Although many of this year’s resolutions will be hard to keep after months of rising prices, 2023 can still be the year that you achieve financial fitness.
The key is understanding that big goals start with small changes in your money habits.
“As we enter a new year, high inflation continues to impact millions of Americans’ wallets,” said Einat Steklov, cofounder and CEO of employee financial website platform Kashable. “While good financial habits can be hard to build, there are small steps Americans can take to help along the way.”
You can change your life by locking in a few new money habits right now — and all you have to do is start small.
Get in the Habit of Tracking What You’ve Spent and Planning for What You Haven’t
The small habit that will have the biggest impact is the practice of accounting for your money — tracking every dollar that’s coming in and every dollar that’s going out. That sounds like a big adjustment, but it doesn’t have to be — and the return on investment will surely outweigh the time you put in.
“Create a budget or spending plan that includes your financial goals, such as building an emergency fund, saving for a down payment on a home, or investing for retirement,” said Laura Adams, MBA, a personal finance expert with Finder.com.
The thought of confronting your spending and debt can be overwhelming, but you can take small steps toward making this hugely important new money habit stick.
“You might follow the 50/30/20 rule, a simple budgeting framework,” Adams said. “You spend no more than 50% of your take-home income on necessities like housing, food, insurance, and debt payments. You limit variable expenses, such as dining out and entertainment, to 30% and save the remaining 20%.”
Even the most diligent savers are only human — and humans get sick, get stressed, get busy or just forget to contribute to their savings. But your bank is willing to do it for you consistently and on a regular basis for free without you having to lift a finger.
Take them up on the offer.
“Another important step is to set up an automatic savings plan,” said Linda Chavez, founder and CEO of Seniors Life Insurance Finder. “Set aside a certain amount of money each month that goes directly into your savings account. This will help you build a safety net for yourself and ensure that you are financially prepared for any unexpected expenses or emergencies.”
Here, too, it’s OK to start small — over the long term, a few bucks a month is infinitely better than zero. Apply the same mindset to saving as you do to your fitness and exercise resolutions — something is always better than nothing.
Put Pen to Paper To Bring Your Goals to Life
Having ideas, goals or plans in your head is a good start, but the real magic happens when you will them into reality on paper.
“Make sure your goals are written down and posted somewhere you’ll see them all the time,” said Samantha Garcia, CFP, a wealth advisor at Halbert Hargrove. “If you write them down in January and don’t check until December, it’s easy to lose track of them and lose sight of what you’re doing. Writing them down keeps you accountable because now that’s on paper, whether you use pen and paper or computer notes. By printing and putting them where you see them, you’re more likely to keep your goals in check regularly. You should also add a monthly calendar reminder to check in on your financial goals. A regular notification during a time you are not busy — Sunday mornings or the 15th of the month — will help remind you about staying on track.”
Team Up With a Like-Minded Partner
Changing any habit — money or otherwise — is always easier when you have someone to lean on when the going gets tough, which it surely will.
“Find an accountability partner,” Garcia said. “Whether it’s a friend or spouse, it’s really good to have someone to check in on your goals. They should ask things like, ‘How are you doing on that goal? Is there any way I can support you? Is there something you need help with?’ Having someone who can ask those questions and not guilt or punish you, but someone you trust, can keep you on the right path.”
Even if you avoid social media and the influencer envy that triggers so much overspending, the temptation to buy without thinking is often as close as your email inbox.
“The thing about mailing lists is that all of these businesses you’ve shown interest in or supported before will keep flashing their products and services at you and you’ll start to feel like you need them,” said Dakota McDaniels, co-founder and chief product officer for the investing platform Pluto. “But you don’t, and the perfect remedy for this is to unsubscribe to fight the temptation. It can be a struggle to stop making unnecessary purchases with so much being dangled in front of you. Opting out of mailing lists could be the change you need to change your spending habits for the better in 2023.”
An accountability partner is a great tool for staying on the right path in your day-to-day life, but by checking in with a financial professional every now and again, you can identify mistakes you didn’t know you were making and adjust your strategy as needed.
“Finally, consult with personal finance experts regularly throughout the year,” Chavez said. “Financial experts can provide valuable guidance to help you make the most of your money and stay on track with your goals. This could involve advice from investment advisors or tax professionals, depending on your situation. A regular check-in with an expert may just be the motivation you need to keep up with your resolutions and achieve success in the new year.”
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