With every turn of the year, most people feel ready to start fresh again and make resolutions for self-improvement and set goals that will create a better landscape in their personal finances. From simple things, such as reducing your utility bills by making some basic tweaks around the house (i.e. get a programmable thermostat, insulate your attic, use a humidifier, and try zoned heating), finding and using coupons/promo codes to skip paying full price for everything you buy, checking your bank statements everyday to spot fraudulent charges on your account, keeping an eye on your spending, getting a cheaper plan for your cell phone, and shopping for a cheaper car insurance, the key to making a meaningful improvement in your finances is to make a list of all the things you can control and focus on how you can save money. Below are some ideas you might find handy in your quest to save money, earn extra cash, and improve your financial well being in 2017.

1. Increase your Savings

Instead of focusing on your expenses, it is much better to figure out how much you need to save to achieve a short-term goal (<5 years) and make those savings automatically. Then, you can spend the remaining amount of money as you please, which, in turns, means that you will be forced to prioritize your expenditures and every spending that does not fit with your values (after all, you can’t spend money you don’t have!).

So, try doing this:

  • Write everything down (what is your goal, when do you want to reach that goal, and how much you need to save per month). This will dramatically increase your chances of success as opposed to just thinking about all that.
  • Open up a savings account with a slightly higher interest rate than a traditional brick & mortar bank.
  • Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to the new savings account (monthly withdrawals). You can start with as little as $100 for the first 3 months and then gradually increase the amount by $50 every 3 months.

Once you meet your short-term goal, you can move on to addressing intermediate goals and then long-term ones. It is the process that counts, which will change your spending habits and make you more money-wise.

Other ways to increase your savings is to raise your contribution to your retirement plan (i.e. a 401(k)). If you are already maxing it out, you can consider contributing to a Roth IRA or IRA or alternatively arrange to make regular contributions to a savings account (taxable, such as an investment account). That way, you will also give your net worth a boost.

2. Make Extra Money Using your Smartphone

Use your smartphone to earn some extra money. There are several apps and websites that offer ways to do that, such as:

  1. CheckPoints – It allows you to simply scan the barcode of items (no need to purchase) within a store and earn points that you can redeem for getting manufacturer deals, airline miles, gift cards, and more.
  2. Amazon Flex – You get paid for delivering packages to Prime Amazon customers. You will earn up to $25/hour if you deliver them in under 60 minutes (car expenses covered by you).
  3. Mechanical Turk – You go through more than 650,000 micro jobs, called Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), which include surveys, transcription work, and summaries of blog posts, to name just a few. You can work from home and set your own pace (and income).
  4. EasyShift App – You will be called to check whether a manufacturer’s products are being displayed properly within a selected store (like a secret shopper). Your Paypal account will increase by $3-$8 per visit. And, if you download Mobee, you can review a product while you are in the store and make some additional cash faster.
  5. Fiverr – They will pay you to review resumes, improve PowerPoint presentations, design websites, and other tasks so if you are an expert in any of these (or more), there is an entire market waiting for you there that will earn you anywhere between $5-$10 per task delivered. If you are fast enough, you can put some decent extra cash in your pockets for sure.
  6. FieldAgent – If you have a couple of hours to spare, you can consider this app that allows you to get paid for completing local jobs in your area in no more than 2 hours.
  7. Foap – Fancy taking pictures? Why not earn some cash while you are doing what you love? You decide how much you want to charge per photo, too.

Other apps you could try are: TaskRabbit.com (hire yourself out for various tasks),  Bookscouter, Poshmark/ThredUp/Tradesy, Gadget Salvation (sell your old books, clothes, and electronics respectively – besides eBay and Craigslist) and Pact (you will get paid for reaching fitness goals).

Of course, there is a whole world out there that will get more money in your wallet if you offer your freelance services to others in a variety of fields (i.e.Skyword.com for those into writing, Tutor.com/StudyPool/CheggTutors/Udemy if you would like to become an online tutor and get paid more than $20 an hour, etc).

3. Become a…

  • Virtual Assistant

Zirtual and VirtualAssistants.com – These sites offer you the opportunity to become a Virtual Assistant (typical starting point is $25/hour and could go up to $100/hour later on). You will be required to perform tasks that range from buying supplies to typing out emails, so strong communication and computer skills are necessary. This could easily be a side job, since these tasks can be done outside of normal business hours.

