As we inch closer to 2017, many of us have money on the brain. If you're hoping 2017 will finally be the year you get on top of your savings, here are 10 simple, painless ways to achieve that goal.
1. Follow a budget
While maintaining a budget is one of the most effective tools for tracking personal spending, roughly 60% of Americans don't do it. If you draw up a budget with a line item for savings, you'll have an easier time finding cash to put in the bank. Not only that, but following a budget will give you a clear picture as to where your money is going so that if you do need to free up more cash, you'll see which spending categories offer the most wiggle room.
2. Set up an automatic savings plan
You can't spend money you never see in the first place. If you don't trust yourself to save money or just want to simplify the process, then sign up for automatic deposits through your bank so that a certain percentage of each paycheck goes directly into savings.
3. Contribute to a retirement account
Further to the point above, you should aim to set aside money from each paycheck (ideally 10% or more) for retirement. If your company offers a 401(k), you can sign up and arrange to have part of your earnings deducted automatically. If you're under 50 in 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 a year. Those who are 50 or older get an even bigger opportunity to save with a catch-up contribution of $6,000, or $24,000 in total. The money you contribute to a 401(k) goes in tax-free, so you'll lower your tax bill while building your nest egg.
4. Open an FSA
An FSA makes it cheaper for you to pay for the healthcare expenses you're already spending money on by letting you allocate pre-tax dollars for medical costs. For 2017, you can put up to $2,600 into a healthcare FSA to pay for eligible expenses like copayments, dental visits, eyeglasses, and contact lenses. If you have kids and pay for child care, you can open up the dependent care version of the FSA and contribute up to $5,000 as a married couple filing jointly. Both options will lower your taxes, thus putting more money back in your pocket. Just make sure not to overfund either type of account, or you'll lose your balance when your plan year expires.
5. Sign up for commuter benefits
An easy way to shave money off the cost of your commute is to use pre-tax dollars to pay for it. While you can't get a tax break on gas for your vehicle, you can allocate up to $255 each month for parking and another $255 for a transit pass if your employer offers commuter benefits. So if you spend $200 a month on a rail pass and $80 a month to park at your local train station, you can sign up for commuter benefits through your employer and avoid paying taxes on $3,360 over the course of the year.
6. Walk or bike to work (and everywhere)
Some of us have no choice but to drive pretty much everywhere we go, but if you're willing to do a little exercise, walking or biking on a daily basis could shave hundreds of dollars off your monthly expenses, especially if you're able to give up your vehicle. The average cost of owning an automobile is roughly $8,700 a year, so even if you spend a fraction of that to maintain a bike or call the occasional car service, you'll still come out way ahead.
7. Pay your credit card bill in full and on time
Any time you fail to pay off your credit card balance by month's end, you're essentially signing up to pay unnecessary interest. Case in point: Carrying a $500 balance for six months at 20% interest will cost you an extra $30 for no good reason. If you make a point of paying your bill in full and on time every month, you'll avoid those interest charges and get an opportunity to bank the difference.
8. Take advantage of your health benefits
Many health insurance plans offer a number of benefits that can lower your monthly expenses. That gym membership you're already spending money on, for example, might be partially reimbursable by your insurance company, so it pays to review your benefits and see what you're eligible for. Similarly, Medicare offers a large number of preventative care services at no cost to enrollees. Keeping up with your health and getting ahead of medical issues could save you a considerable amount of money down the line.
9. Study your credit card statements
If you have a tendency to pay your credit card bill without reviewing your statement line by line, you could be throwing money away. Credit card errors happen more often than you'd think, from duplicate charges to outright fraud. Studying your statements could save you a fair chunk of cash if it means nipping costly mistakes in the bud. And if you do see an error on your statement, don't delay in reporting it. You typically have just 60 days to dispute an incorrect charge.
10. Sign up for free trials
Whether it's a cable package, a streaming service, or a magazine subscription, many companies offer free trials in an attempt to lure in customers. As long as you cancel within the appropriate time frame, you'll typically snag a month (sometimes more) of free service without having to spend a dime.
These tips, especially when combined, can help you save some serious money in 2017. So if 2016 wasn't the money-saving year you hoped it would be, now's your chance to start fresh and attack your goals head-on.