The beginning of the year is a fabulous time to sit down and create a plan to master your money.
But, where do you start? And how can you make sure the financial goals you set now don’t get forgotten like all those other resolutions you made? (I’m looking at you, gym membership.)
To help you with the process, I’ve included 18 of my top money tips below. These are proven pieces of financial advice that can help make 2019 your most successful year yet.
Instead, focus on your goals: specific ambitions you have this year. Without goals, your money is worthless. Seriously. Establishing clear goals this year will help give your money purpose. It’s a lot more fun to save your money when you’re planning an amazing family trip. It’s also a lot easier to save for retirement when you have a specific goal of what you want those years to look like.
Less is more when it comes to your financial paperwork, bills and accounts. Are there ways to streamline? You don’t need five different bank accounts. Most adults can simplify their finances by having one main checking account and one main savings account. You can add a high yield savings account for your liquid emergency fund or one joint checking account for family expenses if you’re married. And cut out the paper clutter. Discarding old bank statements, paper bills and tax documents from more than 6 years old is where I’d start. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that living in a cluttered place impairs our self-control, which can lead to more impulse spending.
A recent survey by TD Ameritrade shows that 43% of Gen Xers are behind when it comes to their retirement savings. They aren’t alone. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans has $0 saved for retirement. Even if you are among those who have a nest egg, make a plan to save even more. Take advantage of your company’s match and max out other retirement accounts if you’re eligible, like a Roth IRA. Sure, you might have to shift a few things in your budget to make it happen, but your future self will thank you.
If you’re exhausted by the idea of paying down your debt, consider consolidating it. While this option won’t work for everyone or even every type of debt, it can be helpful when it comes to reducing the amount of payments you have to remember each month. Consolidating your debt can also help reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.
Automating your finances can help save you time and money. It’s much easier to save if you automate a transfer to your savings account every time you get a paycheck. It’s also easy to remember all of your bills if they automatically deduct from your bank account.
Speaking of bills, don’t forget to negotiate all the numerous services you’ve signed up for – from your cable bill to your hospital bill. And remember, just because you negotiated once doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate again. Wait a few months and call your cable and insurance companies again to try to get a better deal.
One of the best ways to master your money in 2018 is to ask for a raise. Make an appointment to meet with your boss. Armed with stats about your worth in the marketplace and all your value-added accomplishments at the work, ask for more. Sites like Glassdoor.com and Comparably.com can provide salary reports for jobs similar to yours.
If you’re in a committed relationship, make this the year you talk to your partner about money. A recent study in the journal Family Relations challenged the idea that money is the most frequent argument married couples have (it’s children, followed by chores). What the study did show, though, was that financial arguments are more intense and more difficult to resolve than conflicts about other topics. However, the more you talk to your partner about money, the easier it will get. Start by discussing your shared goals and from there, build a roadmap. Touch base once a month to be sure you stay on track.
There are many different financial books on the market, as well as podcasts. Knowledge is everything. Whether you need help getting out of debt or developing a stronger relationship with money, there is a financial resource out there for you. My podcast, “So Money,” offers candid interviews with everyone from Tony Robbins to Jim Cramer and Margaret Cho, as well as millionaires next door. Through our conversations we learn how these individuals think about and manage their money. Fridays we answer your biggest money questions.
Money management is a habit, much like brushing your teeth. So, this year, establish a good financial routine. This might include checking your bank account daily, making sure all your bills are paid at the end of the month, or automatically investing for the future. Whatever it is, make it a part of the fiber of your life so your money management becomes second nature.
We all get financial windfalls, whether we find a $5 bill in the laundry or get a large bonus at work. How you manage these windfalls can affect your bottom line. So, this year, make a plan for them. Decide what you’ll do should a windfall come your way, whether it’s pay down debt, save for a goal, or a little of both.
No one is perfect when it comes to money. Some of the wealthiest people on the planet admit to making money mistakes, so don’t beat yourself up if you go over budget or forget to pay a bill on time. What’s important is getting back on the wagon after a financial mistake and doing your best to prevent them moving forward.
We live in a world of instant gratification, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shop around. Don’t spend hours cutting coupons; instead, research several extensions you can add to your browser that will automatically hunt down lower prices for you. Apps like Earny watch price drops on merchandise you purchase at sites like Amazon and Zappos, and will automatically refund your credit card if the price falls.
Many people feel guilty when they buy something for themselves, but I’m a huge proponent of giving yourself an allowance. You can make this a part of your regular monthly budget, a specific amount of money set aside just for you. That way, you won’t feel restricted when paying off debt or guilty when you’re trying to meet a specific savings goal.
These days, it’s simple to find out your credit score. Many credit cards will give you your FICO score each month, and there are also free credit-monitoring services you can sign up for. Even if you’re nervous about finding out your credit score, it’s important to know where you stand. Improving it can help you reach some of your bigger financial goals down the road, like home ownership.
If you see something you want to buy, pause for a minute. Ask yourself if you really want or need the item. Make sure the purchase will add value to your life. If you don’t practice impulse control, sometimes all those little purchases can add up.
A study reported in The Harvard Gazette showed that giving as little as $5 to others can make us feel happier. So, even if your pockets feel bare, just know you don’t have to write a large check to charity to make a difference.
You can ask for a raise, but if you’re not successful or want to further increase your bottom line, consider taking on a side hustle to create an additional income stream. You can use that money towards saving more, investing or paying off debt. And you never know – that side hustle could turn into a bigger adventure, leading you to be able to quit your day job and make 2018 the year you became your own boss!
Farnoosh Torabi, one of America’s leading personal finance authorities, is the resident financial columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, and hosts the award-winning podcast “So Money.”