The start of a new year is a great time to resolve to do better financially. But we all know how that tends to go -- a few months pass, and suddenly, you're back to your old ways. Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to end the current year richer than you were when it started.
1. Follow a budget
Though sticking to a budget is one of the easiest ways to track your spending and identify savings opportunities to boost your wealth, most Americans don't follow one. Thankfully, creating a budget is easy, and it doesn't need to take more than about an hour of your time. Simply add up your existing monthly expenses, factor in those once-a-year bills that tend to sneak up on you, and compare what you spend to what you earn. If the results don't allow for much savings, you'll be able to see where you can cut corners to change that.
2. Make a compelling argument for a raise
Getting your boss to agree to a pay increase is a good way to end the year on a wealthier note. But raises don't tend to come easy, so you may have to fight for yours a little. And the one thing you really need to build a strong case is data that works in your favor. So go online and research salaries in your area. Job site Glassdoor has a particularly useful "Know Your Worth" tool that allows you to compare earnings by job title and geographic region to see how yours stack up. If you can prove to your manager that your company could be doing better, you're that much more likely to see a boost in your income.
3. Get a side hustle
Though you can't bully your boss into increasing your pay, you can boost your earnings by working a secondary gig, even if on a very part-time basis. These days, side hustles are becoming so common that a good 44 million Americans are said to be holding one down. If you're able to take on the occasional freelance project, or a few weekend shifts at a local retailer or restaurant, you stand to not only pocket some additional cash, but be well-positioned to stick it directly into savings since it's money you weren't counting on to begin with.
4. Turn a hobby into a moneymaking opportunity
If you have a hobby that tends to occupy much of your spare time, why not turn it into an income source? This way, you get the best of both worlds -- a chance to do the things you enjoy and get paid for them. If you love animals, you can try offering your services as a pet sitter or dog walker. If your passion is photography, try selling prints of your photos or offering up your services at weddings or other affairs. The possibilities are virtually limitless if you're willing to put in the effort and be a little creative.
5. Stop paying credit card interest
U.S. credit card debt reached an all-time high late last year, with the average indebted household on the hook for roughly $16,000 in outstanding charges. Ouch. Even if your debt load isn't nearly that bad, you should know that for every day you carry a balance, you lose money to interest. The best way to pocket that money instead of handing it over to your credit card company? Pay down your dent quickly. If your balance is moderate, you can accomplish this in a number of ways, from selling belongings and using the proceeds to knock out your debt, or utilizing one of the money-making opportunities mentioned above. Another option? Look into a balance transfer, which will not only allow you to consolidate your debt, but ideally lower your overall interest rate in the process.
6. Buy dividend stocks
It's generally a good idea to be long-term oriented when it comes to the stock market, since investing for just the near term often results in added risk and extra losses. But just because you're planning to stay invested in the stock market for 20 to 30 years or more doesn't mean you can't enjoy some nice paydays along the way. If you put some money into dividend stocks, you'll get quarterly payments that will boost your wealth instantly. Check out these recommended options to get started.
7. Know your tax breaks
One of the most effective ways to close out the year on a wealthier note is to be smart about how you file your taxes. This means capitalizing on existing deductions and credits, and familiarizing yourself with how the recent changes to the tax code might impact you. For example, if you've itemized in the past, you may want to rethink that this year since the standard deduction has almost doubled. You should also know that regardless of whether you itemize, you can shield a sizable chunk of money from the IRS by maxing out an IRA or 401(k).
If you're looking to close out the year in a better financial position than you're in right now, then there's no time like the present to start making changes that lend to that goal. Altering your financial picture often means making the right choices and, yes, a few sacrifices. But the peace of mind you'll get in return will make that effort more than worthwhile.