With the new year now underway, you may be looking to make a fresh financial start.
But sometimes change can be tough to actually achieve — especially when it comes to your financial life. Paying down debt and saving for your future can seem like overwhelming tasks, and creating a budget just sounds boring.
So how can you get your finances in shape? In tiny, manageable steps.
Here are 31 quick and dirty personal finance tips you can utilize. Try one a day, and in just a month’s time you will have achieved financial change you can take to the bank.
1. List out your debt
Paying off debt can be a common goal for the new year, but the first step is to make a list of all you owe, says Holly Johnson, founder of personal finance blog Club Thrifty.
“Create a list of each debt, how much it is, and its current interest rate. Once you have your list completed, you can figure out a plan to pay off your debts — or drastically reduce them — over the next 12 months,” she says.
2. Pay more than the minimum on your credit card
Don’t let the term “minimum payment” confuse you. When it comes to paying your credit card, settling for the bare minimum makes you a slave to interest.
Jason Butler, founder of The Butler Journal, says, “Pay more than the minimum on your credit card bill each month. Even if it’s five dollars [extra], it will help.”
3. Calculate your daily interest
If you have student loans, you might consider them “good” debt — it was for your education, after all. But when you add up how much interest you’re accruing each day, you might think differently.
Use this formula to estimate your daily interest:
(interest rate) x (current principal balance) ÷ (number of days in the year) = daily interest
4. Automate your savings
Feel like you can’t afford to save? Here’s one trick to try.
“My top quick and dirty tip would be to automate savings,” says Latoya Scott of Life and a Budget. “No matter how big or small, all it takes is setting up a direct deposit with payroll or auto deduction with your bank!”
5. Do an annual review
“Individuals should at least take an annual pulse of their finances,” advises Magdalena G. Johndrow, a certified fund specialist at Farmington River Financial Group. “This doesn’t necessarily mean a full financial overhaul each year, but it could mean making small tweaks that in the long run may pay off.”
As part of this annual review, Johndrow advises looking at your retirement savings and investment allocations, as well as assessing your budget and setting new goals.
You might also want to call in the experts for your annual review if you’ve experienced big changes. “Every few years — or when a major life event occurs such as marriage or having a baby — I would suggest meeting with an advisor to thoroughly scrub through your financial plan. As life changes, you may need to modify your finances in ways you never considered,” Johndrow says.
6. Write down your goals
Did you know that simply writing down your goals makes you more likely to actually achieve them?
“I’m all about writing down your goals — big or small. Whether it’s a house, a new dress, new running shoes, a car, or a vacation, it puts your daily purchases in perspective,” says Allea Grummert, the blogger behind Ask Allea.
“An $8 shirt at Target is less appealing when I know I’m saving up for something better,” she adds.
7. Have a no-spend day
Sometimes spending can turn into a mindless habit. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
For just one day this month, commit to having a no-spend day. You could save anywhere from a couple of bucks to a lot more, depending on how much you typically spend. This is a good way to hit the reset button and re-evaluate your spending habits.
8. Set up alerts
Get on top of your finances by signing up for text or email alerts for your credit cards, student loans, and other financial accounts.
“Set up alerts for bank accounts and card accounts. These can remind you about payments and alert you to large transactions,” says Julie Rains, a freelance writer at Investing to Thrive.
Spending five minutes doing this now can help you avoid missed payments, overdraft fees, and other costly mistakes.
9. Create a file for taxes
Tax season is around the corner, so it’s time to get organized. “Start putting all your tax information in that file so you’re ready at tax time. Place info about charitable gifts, Goodwill donations, income from side jobs, etc.,” says Rains.
10. Plan fast meals
“I love cooking and cleaning every day after work,” said no one ever. Going out to eat is nice, but can add up fast. Hélène Massicotte from personal finance blog Free to Pursue suggests cooking fast, easy meals with a slow cooker.
“With a slow cooker, you can prepare meals for days at a time and not have to worry about burning anything,” she says.
“You put the food in, set the timer, and it’s ready when you get home, which helps us all avoid the temptation to grab something on the way home because we’re too tired to cook. And the leftovers are always delicious.”
11. Up your retirement contribution
When you’re paying off debt, it’s easy to neglect your future. But you have time on your side, and compound interest can become your best friend if you start saving now.
Jim Wang, the personal finance guru behind Wallet Hacks, suggests upping your retirement contribution — even just a little bit.
“Just log into your 401(k) and increase your contribution rate by 10 percent. If you were contributing $500, make it $550. You probably won’t miss it, but you’ll love it in retirement,” he says.
12. Use cash in certain budget categories
We all have those spending categories that we just can’t seem to tame. To help limit your spending, Steven of Even Steven Money suggests paying cash for those categories.
“Take one part of your budget and pay only in cash. I chose coffee and lunch — I take out $20 each week, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” he says.
13. Create an anti-budget
The word “budget” can seem like a bad word. It just feels … tedious. If you hate budgets but still want to get your finances in shape, Paula Pant at Afford Anything has the answer.
“Practice the anti-budget. It’s only two steps: First, figure out what slice of your paycheck you want to ‘save’ — by which I mean, use for anything that’ll improve your financial life, such as making extra debt payments, investing in a 401(k), or literally saving in cash,” she says.
“Second, automatically transfer your ‘savings’ from every paycheck into a different account; ideally at a different bank.”
14. Make a five-minute call and ask about discounts
One of the quickest finance tips is to pick up the phone; a quick phone call could save you lots of money.
