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Personal Finance

These 8 simple steps can help better your finances in less than a day

Take these actions to build a better financial future for yourself.

Riska | E+ | Getty Images

The Mint app has shut down as of Jan. 1, 2024. For alternatives, check out CNBC Select's ranking of the best budgeting apps.

Time is one of the most precious assets you have, which is why you (probably) would rather avoid spending it on making a budget or filing your taxes or doing any other number of tasks related to maintaining healthy finances.

But you don't have to spend a weekend cooped up with spreadsheets to take better control of your money. Below, CNBC Select shares nine simple, easy actions you can take to better your finances along with a rough estimate (based on our own experience and judgment) of how long each one takes.

1. Start an emergency fund

Time to open a savings account: 15 minutes

An emergency fund is your financial safety net. Without it, any unexpected expense, such as car repairs or a medical bill, can throw your budget into a state of chaos.

Experts generally recommend having between three and six months' worth of basic living expenses in your emergency fund. This figure may seem unrealistic (particularly if you're already having trouble making ends meet), but it's okay to start small and grow your emergency savings from there. Even a few hundred dollars can make a huge difference sometimes.

The best place to keep your emergency fund is a high-yield savings account. Signing up is a quick process, plus you'll get to take advantage of compound interest on savings accounts. Here are some of CNBC Select's favorite savings accounts to look into:

LendingClub High-Yield Savings

LendingClub Bank, N.A., Member FDIC
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)


  • Minimum balance

    No minimum balance requirement after $100.00 to open the account

  • Monthly fee


  • Maximum transactions


  • Excessive transactions fee


  • Overdraft fees


  • Offer checking account?


  • Offer ATM card?


Terms apply.

UFB Secure Savings

UFB Secure Savings is offered by Axos Bank ® , a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    Up to 5.25% APY on any savings balance; add a UFB Freedom Checking and meet checking account qualifications to get an additional up to 0.20% APY on savings

  • Minimum balance

    $0, no minimum deposit or balance needed for savings

  • Fees

    No monthly maintenance or service fees

  • Overdraft fee

    Overdraft fees may be charged, according to the terms; overdraft protection available

  • ATM access

    Free ATM card with unlimited withdrawals

  • Maximum transactions

    6 per month; terms apply

  • Terms apply.

2. Use a budgeting app

Time to create your first budget: 2-4 hours

Budgeting apps make the process of organizing your cash flow as simple as it can get. For example, Mint, CNBC Select's favorite free budgeting app, allows you to connect your bank and credit card accounts and neatly categorizes your expenses. You can set (and track) goals and create alerts for big transactions, exceeding the budget, and more.

Creating a budget and making sure your expenses don't outpace your income can take a few hours. But once you're done, all you need is to check it regularly to make sure you're staying on track. That said, you can always adjust your budget if your financial situation changes — for example, if your income increases or you take on a new loan.

3. Check your credit score

Time to sign up for a credit monitoring service: 5 minutes

Your credit is another essential part of your financial life. It affects whether you can get approved for credit cards and loans — from a car loan to a mortgage — and at what terms. It can also play a role when you're applying to rent an apartment or for a job.

The system behind credit scores can sometimes be as clear as mud, but our beginner's guide to credit scores can help you grasp the fundamentals. Once you understand them, you can make your credit work for you.

One of the most important aspects of maintaining good credit is keeping an eye on your credit reports. CNBC Select's top pick among the best credit monitoring services that you can get for free is CreditWise® from Capital One. You'll receive an updated VantageScore credit score from TransUnion weekly. You can use the service even if you're not a Capital One customer — just download the CreditWise app.

If you want to go beyond simply checking your credit score and do something to raise it instead, consider signing up for Experian Boost™. Created by one of the three major credit bureaus, this service connects your telecom and utility accounts to your Experian credit report, ensuring your on-time payments will help raise your credit score with the reporting bureau.

Experian IdentityWorks℠

On Experian's secure site.
  • Cost

    Basic: Free; Premium: 7-day trial, after $24.99 per month; Family: 7-day trial, after $34.99 per month

  • Credit bureaus monitored

    1-bureau credit monitoring, alerts and reports: Experian, with Basic plan only and 3-bureau credit monitoring, alerts and reports: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion®, with Premium and Family plans only

  • Credit scoring model used

    FICO® Score 8, with all plans

  • Dark web scan

    Yes, with all plans

  • Identity theft insurance

    Yes, up to $1 million with all plans

Terms apply.

