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It's Not Too Late to Make These 5 Smart Financial Resolutions

By Todd Campbell - Jan 25, 2016 at 7:22PM

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There's no time like the present to make smart financial moves like these.

Image source: Flickr user

If you think you could benefit from changes that improve your finances, but aren't sure what changes to embrace or how to get started, you're not alone. According to research conducted by University of Scranton professor John Norcross, Ph.D., more than half of people who make new year's resolutions give up on them within six months.

That failure rate isn't very encouraging, but there are steps you can take to boost your odds of success. For example, specific and attainable goals are more easily accomplished than goals that are vague. Developing a game plan, rather than winging it, can make a big difference between success and failure, too.

So, if you're a tad late in making your financial resolutions for this year, don't fret. Instead, consider these five specific resolutions and the strategies for keeping them.

No. 1: Spend more money "doing stuff" than "on stuff"
If you're like me, you'd love to spend more time doing fun things with family, but you're not sure how to free up the money to do it. The answer might be simpler than you think.

According to Gallup, the average person spent $89 per day shopping at stores and restaurants in 2015, up from between $64 and $72 averaged between 2009 and 2012. It's likely that extra spending isn't going toward things you'll remember years from now, so consider repurposing some of your daily budget to family day trips or a vacation. Eliminating even $10 from your day-to-day spending frees up $3,650 this year for those memory-making moments.

Also, to help you stick to your daily savings goal, consider creating a list of the top five day trips or places to visit this year, then rank them in order of importance. Setting your sights on a specific target, such as a beach-side vacation, should help keep you on track.

No. 2: Reduce your credit card interest to 0%
A few years ago, credit card companies were retrenching to avoid risk, and as a result, the number of balance transfer offers being sent out to consumers by the industry dropped.

Nowadays, an improving economy has led to banks becoming willing to offer special deals to boost debts on their books, and these 0% offers are becoming common again.

That's good news for borrowers, because paying off debt is important to financial security, and reducing interest on credit card balances can help you pay down principal faster.

If you haven't seen one of these offers come in the mail lately, don't give up. Go online to your lender, and see if they have special offers listed on your account's home page. Often, transfers can be done right from the website with only a few clicks of a mouse. 

Of course, to get these special 0% rates, you'll pay your bank an upfront fee that ranges between 3% and 4%, but if your credit card interest rates are north of those levels, transferring balances by using these offers can still end up saving you a bundle.

No. 3: Boost your credit score by 30 points
If your credit score is 760 or higher, banks will fight with one another to get your business, and that can mean significant savings in interest every year.

Ratings agencies keep the exact methodology of their scoring system a closely guarded secret, but experts agree these common-sense tactics can increase your score. While using these strategies isn't guaranteed to increase your score by a specific number of points, they should give your score a big enough pop to allow you to make good on this resolution.

  • Check your credit report for missed payments, and if there's only one or two, contact your lender and see if they're willing to make a good-faith adjustment and erase those late payments from your report. If so, your credit score could spike, because payment history can represent 35% of your score.
  • Total up all of your credit card balances and credit card limits. If your balances are greater than 30% of your limit, look for ways to pay them down, or transfer balances to cards you use less. Although there's no hard-and-fast rule as to the exact percentage credit agencies want to see, the lower the better. That applies to both your overall utilization and the utilization on each individual card, so calculate it both ways for the biggest pop.

No. 4: Invest more in ETFs
Research suggests the lower the fees you pay, the greater your returns can be over time. Therefore, if you're still investing using high-fee mutual funds, it might be time to consider lower-cost ETFs.

ETFs won't always be cheaper than mutual funds, but they usually are. Just make sure you consider any brokerage fees that may be charged when selling a mutual fund, such as back-end loaded fees, and the brokerage commissions associated with buying and selling an ETF before making the jump.

The cost advantages associated with ETFs aren't the only reason to consider them in your investment strategy, either. ETFs can also give you more diversification than individual stocks, and with market volatility rising, greater diversification may help reduce the risk associated with putting all of your eggs in one basket.

No. 5: Start a Roth IRA
Traditional and Roth IRAs are both excellent retirement savings options, but there are distinct differences between them that investors need to consider -- especially if they earn more money than the average Joe.

For instance, if you're married and you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k) plan, the ability to claim a tax deduction for a traditional IRA contribution begins to phase out at $98,000 in income, and it disappears entirely above $118,000.

If you're over that income limit, don't despair. Roth IRAs don't give investors an upfront tax deduction like traditional IRAs do, but they can provide tax-free withdrawals in retirement. In 2016, couples earning less than $184,000 can put up to $5,500 away in a Roth IRA, and people over 50 can invest an additional $1,000. Therefore, just because you've seen your income grow beyond the cap for a traditional IRA doesn't mean you can't still benefit from a Roth IRA.

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