Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow.

Don’t wait for another stimulus check to fix your finances: Take this 5-day money challenge now

Share
Stimulus checks printed at the Philadelphia Financial Center in Philadelphia.
Jeff Fusco | Getty Images

Many Americans are waiting for their second stimulus check and others want to know when they could possibly get a third payment. 

The $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan pushed by President Joe Biden includes a third round of  $1,400 stimulus checks to bring the $600 payments Congress authorized in December to $2,000. Yet lawmakers ultimately may not necessarily agree on that sum, and it could take several weeks for Biden's proposal to work its way through Congress. 

So the wait continues. 

That doesn't mean you stay on the sidelines when it comes to your finances. Try this 5-Day Money Challenge. Here are five simple steps that you can take now to get a better handle on your money, whether another stimulus check is on its way or not:

Day 1: Calculate your net worth

The first step to taking control of your money is to figure out where you stand right now. Once you get info on all of your accounts, it'll take just a few minutes to calculate your net worth.

"Looking at your finances in totality is very important because everything is connected," said Zaneilia Harris, a certified financial planner and president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. 

Add up how much you have in checking, savings, investment and retirement accounts, plus the estimated value of your house or other properties you own. Then, add up the value of your liabilities, your debts —credit card balances, student loans, mortgage, car loans — other bills that you owe. Where your finances currently stand lies in the answer this equation: assets - liabilities = net worth.  

Day 2: Do a 'paycheck checkup'

Do a "paycheck checkup" to double-check the accuracy of your take-home pay so that your spending is based on money that you actually have. Check your withholding, which is the amount of federal income tax withheld from your paycheck

Use the Withholding Estimator tool on IRS.gov for your checkup. It is especially important to check your withholding if you've lost a job since unemployment compensation generally is taxable.

Also, if you've had significant health-care expenses this year due to Covid-19 or other medical issues, that could impact your itemized deductions and may also impact your withholding. If the amount of tax withheld is too much or too little based on your review, you should send a new Form W-4 form to your employer.

If you're self-employed and don't have an employer withholding your taxes from your pay, you'll have to calculate your taxes on your own and make sure you set aside enough money to cover your tax payments. Use IRS Form 1040-ES to calculate your estimated tax payments.

Some financial experts recommend putting away 20% to 35% of your pay into a separate savings account that you'll use to pay estimated taxes to the federal government every three months, as well as any additional tax you may owe when you file your tax return. 

VIDEO1:3701:37
How to save $1 million before you turn 40

Day 3: Do a budget makeover

If you've never done a budget or haven't looked at it in several months, it probably needs a makeover. Make sure it reflects your immediate financial goals, which may have changed. "Look at how you've handled money in the past and your cash flow in the past and then assess if certain things are even necessary," said Harris, author of "Finance 'n Stilettos – Money Matters for the Well-Heeled Woman."

"Prioritize what things are necessary now. Some things may not be as necessary as you thought," she added.

Focus on what you must spend on basic needs as well as long-term plans. "That budget shouldn't be all about restriction," said Emily Shallal, senior director of customer strategy and innovation at Ally Bank. "It's a tool to help you make financial decisions so you can be more confident and satisfied with your money." 

More from Invest in You:
The ultimate side hustle guide for 2021
Credit card fraud will increase due to the Covid pandemic, warn experts
How 2020 college grads have been launching their careers during the pandemic

Try the "60% Solution." Put 60% of your gross income to "committed expenses" — that includes all of your taxes, housing costs, transportation expenses, debt payments, childcare and any expense that you must pay every month. Divide the rest of your "spending" this way and pay yourself. Put 20% of your gross income toward long-term savings (including college and retirement savings), 10% to short-term savings (including your emergency fund) and 10% to "fun money" to use on anything that you'd like.

Day 4: Direct your pay to several accounts

Direct your pay into several bank accounts, not just basic checking and one savings account. First, deposit just enough money to your checking account to cover basic household expenses and monthly bills, no more. Then, send another portion of your pay to a savings account to build your emergency fund. Also, set up savings accounts for other goals and dreams, like a new house or vacation. 

"Now is a good time to set up your bank accounts so that you have buckets ready for everything coming up this year," said Berna Anat, financial literacy educator and creator of the financial education website Hey Berna. "From there you can visually prioritize, this bucket needs to be filled by April because there is a wedding or this one I need to bankroll by tax season." 

Day 5: Set up alerts on your bank's mobile app 

Customize banking alerts on your bank's mobile app to help you manage your money. You generally can request to be contacted by text or email. Alerts for a direct deposit, low balance or large purchase can be particularly useful. 

You know when your pay is in your account or your bank account balance is below the amount you need to cover this week's or this month's expenses. And, before each large purchase, you may ask yourself "Do I really need this item? Or "Do I just want this item?" But as another gut check, a "large purchase alert" will contact you when a significant amount of money, say $100 or $200, is spent at one time. 

The ultimate goal of taking the 5-Day Money Challenge is to move your financial life forward right now. "Look at ways that you can move forward in a positive way," Harris said. "Those small steps lead to the big steps.

"Breaking it down into smaller steps or habits will help you start to look at your finances more regularly and connect those steps and habits to things that are very important to you in your life."

And, you don't have to wait for that stimulus check to get started.

On the Today Show's "Lighten Your Load Challenge," CNBC's Sharon Epperson shares tips on quick fixes for your finances that you can do over just five days.

SIGN UP: Money 101 is an 8-week learning course to financial freedom, delivered weekly to your inbox.

CHECK OUT: The 5 U.S. states where $500,000 in retirement savings would last you the longest via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

VIDEO2:5302:53
Most millionaires do these five things with their money