It’s the start of the new year, and many people are recovering from post-holiday shopping debt and putting together a list of resolutions for 2016. If saving money is on your list of goals for this year, you’re not alone. Money goals came in third on the list of resolutions, according to a report by Statistic Brain Research Institute.
Sometimes, keeping a New Year’s resolution is easier said than done — in fact, 8 percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them, according to Statistic Brain. When it comes to money-saving tactics, it’s best to set specific and achievable goals for yourself in order to stick to your commitment, as people who make explicit resolutions are 10 times more likely accomplish their goals than those who do not.
This year, plan to get ahead of the game by focusing on financial trends that you can anticipate in advance. Here’s a roundup of expert advice on how to save money in 2016, based on current and predicted events.
1. Invest in Your Health
Commit to two New Year’s resolutions at once — vow to invest in your health in order to invest in your financial future. Nate Michaels of personal finance blog HackingYourBudget.com recommended focusing on your health to save money on medical expenses.
“Investing in your health is a long-term challenge, but there are still short-term gains that can realized by not getting sick and spending money on doctors’ visits, (not) having to fill costly prescriptions and not having to miss work,” Michaels said. “While some of this investment can come in the way of food — Harvard suggests it costs $1.50 extra per day to eat healthy — it is also important to remember that you can find savings by using your time for exercise. Cut out the monthly gym expense and enjoy the outdoors; it’s free.”
In addition to improving health to decrease medical expenses, it’s more important than ever to make sure you are properly insured in case any medical emergencies do come up. Not to mention, according to Healthcare.gov, if you can afford health insurance but choose not to enroll, you’ll have to pay what’s called an individual shared responsibility payment fee. Plus, you could pay more out of pocket when emergencies do arise if you aren’t covered by insurance.
The open enrollment period for anyone without health insurance closes on Jan. 31. If you are currently employed and enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan, be sure to know when your open enrollment period is scheduled. Take a look at how your plan might be changing, and what that could mean for your premium, deductible and other expenses.
2. Watch What You Eat
Food prices fluctuate each year, and if you pay attention to trends, you could save a significant amount of money at the grocery store. Supermarket food prices are expected to rise 2 to 3 percent in 2016, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
This predicted increase is based on an assumption of normal weather conditions. However, severe weather or other unforeseen events could drive up food prices even more. On the other hand, if oil prices remain low, decreases in production and transportation costs could ultimately translate into lower retail food prices on grocery stores shelves, according to the report. It’s also helpful to know which 2015 events could continue to affect the price of food in the new year.
“The poultry industry is still recovering from avian flu, so eggs will be more expensive, and higher demand on full-fat dairy products and all types of meat will have the same effect,” said Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at DealNews.com. “Also, extended drought in many growing regions around the world — including California, Brazil and West Africa — is leading to shortages of items, including chocolate, avocados and almonds.”
3. Use Your Tax Refund Wisely
Tax season is right around the corner, and it’s the perfect opportunity to bank major savings. Scott Smith, president of CreditRepair.com, recommended using tax refunds to create or increase an emergency fund.
“Savings equals security, and living without an emergency fund is a risk that nobody should take,” he said. “Maintaining at least three to six months’ worth of income will shelter you from credit-busting events like unemployment, increased cost of living, medical emergencies and home or auto damage … Those who earn higher income should set the bar at a 12-month savings.”
Whatever income bracket you’re in, the point of an emergency fund should be to break the cycle of debt and build financial security, said Smith. It’s better to dip into your savings rather than use credit, but be sure to build your savings back up again, he added.
The 2016 tax season is scheduled to begin Jan. 19, and this year the deadline to file a tax return is April 18, rather than the traditional April 15. File your taxes as soon as possible to get ahead of the game.
4. Put Your Raise to Good Use
If you get any type of annual raise, cost of living adjustment (COLA) or bonus in 2016, put that money straight into savings. If you receive a bonus, use all or a portion of that money to either pay off your debt, or add to your emergency fund. If you receive a raise or COLA, calculate how much more money you’ll see in each paycheck, and use the out-of-sight, out-of-mind savings method.
“Almost without fail, my No. 1 tip for saving is automate, automate, automate — or what I sometimes call the … out-of-sight, out-of-mind savings model,” said Jeff Jones, associate financial planner at Longview Financial Advisors, Inc. “If you want to save, have an amount deposited into a separate account directly from your paycheck.”
The key to success with this savings tactic is to use an account that isn’t visible when you log into your bank account online, he added. If you sock away the money and it isn’t too easily accessible, your savings could stand a better chance of growing.
5. Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt
In December, the Federal Reserve announced it would raise short-term interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis, according to The New York Times. Because credit card interest rates typically are not fixed, they can be vulnerable to changes from the Fed. If you have credit card debt, you could see an immediate increase in interest rates, which will ultimately increase the amount you have to pay off each month, according to Forbes.
Paying down your debt can help you save more money in the long run — as you reduce your balance, you reduce expensive interest charges. One helpful strategy is to try paying off your debt one step at a time, said financial attorney, debt expert and author Leslie Tayne, of Tayne Law Group, P.C.
“It is important not to dwell on your credit card debt or become stressed out,” she said. “Instead, confront debt head-on by identifying which credit card has the highest interest rate, and making it your goal to first swiftly pay off the credit card bearing the highest interest rate.”
She recommended paying double the minimum whenever it’s possible. Then, when you’ve paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate, repay the balance of the next card, and continue until you’ve paid off all your credit cards, she said.