Just as many of us resolve to lose weight and get in shape each time a new year rolls around, so, too, are financial resolutions common among well-intentioned Americans. In fact, 84% of U.S. adults have financial goals for the current year, but whether they achieve them is yet to be determined.
In fact, if there's one thing we do know about financial resolutions, it's that Americans aren't all that good at following through. That's the latest from a new NerdWallet study, which found that of those who made money-related resolutions going into 2017, 74% broke them in under six months' time. Worse yet, 21% botched their resolutions within two weeks. If you're hoping to do better this year, here are a few tips for sticking to those resolutions rather than letting them fall by the wayside.
What Americans want to achieve this year
Which financial matters are Americans specifically aiming to focus on this year? According to the aforementioned study, the top five goals read as follows:
- Saving money.
- Paying down debt.
- Sticking to a budget.
- Improving a credit score.
- Increasing retirement savings.
Now here's the good news: All of these goals are actually fairly easy to achieve. You just need the right plan of attack.
1. Saving money
Saving money is Americans' top financial goal this year, as was the case in 2017. And for good reason. As of last year, 57% of U.S. adults had less than $1,000 in savings, while 39% had no savings at all. But that's nowhere close to what the typical American needs, as far as emergency funds are concerned.
If your goal is to save more money this year, you'll need to either cut expenses or start earning extra. Or both. If you'd rather not make lifestyle changes, look at getting a side gig on top of your regular job, and stick any associated earnings into savings. On the other hand, if your free time is worth more to you than your morning latte, cut out some luxuries and pocket the difference. Saving money generally boils down to making choices. Stick with responsible ones, and you'll be in good shape to pad your bank account nicely.
2. Paying down debt
Credit card debt reached an all-time high last year, with the typical household owing roughly $16,000. Ouch. If you're looking to eliminate a chunk of debt this year, you'll need to apply one of the aforementioned tactics -- either slash expenses, or find ways to earn more money. On top of that, you'll want to be strategic in how you address your debt. If you're carrying balances on a variety of credit cards, see which ones have the highest interest rates, and pay those off first. Another option? Look into a balance transfer, where you consolidate your various debts onto a single card with, ideally, a lower interest rate.
3. Sticking to a budget
Budgeting is one of the simplest money management tools out there -- yet most Americans don't follow a budget. Without a budget, you'll have no accurate means of tracking your spending and identifying savings opportunities. And if you have a budget but tend to ignore it, you're not doing yourself any favors.
In fact, you should not only follow your budget but also update it periodically to account for financial changes that may have transpired. For example, say your salary increased this year, but so did your rent and cable bill. You'll need to incorporate those changes to ensure that your budget is still accurate. The upside? You'll have an easier time not just managing your expenses, but also saving more money and paying down debt in the process.
4. Improving your credit score
Though your credit score might seem like just an arbitrary number, it can end up dictating whether you get approved for a mortgage, auto loan, or even a job. The best way to go about boosting your credit score is to learn how that number is calculated in the first place. From there, it's a basic matter of addressing the factors that most greatly influence your score.
Your payment history, for example, carries the most weight, so work on paying all of your bills on time and in full to improve it. The next most important factor in determining a credit score is your credit utilization ratio, which represents the amount of available credit you're using at once. Pay down existing debt, and you'll see that ratio shrink, which will, in turn, help your score.
5. Increasing your retirement savings
Boosting your retirement savings is a crucial goal, because the sooner you start building that nest egg, the more opportunity your money will have to grow. If you have access to a 401(k) plan through your employer, participating is probably the easiest way to start. Currently, you can contribute up to $18,500 annually if you're under 50, or $24,500 if you're 50 or older.
Don't have a 401(k)? No problem. You can still sock away up to $5,500 a year in an IRA if you're under 50, or $6,500 if you're 50 or above. Where will the money come from? As is the case with building near-term savings and paying down debt, you'll need to either reduce your spending or work another job to free up cash to contribute. But when you're sitting on a sizable retirement nest egg, the sacrifice will have well been worth it.
If you're among the countless Americans resolving to do better financially this year, you should know that you do have the ability to meet your goals and avoid falling victim to failure like so many folks did last year. The key, however, is to get your priorities straight and stay focused on the end results you're trying to achieve.