5 Fifteen-Minute Financial Fixes

For a quick improvement in your personal finances, tackle these projects.

By + More

As the holidays approach, it'll start to feel like you have less and less free time. The hustle and bustle of the holidays always seems to mess up schedules, throw wrenches into your carefully laid plans, and land you firmly in the weeds. One of the things that often gets knocked to the sidelines, in part because of gift giving, is your finances.

[In Pictures: 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes]

It's very easy to put your money on auto-pilot and "deal" with it after the new year, right? Fortunately, there are a few things you can do that are very quick and very effective when it comes to managing your money. These are quick financial moves you can make that can have a lasting positive effect on your financial situation without having a big effect on your schedule.

Perform a Financial Check Up

Just take a quick peek at all of your financial accounts and make sure that everything is in order. Log into your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and credit card accounts to see if anything is amiss. You don't need to do anything other than review some statements and make sure everything is as you remembered. Look for errors and inaccuracies in any of your statements.

Review your debits and credits as well as your contact information like your phone number and email address. The key here is to just check into each of your accounts to make sure you haven't overlooked something simply because you've been too busy. The last thing you want to do it miss an error that costs you big.

Begin an Emergency Fund

If you don't already have an emergency fund, create one. If you already have one, review your needs to see if your emergency fund needs a little extra or a little less padding. An emergency fund is your first line of defense against the numerous financial pitfalls in life from losing your job to needing a new set of tires on your car. Without an emergency fund, you might be forced to rely on expensive credit credits or other suspect areas of financing.

[Visit the U.S. News My Money blog for the best money advice from around the web.]

When you do start an emergency fund, consider putting the funds into an online savings account so you can earn a little extra in interest. Interest rates aren't great right now but it's better, and safer, than your mattress.

Review Your Credit Reports

Reviewing your credit report is something you should be doing on a regular basis, especially since the government has mandated that the bureaus provide you a copy of your report absolutely free. You can review your report through AnnualCreditreport.com. Looking through your report shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes each, be sure to check every last page for any errors and disputing those errors when you see them.

Correcting a mistake on your credit report can take quite some time so be sure to do so as soon as you find it. Reviewing your credit score is not as important and something you probably don't need to do unless you anticipate getting a loan in the near future. Each of the credit bureaus offer a "free" credit score if you sign up for their credit monitoring trials. The only truly free one, without requiring a trial subscription, I know of is through Credit Karma and that's a free non-FICO TransUnion score.

Renegotiate Cable, Cell Phone, etc.

Take a moment to review your fixed monthly expenses like your cable television bill or your cell phone. If you are not currently under contract, now is the time to call them up and negotiate a better rate for whatever it is you're buying. Cable companies and cell phone companies fight each other for your business by offering fantastic new customer offers and you can use this to get a better deal on almost anything (compare your current contract with Verizon FiOS promotions).

Simply collect the various offers and call the company. Tell them that if they don't match or beat the offer, you'll walk. Nine times out of ten the agent will agree to give you the offer or send you to retentions, who will meet the offer. In the event you get the one agent who won't, simply switch your service provider and get the better deal!

Simplify Your Finances

Think about all the accounts you logged into when you performed your financial checkup and think about whether you actually needed so many accounts. When I did this I realized I had a dozen bank online bank accounts because I was opening up a new one every time I saw a hot new offer. I slowly, over time, accumulated far more accounts than I needed so I slowly closed each account.

Now I'm down to just a handful and it's much easier for me to keep a handle on my finances. There's really no reason to have so many accounts and that weight was making it harder for me to manage my finances.

Jim Wang writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.com. When he's not tackling money issues, he's usually looking forward to his next vacation and writing about it at Wanderlust Journey.