in the long run. 

Tanza Loudenback, Personal Finance Insider correspondent and certified financial planner


Got a question about money? Submit it here and check out my biweekly column, Ask a Financial Planner, for answers.


Expert tip of the week

“Sometimes, chance works in your favor. That’s called luck. But other times, things fall apart, the unexpected happens, or we realize the downside of an opportunity and things don’t work out. That’s risk, and it’s costly if you can’t afford it.”

—Kali Roberge, the creative director of financial-planning firm Beyond Your Hammock, on why her and her husband’s overarching financial goal is to save 30% of their income every year.

Stories you might have missed

When I bought my house I was hit with over $1,500 in surprise expenses, but I had the money thanks to a simple piece of advice I followed religiously

Insider’s Stephanie Hallett bought a house during the pandemic, and a nugget of wisdom she pulled from an article helped prepare her for inevitable surprise expenses. 

A financial writer says the only way to stay wealthy is a mix of ‘frugality and paranoia’

You need a specific “survival mindset” to hang on to wealth, Morgan Housel writes in his book, “The Psychology of Money.” Here’s his three-step method.

I’m a financial planner, and I think most people are better off skipping a Roth 401(k)

Financial planner Chloe A. Moore expertly lays out every consideration to make when choosing between a traditional or Roth retirement savings account. 

I used to have a strict system for saving, but keeping a general ‘splurge’ fund has helped me save more money than ever

Insider contributor Jackie Lam devised a clever savings system that lets her be spontaneous and disciplined. 

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