We love a good New Year's resolution as much as the next person. There's a certain allure to the lofty goals that make you stop and look ahead not only to the coming year, but maybe even five or 10 years down the road. But before you set your sights on saving up for a house or big trip, it's also a good idea to do a quick financial check-in before the new year. Think of it as setting the stage for money success in 2017.
We asked Priya Malani, Refinery29's financial expert and founding partner of StashWealth, for some easy ways to organize and strategize our money before January 1. From signing up for paperless statements to getting the most from your bonus, her tips are as easy as they are important — and take about as much time as your regularly scheduled coffee break. Even better, most of them can be done from your computer. Ahead, 15 easy ways to become the financial wiz you always knew you could be — even before the ball drops at midnight. Then, get to saving for that dream purchase.
Monthly subscriptions — especially for relatively low-cost services like Spotify — can seem like a good deal, but they do add up. Take a few minutes to scroll through your bank statements and add up how much you're paying monthly.
Once you've figured out what you're actually paying, decide what's really worth it and what can be easily cut. You may find that your pricey gym membership can easily be subbed out for a cheaper option or that your various streaming services can be consolidated down to one.
It's one of those annoying tasks that's so easy to put off. After all, you aren't retiring for another 40 years (unless your croissant-popsicle idea finally makes you rich). But taking care of your retirement savings early can set you up for a big pay off down the road —
we're talking millions. So take a few seconds to make sure you've rolled over any old 401(k)s and make sure you're maxing out your employer's match program.
Before you blow through your (well-deserved!) end-of-year bonus, take some time to move some to a savings account. But don't feel like you have to choose long-term savings goals over that plane ticket you've been eyeing. Priya recommends saving just 20% of your bonus, just like you should be saving 20% of every paycheck.
A flexible spending account, or FSA, lets you literally get more for your money by taking some of your salary out pretax to spend on medical and transit expenses. That's the good news. The bad news is, you have to spend the money within the calendar year. So while it's great you spent less than you estimated on doctor's visits this year (that apple a day is really working!), any extra money is about to expire.
But even if you're not due for a checkup, there's still time to use up your money on everything from prescription sunglasses to lip balm to condoms.
Store cards seem like a great idea (who doesn't want a 10% or more discount), but Priya counsels against them, because they incentivize purchases you weren't planning to make. Her advice is generally to only sign up for them when it helps you save a ton of money on a big purchase (like a couch) and closing them out as soon as the payment clears. If you haven't been doing this, now's a good time to start 2017 with a clean slate.
As far as regular credit cards, keeping your old ones open actually isn't a bad idea. If they have higher limits, they can actually help your credit score. But having too many cards floating around in your wallet can make staying on top of timely payments confusing, so this is also a good opportunity to put away any cards that don't get used somewhere safe. Of course, if a card has an annual fee and you're not using it, however, it is a good idea to go ahead and close it out.
While Tax Day doesn't roll around until April, don't trust your memory to make it through the next four months. Thankfully, this is a relatively easy — and painless — bit of tax prep you can do now. Make sure to save any year-end credit card or bank statement, says Priya, and also take time to think about any job-related purchases you made in the past year that you weren't reimbursed for. Those can be deducted when it actually does come time to do your taxes.
Speaking of early tax prep, a last-minute
charity donation (through December 31) can also count as a deduction — and also let you spread the last little bit of that holiday-season cheer.
Your year-end credit card statement also shows how your spending shook out in various categories. Before you file it away, take a look at how you actually spent money in the past year — you might be surprised. Knowing exactly how much you spent (and on what) can help you better strategize your saving strategies for the new year.
It's good for the environment and it's great for reducing clutter. Even better, it takes just a few minutes to sign into any online accounts and opt for a paperless statement. Make sure you also sign up for email reminders that you might find useful, too.
After you've signed up for paperless statements, clear out some clutter. Priya has a list of what you really need to keep (and suggestions for how to organize)
on StashWealth. The rest you can feel free to shred, recycle, and bid adieu to, no rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" needed.
Priya recommends knowing the last day of your student loan repayment — and marking it on your calendar, no matter how far out it is. All it takes is a quick call to your loan provider to find out more.
"Going into the new year with more information is the right idea," she explains, and may even inspire you to re-strategize how, and when, you're paying off your loans.
Again, more information is always better. It takes just five minutes on
SoFi to find out what your loan payments and rates would be. More on tackling your student loan debt, here.
Actually using less of your available credit balance can help your credit score. To increase your limit, just call your credit card company and ask — it's that easy. "Only do this if you are responsible with credit and pay your bills off in full and on-time," Priya advises.
"There are so many amazing financial apps that grew in popularity in 2016 and they are all meant to help you build a stronger financial foundation," says Priya. Two of her favorites are
Digit and Debitize. Digit automates savings for you and can be a great way to save up extra money for an emergency fund or big purchase, like a trip. Debitize automates your credit card payments and keeps you from overspending by deducting money from your bank account as you spend and paying off the balance weekly — pretty cool, right?
Oh, credit card perks: so appealing when you sign up, so easy to forget about. See what rewards you may have racked up in the past year and figure out how to use them. While points and rewards rarely expire on active cards, Priya cautions against saving for the sake of saving — use those hard-earned points and enjoy them.
If you realize you aren't earning points towards stuff you really want, Priya recommends checking out Magnify Money to see if another card could be a better fit.