Getting your money right in a new year is a big concern for most people, especially after the spending-heavy holiday season. Starting or continuing good habits is an ongoing goal of course, so personal check-ins like this
weeklong financial tuneup can help you assess where you are in the long term — and getting personal is key.
Not everyone has the same financial situation. Some people may be deeper in consumer debt,
student loan debt, or not making enough money to feel like they can save just yet. If you want to get ideas on where you can make a difference in your own life, start small. Here are some places to set your marks.
Set Goals Saying that you want to save more money isn't enough. (Although that would be amazing.) Coming up with a plan — even a rudimentary one — is absolutely necessary, especially if you are putting money on the financial markets. Marshay Clarke, a licensed financial expert at Betterment, says to ask yourself what exactly you saving and investing for before you put money away to save. "Goal-based wealth management is necessary for maximizing how effectively you manage your money and investments, including knowing when you can afford to spend more than you might think today."
Automate "As a rule of thumb, you should aim to save at least 10% of your gross income each year. Whether that means 10% is going to your retirement account, or an emergency fund, you should be putting funds away for future needs," says Clarke. "Setting up automatic deposits into your savings or investment fund forces you to stick to your plan as opposed to giving into small temptations here and there with your extra cash." Automating may not be for everyone. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and need to keep a closer eye on what is coming in and going out of your accounts to avoid things like overdraft fees, you might not be ready for a "set it and forget it" style of bill paying. But, if you can be a little more flexible, choose a date for automation and enter it into your calendar as a recurring event each month as a reminder.
Think Ahead Planning for the future doesn't have to be a worst-case scenario exercise; you should also think about how to realistically work toward milestones you're excited for. Maybe that's buying your mom a birthday present in two weeks, going on a vacation in six months, or becoming a homeowner in a year. "Write them down in your journal," Clarke urges. "It’s never too early to start thinking about the important events in your life, and you don’t need to wait until you have a partner to do so. By writing down what you need to save for, you’re more likely to take them seriously."
Build Your Own Nest
Speaking of not waiting for a partner to get your life on track, don't do that when it comes to savings. Seriously. A
recent survey from Discover
revealed the sizable gap between people's expectations of when they would reach certain goals with or without a partner, and the findings were pretty sobering.
"People don’t combine finances as much as they used to," Clarke says. "Even if marriage is on your radar, establish your own saving and investment plans."
However you decide to go about doing so, figuring out
how to merge your finances
once you're in a long-term, legally-binding relationship is essential. Before then, focus on yourself! If you're unattached and are open to moving around for work, consider what impact that might have on the bank accounts you choose, or the amount of savings you keep tied up. If you are making larger investments in a home or are paying down student loans, how much do you need to save or pay down each month to get toward the finish line. While you're single, that work is on you.
Pack Your Lunch
"Sometimes, the simplest changes you make can go the farthest," Clarke says. At the start of the year, try packing your own lunch at least three times a week to see how much you save. Keep that extra cash in a savings jar at home and direct it elsewhere.
Need suggestions for meal prep? Check out these
recipes for tasty January meal options
Track Your Expenses
You won't get a handle on how much you can save until you understand how much money you spend. Get in the habit of keeping track of all your expenses, especially small ones like coffee, snacks or drinks, Clarke advises. "These small expenses add up, and being cognizant of them will help you avoid unnecessary purchases."
If you aren't a fan of going through your statements each month, enlist the help of a savings app that will do it for you. Many personal finance apps these days are goal-oriented, and usually ask you to synch up your bank accounts, credit cards, retirements savings accounts to see what you are saving and spending. If nothing else,
downloading one of these options
can help give you a clearer picture of where you stand.
Think Bigger Than The Basic Savings Account Clarke defines short-term investment goals as those that clients generally want to reach within five years. Saving some money is better than saving nothing of course, but if you want to go bigger in that five-year timeline, you will need to look beyond a standard savings accounts. "Even the best money market accounts are only returning around 1% in annual percentage yield," she explains.
Talk To Someone You may feel comfortable investing on your own, but if you don't, speaking to an expert may help you figure out how to maximize any investments you make. "One of the most proactive steps you can take is to speak with a financial professional who can help you develop a savings strategy appropriate to your unique situation," says Catherine Golladay, the senior vice president for 401(k) participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. "The advice they offer to a single woman may differ from what they’d suggest to a married person, and it can take into account a multitude of personal data points, including your salary, age, other sources of income or savings, children, etc." Golladay says this advice is often available as part of your 401(k) plan or financial wellness plan at work, so start there. If it’s not available through your particular employer’s plans, try talking to your HR rep. While they may not be able to give you highly specific information, you can get an idea of better questions to ask once you are ready to pay for a full-service consultation.
Switch Bank Accounts
Many people stick with the same bank accounts they had after high school, even if it no longer suits their needs as an adult. Clarke suggests researching the latest offers from banks to see what makes sense for you now.
"Many offer sign-up bonuses simply for opening an account and setting up a direct deposit," she says.
Additionally, you'll want to
avoid bank accounts
with monthly fees, minimum balance requirements, and charges for ATM access. Check out
for a list of options to choose from.
Rebalance Your Investment Accounts Investing isn't a matter of just opening an account but being mindful of what you are investing in. Golladay says that even though markets have hit record highs in recent months and you may have seen a bump in your balance, "dramatic market movements could have also left your asset allocation out of whack." "When certain stock sectors perform particularly well, that can leave those sectors over-weighted and others under-weighted in your 401(k)," she explains. Do keep in mind that your 401(k) is a long-term investment and you shouldn't react to every market change and period of volatility, but consider rebalancing at the beginning of the year "so that your investments are in line with your risk tolerance and desired asset allocation."
appearance by Nikki Tucker.
appearance by Nikki Tucker.