“Send a message to customer support about things you’re currently paying for and see if they’ll give a discount for your continued loyalty. This could result in benefits like a lower rate on credit cards or a lower cable/internet bill,” says Steven Fox, founder of Next Gen Financial Planning.
15. Update your beneficiaries
Now is also a great time to update your beneficiaries, says Fox.
“Review and update beneficiaries for life insurance policies, IRAs, and 401(k)s. Most people rarely look at it, but it’s extremely important, particularly if you have been through major life changes such as getting married, divorced, or having kids,” he says.
16. Check your credit report
Your credit report can help determine your credit score, so you want to make sure there are no errors. Spend some time checking your credit report to start the new year fresh.
“You can check your Experian credit report for free — and without having to enter a credit card — on FreeCreditReport.com,” says Blaine Lyerla, managing editor of Consumer Education at Experian.
You can also check out AnnualCreditReport.com to get free credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
17. Check your credit score
For the same reasons as above, you should check your credit score regularly. Your credit score is a numeric representation of your credit that informs lenders about what kind of borrower you are.
You can get your free credit score on sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. You may also be able to get your free FICO credit score through your credit card.
18. Go digital
Could downloading your bank’s app make you more mindful of your spending? It worked for Sarah Li Cain, blogger at High Fiving Dollars.
“Sounds silly, but effective: I downloaded an app from my bank. I check my bank account balance to see if I’m on track with my spending goals,” she says.
Strive to spend just one minute a day checking your account balances and transactions. You’ll be proactive against any fraud and check in on your spending.
19. Know your real hourly rate
When you start working at a new job, you might be happily surprised by your salary — or abysmally disappointed. Regardless of your situation, your real hourly rate is different than your salary and should be the foundation of any budget or spending plan.
Look at your pay stubs and see what you’re taking home after taxes. Divide that by the hours worked to find your real hourly rate.
20. Calculate your net worth
Want to take a major step toward financial awareness? Calculate your net worth. How do you do that? Take your assets (cash, investments, etc.) and subtract your liabilities (debts).
21. Sign up for autopay on your debt
Missing a payment can hurt your credit score and tack on unnecessary late fees. Lee Huff from Bald Thoughts encourages people to sign up for minimum payments on your credit card.
“It’s ideal to pay credit cards off in full each month, but life happens, so make sure every credit card is set up to at least make the minimum payment automatically so you don’t get hit with late fees,” he says.
You can also sign up for autopay on your student loans — and might even get a discount on your interest rate.
22. Create targeted savings accounts
Improve your finances by creating more than one savings account. Having all your savings lumped together can make it tough to be clear on your goals.
“Create an emergency fund, car replacement fund, or vacation fund by signing up for automatic transfers to a savings account,” says Zina Kumok, founder of Debt Free After Three.
23. Monitor spending
One easy way to get a grasp on your money is to see where it’s actually going.
“Start monitoring your spending better by signing up for a site like Mint.com. See how much you spend and cut back on something unnecessary,” says personal finance writer Karen Cordaway. “It can identify money leaks and help you quickly sidestep future spending.”
24. Unsubscribe from sales emails
The temptation to spend is everywhere, but the hottest spot has to be your inbox. Consider unsubscribing from sales emails using Unroll.me.
25. Find out if you need a raise
Has it been awhile since you got a raise or promotion? Look on PayScale and Glassdoor to see if you need a raise for the new year based on your job, experience, and location.
Need some tips before you ask for a pay bump? Learn how to negotiate.
26. Start saving for the holidays now
Right after the holidays, you should start saving for next year. If you struggled to afford this past holiday season, you might wonder how you can start saving for the next one. That’s all the more reason you should start saving ASAP, says family finance expert Cat Alford.
“I put $50 a month in a Christmas fund starting in January,” she says. This strategy has paid off — this year, she actually has money left over, rather than going into debt.
27. Find investment opportunities anywhere
Have you ever felt like you couldn’t afford to invest? Financial educator Buddy Broome says that you can find spare cash to invest with a little work.
“One example is to look at any recurring bill that someone pays monthly. For example, if the customer typically pays $100 each month to the gym for membership, what if the customer paid the gym $1,000 upfront?” he says.
Offering to pay a monthly charge upfront for a longer period of time could net you a discount — which could free up some money to invest with.
28. Put your spare change to work
Small change can make a big impact. Consider signing up for Spared or Qoins, which puts your spare change toward your student loans. You can also invest your spare change using Acorns.
29. Adjust your tax withholding
If you celebrate a refund every year come tax time, you might be overpaying your taxes. While a refund is nice, putting more money back in your paycheck to pay off debt can be more helpful.
Many of us aren’t good with lump sums of money, so consider adjusting your tax withholding instead.
30. Sell unwanted goods
Before the year gets much older, it’s time to purge! Get rid of all the things you no longer want or need and sell it on apps like OfferUp. You can use your smartphone to easily snap a pic, post a description, and sell your items.
Use that extra money to pay down debt or increase your savings.
31. Tweak your budget for the new year
Whether you practice a traditional budget, the anti-budget, or a spending plan, it’s important that you plan for the year ahead.
“Refresh your yearly budget to account for changes to your income and expenses, and maintain a realistic view of your financial plan,” says Shahar Ziv, founder of Acing Your Finances, a financial education firm.
“Oftentimes, expenses rise in the new year — landlords raise rent, monthly premiums on health insurance go up — and, hopefully, income rises too. Refreshing your budget will give you a more accurate view for the new year and allow you to reallocate ahead of time,” he says.
Changing your financial life can be tough, but don’t let the big picture get you down. Using these 31 personal finance tips, you can take steps every day to better your financial situation.
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