*Identity Theft Insurance underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

4. Set goals

Time for brainstorming: 1 hour

Whether you're saving for a down payment or your next vacation, let your goals inspire you and help you stick to your budget. Maybe you're trying to become debt-free, open a business or increase your income. Consider which goals you can achieve in the short term and which ones require a longer game plan. Brainstorm the steps you need to take and let them dictate your financial decisions.

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5. Automate your savings

Time to set up an automatic transfer: 5 minutes

One of the best ways to supercharge your savings is to automate them.

Automating your savings means having a portion of your paycheck automatically sent to your savings account. Alternatively, you can set up regular transfers from your checking account. This cuts down the chances of spending money you meant to save since it's less accessible in your savings account. Plus, you might even feel less guilty splurging every once in a while as you'll know you've already taken care of your saving goals.

6. Contribute to your retirement account

Time to set up 401(K) contributions: 10 minutes

It's generally recommended to invest 15% of your income in a retirement account, including any employer contribution. At the very least, you want to maximize your employer match to avoid leaving money on the table.

If your employer doesn't offer a 401(k) plan, you can still take steps to hit your retirement savings goals. Look into individual retirement accounts (IRAs). These personal savings plans may allow you to deduct contributions on your taxes. CNBC Select picked Charles Schwab IRA as the best overall IRA and Fidelity Investments IRA as a great choice for beginners.

7. Start using your credit card like a debit card

Time to automate credit card payments: 5 minutes

Credit cards can be an incredible tool to build your credit and earn rewards on your spending. Most of the time, however, these benefits are only worth it if you never carry a balance and avoid interest charges.

If you have credit card debt, make paying it off a priority. Next, get in the habit of using your credit cards like you would a debit card. Only charge what you can afford to pay for right now. Set up automatic payments to always pay off your card in full every month.

Even better, to avoid being hit with a large balance when the statement posts, pay your credit cards more often than once a month. For example, you can check your card accounts weekly and pay off all the posted charges.

Once you're used to treating your credit cards this way, you'll be able to take full advantage of rewards. When used responsibly, rewards credit cards can yield hundreds of dollars in cash back or travel rewards every year.

CNBC Select picked the Chase Freedom Unlimited® as the best cash-back credit card, thanks to its generous rewards of 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service), and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Enjoy 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; and 3% cash back on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

  • Annual fee


  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    20.49% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee


  • Credit needed


  • Member FDIC. Terms apply.

And if you're more interested in points and miles, we recommend looking into the American Express® Gold Card. This travel card offers 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X), as well as 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. All other purchases earn 1X points. Terms apply.

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points at Restaurants (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

  • Annual fee


  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee


  • Foreign transaction fee


  • Credit needed


  • See rates and fees, terms apply.


  • Up to $120 dining credit annually ($10 a month) for purchases made with Grubhub, Goldbelly and other eligible restaurants (after a one-time enrollment)
  • Up to $120 Uber Cash annually ($10 a month) for U.S. Uber Eats orders and U.S. Uber rides (card must be added to Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit)
  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned at restaurants and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.


  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,074
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,969

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

8. Begin investing

Time to sign up for an investment app: 15 minutes

One area of your financial life that may seem especially overwhelming is investing. It's not as straightforward as, say, savings accounts where your returns are predictable and pretty much guaranteed. And there's definitely a lot to learn for a novice investor.

Luckily, you can always start small with just a few taps on your phone. With investing apps, anyone can get access to the stock market and build their wealth in an affordable way. Beginners can get their feet wet micro-investing through an app like Acorns, which allows you to invest spare change.


  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. No minimum required to open an account, $5 minimum to start investing

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. Monthly plans include: Personal ($3 per month) and Family ($5 per month)

  • Bonus


  • Investment vehicles

    Robo-advisor: Acorns Invest IRA: Acorns Later includes Traditional, Roth, SEP IRAs, 401(k) Rollover Investment accounts for kids: Acorns Early

  • Investment options

    Diversified ETFs which include more than 7,000 stocks & bonds

  • Educational resources

Terms apply.

Bottom line

Maintaining your financial health requires patience and consistency, but setting the foundation for good money habits can take less than a day if you put your mind to it. After that, all that's left to do is to stay on track and continue growing your personal finance knowledge.

Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cardsbanking and money, and follow us on TikTokFacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

Results may vary. Some may not see improved scores or approval odds. Not all lenders use Experian credit files, and not all lenders use scores impacted by Experian Boost.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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