Let’s be honest: most people’s New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside within one week of the ball dropping. But now that the hangover’s worn off, it’s the perfect time to pick yourself up after a false start and try again.
Beside exercising more and eating healthier, getting control over personal finances is among the most popular resolutions. But that can be a big job. To help you out, we’ve divided it up into smaller resolutions. Pick and choose the ones that are most important for you and then stick to them!
Set financial goals
This is true for everything on this list: there’s no one right answer. Everyone’s financial goals are different. Of course, you’ll have to plan differently if you’re close to retirement than if you’re just starting out in your career, but that’s just the beginning. Do you have kids or plan to? Do you work in a high-paying field or have you chosen to give up a big paycheck for a career that you find personally fulfilling? If so, you’ll have to set goals that are realistic based on your career trajectory.
Track your spending
Use an app, a spreadsheet, or even a good old-fashioned notebook to track exactly how much you spend every day. This will help you identify areas where you spend more than you think you should and will also help you build a budget you can stick to.
Stick to a plan
Once you’ve figured out how much you actually spend, you can create a budget that’s realistic. If you have to up-end your lifestyle, you’re much less likely to follow through. Create limits for each category and then keep those limits in mind as you spend. This will also allow you to plan ahead so that you can make the most of your money.
Pay yourself first. That means that as soon as your paycheck comes in, some of it should be going straight to a separate savings or investment account. In fact, find a way to automate this. It shouldn’t even be included in the amount you have to budget each month. In honor of 2019, up the amount and reevaluate every few months to see if you can afford to raise it just a bit more. Our next suggested resolution can help you do that.
This is probably the hardest resolution on this list, but a lot of the other resolutions depend on it. If you’re tracking your spending, you’ve already done the first step. Every so often (e.g. once a month) break down your spending as much as you can by categories: groceries, medical, utilities, recreation, transportation, etc. Brainstorm ways that you can lower spending in each category.
For some people, it’s easy to switch working out in a gym for running in the park, while for others it would mean they wouldn’t exercise. You know yourself best. Don’t cut back everywhere if you don’t have to. Instead, pick just one or two areas where you can make changes without sacrificing your health, lifestyle, or peace of mind.
Of course, for some people, cutting down spending is about survival more than about a responsible New Year’s resolution. If that’s the case, you may have to consider more significant measures. We also recommend contacting American Consumer Credit Counseling, a non-profit that offers personal guidance to help get your finances under control.
Check your credit score
By law, you’re entitled to a free credit report every year. Make sure that there are no debts you’ve forgotten about and that nothing looks fishy. If there’s an unpaid debt that doesn’t look right, contest it ASAP. This can help you avoid problems down the road.
Pay off debt
Just like with savings, the best way to do this is to automate it. Start by focusing on debts with high interest rates. Put aside a small amount each month and start chipping away. You don’t have to pay it all off at once, but that small amount per month comes before any discretionary spending.
Whether you’re new to finance or an experienced investor, there’s always more to learn. Choose a book, a podcast, or a newspaper column and stick with it. You’ll get some great information and will train your mind to be aware of your finances. If you’re interested in learning more about investments and economics, you can check out this list of some of our favorite resources.
Thanks to compound interest, the earlier you start investing, the better you’ll do in the long run. So even if you can only put aside a little bit each month, 2019 is the year to get started.
The key to smart investing is to create a diverse portfolio and stick with it. There are a few ways to do that: simple index funds are a great place to start but may not have optimal yields. If you’re looking for ways to kick things up a notch, try checking out some optimized stock portfolios on Cherries. You can build unlimited portfolios without actually putting any money down, so it’s a secure way to get a feel for what works before you buy a portfolio that will beat economic benchmarks.