Most of us make poor financial decisions. We might take a trip we can't really afford, or repeatedly eat lunch out when our budget calls for brown-bagging it.
Making small, incremental changes can have a major effect on your finances. Your finances are generally a series of little choices that add up over time -- you won't be done in by buying one latte you can't really afford. But those small bad choices add up to debt, regret, and major issues in the long run.
Turning things around doesn't have to be hard. Make just a few small changes, and you'll be on track for a meaningful improvement to your finances in 2020.
1. Make a budget
You can't stick to a budget if you don't have one. It's very important to fully understand how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Examine your fixed expenses (rent, car payment, student loans, utilities, food, etc.) and then see how much is left.
Assuming you have money left over, allocate some for savings or debt repayment, and set some aside for discretionary spending. Knowing how much you can afford to spend each week gives you a target, and may make it easier to say no to some purchases.
2. Check yourself
Set a dollar amount that will cause you to step back. That might mean $5 or it could be $100, depending on your financial situation.
When you find yourself about to make a purchase that's over that amount, take a step back and reconsider for a minute. Are you making the right decision, or are you giving in to short-term desires?
Sometimes a little extra time helps you walk away. At the very least, you will build up the habit of really thinking about how you spend your money rather than doing it impulsively.
3. Automate saving
Make sure that some amount of money from each paycheck gets automatically transferred into some method of savings.
This could be an auto-transfer into a brokerage account, or opting into a company-run 401(k). Ideally, you will set aside some money for retirement and some for an emergency fund/shorter-term financial needs.
4. Pick an expense to eliminate
Nearly everyone makes dumb purchases reflexively. That may be bottled water you don't really need, or expensive coffee just because your coworkers like to make a daily run to the local cafe.
Consider whether each regular purchase you make makes you happy. If it doesn't, and you're just buying out of habit, consider dropping that purchase.
5. Learn to say no
Sometimes we spend money simply because we don't want to tell our friends, family, and coworkers that we can't afford something. It's OK to say no or to offer an alternative.
Telling your coworkers you can't afford to go out for drinks after work is acceptable. The same is true when family wants you to visit or go on a vacation. You don't have to spend money you don't have simply to keep up appearances.
Protect your long-term financial health
It's easy to push your problems down the road. An expensive meal, a new outfit, or another unneeded expense may feel like something you deserve. Before you spend the money, though, consider your long-range goals.
Will the purchase you're making result in credit card debt that will cost you added money in interest charges? Is whatever you're going to buy even something you actually want?
Make smart choices and learn to deny yourself things you want but don't need. That may hurt in the short-term, but older you will be really happy with the decisions you make now.