  • Pet Sitter

There are 1000s of people requiring pet sitting services, either overnight or daytime. According to Dogvacay.com, you can earn up to $30 per night or $1,000/month. You only sign up as a pet sitter and provide information and photos of you and your home (also your own pets, if you have any). Another company you could check out is Care.com that pays $11/hour.

  • Driver

Earn an extra $50,000/year if you decide to become an Uber driver and pick up around 60 fares a week, which corresponds to around 20 hours of work. Since weekends are usually the times with the highest earning potential for a driver, this could be an excellent way to increase your savings (see above)! Alternatively, you could rent out your car (for a short time) for cash (see Turo.com and Getaround.com). In this case, you will be offered insurance coverage.

Or you could consider delivering stuff along your way to work or any other trip you are making and get paid for it (visit Roadie for more info). Pay is between $8 and $50 for local destinations and 100s for long-distance trips. Plus, you can fill your car with stuff-to-be-delivered and increase your earnings.

  • Customer Service Rep

Customer service jobs usually pay more than $15/hour, so if you are a problem-solver or people person, you might want to have a look at Flexjobs.com. You will find some legit flexible jobs in a field that is expected to blossom in the next 2 years. And, considering that peak times for customer service jobs tend to be weekends and early morning/evening, this could be an excellent side job for you.

4. Reevaluate your Bank Accounts

It is important to find out exactly the kind of fees you are paying. So, go through your bank statement and look for ATM fees, monthly checking account fee, and overdraft fee. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that you are actually paying much more than you realize. Then, see what is available in the market and switch banks if you find a better offer. There are bonus cash offers and various promo types offered by online banks and credit unions (fee-free, too). Plus, credit unions offer the lowest auto loan rates

Points to Note:

  • Make sure the credit union you are considering is a member of a network and that it offers both mobile and online access before you open a checking and savings account with them. (Visit CUNA.org to see which credit unions you are eligible for or go to MyCreditUnion.gov to compare different credit unions – use the “CU Locator”).
  • Find online banks and credit unions that are highly rated by Consumer Reports and compare interest rates for CDs (Certificates of Deposit), always keeping in mind the amount of money you are willing to deposit and the amount of time you invest, as well as interest rates for mortgages and credit cards.

5. Reduce your Expenses

From housing to utilities and recurring bills, you should be fully aware of what your monthly expenses are, including your debt obligations (Mint.com can help you track your spending). There are some fixed costs that you can actually reduce, such as transportation. For example, using public transportation (if accessible in your area) even for a few days a week can save you lots on gas money (and traffic-related stress).

Also, go through your subscriptions and cut any you do not use or combine/share subscriptions with other family members. Sharing Amazon Prime and/or Netflix with a family member or friend is another way to cut monthly bills in half!

As for gym membership, either drop it if you don’t go often or look for online deals (i.e. Groupon). Your health insurance coverage might also include a deal or discount on a gym membership so check that one out too.

If you are in big credit card debt, transferring the debt to a card with a lower interest rate (ideally 0% for 6-12 months) might be a good idea. Just make sure you can pay off the total balance within the beneficial interest period, because interest rates tend to get significantly higher after the expiration of the 0% period.

You may even reduce the amount of money you pay for prescription medications by shopping around the pharmacies close to where you live for the best price. GoodRx is a website (also an app) that will help you track down the lowest prices on prescription medications in your area. Alternatively, you could ask your doctor to write a prescription for the generic brand, if there is an equivalent one.

Other ways to save money by cutting down on your expenses is to make as many meals as possible at home vs. eating out (it is estimated that Americans spend around $3,000/year on eating out). This could easily free up a couple $100 each month; money that could be deposited into your emergency savings account!

6. Collect Unclaimed Money in Your Name

You won’t believe how much money goes unclaimed every year, from utility and rental deposits, to bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, insurance policies, and many more. Check whether you also have money in your name and collect it (no fees applicable). Go to MissingMoney.com, enter your name and see what comes up, as long as your state participates with this site. Otherwise, visit Unclaimed.org or HUD.gov and check there.

Final Tips:

  • Never underestimate the power of spare change. Put it into a piggy bank and leave it some place not even the light sees it! Deposit the money you have collected at the end of each month into your savings account.
  • Reselling items you purchased from thrift stores is another interesting idea to earn some extra cash and better your financial situation this year. Check the local discount stores and garage sales and resell then on sites like eBay.
  • Don’t forget to create hack-secure passwords for all your online accounts.

Happy & Prosperous 2017!