Although you may be thinking mostly of what gifts you’re buying this year and how to teach grandma and grandpa how to use Zoom, it’s never too early to start thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions. So often, those considerations are relegated to the 5-day liminal space between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. Let’s face it; 2021 is not the year to get a gym membership. So, why not try improving your financial wellbeing?
ONE: START SAVING
Most of us have at least one savings account, but many don’t put them to good use. These days, savings accounts are not going to give you a high interest return, but they are a great place to deposit funds so that you won’t be likely to touch them until you need them.
Consider setting up multiple savings accounts for different goals. Are you trying to buy a new car? Set up a savings account for that purpose only and commit to depositing a certain amount every month towards that goal. You can make manual deposits or, better yet, set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your goal-oriented savings accounts. The money will pile up without you even thinking about it and you’ll reach your goal in no time!
Additionally, it’s never too early to start thinking about your retirement savings. In fact, starting your retirement savings at a younger age will have a massive impact on your total savings: A difference of 10 years in savings can almost double your total retirement income.
Before you think about what you need to save for, you may want to consider tackling Resolution #2:
TWO: PAY OFF DEBT
If you are struggling with debt, you are not alone: the average American household has $7,849 in credit card debt alone. Since credit card debt is unsecured, credit cards often charge high-interest rates, which makes paying them off very difficult because a big chunk of each payment goes toward interest alone. Find out the interest rate you are paying on each of your loans. Create a list of your debts, ordered by their interest rate, and focus on paying off your highest interest rate loan first, even if it’s not the loan with the highest balance. Check out this short video to see what the process looks like.
Do some research into what kind of rates different institutions have for your type of loans (credit card, auto, mortgage, etc.). If another institution is offering much lower rates than what you are currently paying, you may want to consider refinancing your loans. You may also find that you can get a better deal at your current institution because rates have lowered since you took out your loan, or your credit score may have improved.
Once you have your minimum monthly payments under control, consider paying extra towards principal every month, if your lending institution allows you to do so without penalty.
Whether or not you are keeping up with your monthly payments, it’s a good idea to try to tackle Resolution #3:
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THREE: START BUDGETING
Everyone, whether they make $20,000 or $200,000 per year, can benefit from a budget. There are a myriad of tools you can use to track and control your spending, from keeping a spending journal, to using budgeting software or an app. Whatever tools you use, what is important is to make a goal and stick to it.
FOUR: REVISE YOUR BUDGET
If you already have a budget, congratulations! You are one of only 32% of Americans who use a household budget. If you haven’t revised your budget this year, you may want to consider doing so for 2021. In case you hadn’t noticed, the world has changed since 2019, and that probably includes your spending habits. Take some time to consider what you spend more on now and what you spend less on. If you are working from home now, you probably spend less on gas but more on heating and electricity. Take these changes into account when you look at your budget.
Even if you choose not to stick to a budget, you can still improve your finances by taking on Resolution #5:
FIVE: CUT DOWN ON SPENDING
Maybe you’re not ready to organize a budget for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cut down on spending. Try this for an exercise: take a look at a couple months of your purchases and split them into three categories:
- Things you need
- Things you want
- Things you don’t need and don’t want
Numbers 1 and 2 shouldn’t surprise you. These are the spending habits you tend to look at and work on improving when you’re setting a budget, but number 3 may confuse you. Why would I spend money on things I don’t want? It happens all the time! Are there streaming services you haven’t used in months but haven’t cancelled yet, gym memberships that you forgot about, or maybe the ATM you use every day that you thought was free but actually charges $3 every time? This is all money spent on things you don’t actually want.
Once you cut those freeloaders off, look at your impulse purchases. There are plenty of tips you can use to cut down:
- Use the $10 a day rule for purchases: think about the item for one day for every $10 on the price tag. If you still want it after waiting, allow yourself to get it.
- Use an extra checking account as a “spending account” that you keep at a $0 balance. Before you buy anything other than necessities transfer the funds from your primary account to cover that purchase. Forcing yourself to transfer the exact amount that you spend will make you really think about every indulgence and taking the extra effort can cut down on impulse buys.
- Don’t go on a shopping spree during the holiday season. There are many ways to keep spending down during the season of giving.
If these tips don’t work for you, do some research online. There are plenty of tips and tricks for cutting down on spending on various online articles and forums. Find out what works best for you.
SIX: MEET A FINANCIAL ADVISOR
It’s not just the mega-rich who benefit by talking to a financial advisor. Anybody looking to make their money work for them can talk to a licensed financial advisor.
SEVEN: ASK FOR A RAISE
For many, the holiday season means another annual tradition is also approaching: your annual review. Take some time to list your accomplishments at work this year and have them ready. Did you handle any transitions caused by COVID-19 with aplomb? Did you take on new responsibilities? If you accomplished more at work, you are worth more.
EIGHT: IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT
Do you know what your credit score is? According to a Lexington Law study 54% of Americans say they never check their credit score. Your credit score is a measure of your creditworthiness and is the main factor that determines what rates you qualify for.
If your score is sub-par it will take time and effort to improve, so you don’t want to wait until you need to borrow money to find out whether or not you should improve your score. If you have poor or limited credit, consider applying for a credit-building loan such as a savings secured credit card.
An improved credit score is a great first step in accomplishing Resolution #9:
NINE: IDENTIFY YOUR LONG-TERM PLANS/NEXT STEPS
No matter where you are in life, it’s important to look towards your financial future. Do you hope to buy a house someday? You may want to start saving towards your down payment. Are you retiring in less than 10 years? Make sure your IRA and/or 401k are in order. Maybe you’re already retired and are saving for your family? Consider converting your savings into a life insurance policy.
A financial advisor can also help you break down these large goals into smaller more manageable steps.
Not even the most skilled financial advisor can tell the future, which is why everybody, no matter their age, should commit to our final financial resolution…
TEN: PLAN FOR THE WORST
Disasters can happen to anyone, so everyone needs a safety net and a backup plan. Those savings accounts we mentioned earlier shouldn’t just be for future purchases; you should set aside enough money to get you through at least a couple of months of expenses, just in case.
Any significant property that you own should also have protection: Is your car minimally insured, or do you have comprehensive insurance? Most people know about homeowner’s insurance, but even if you live in an apartment you should consider getting renter’s insurance.
As upsetting as it is to think about, you should also consider what would happen should you suddenly pass. This includes life insurance, but everyone should make sure their deposits are in order as well. Do all your accounts have joint owners? If not, you should add at least one beneficiary to each of your deposit accounts.
Committing to a financial resolution is a great way to focus your attention in order to achieve your financial goals. Think about where you are now and where you want to be by the end of 2021 and pick a resolution (or multiple resolutions!) that will help you get there.
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