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5 Financial Moves to Start the New Year Off Right

By Kailey Hagen - Dec 16, 2018 at 8:15AM

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Make 2019 the year that you finally take control of your finances.

Many people make New Year's resolutions to improve their finances. But without a concrete plan for exactly how to do this, you'll likely end up breaking that promise to yourself before January is over. Here's a look at a few specific goals you can set to make 2019 your richest year yet.

1. Boost your retirement contributions.

Ideally, you should be contributing at least 10% to 15% of your income to your retirement savings each year. It sounds like a lot -- and it is -- but it's a goal worth aiming for. This is the money you'll have to survive on in retirement, supplemented by Social Security of course, and you don't want to come up short. If you can't spare 10% this year, then contribute as much as you can and keep an eye out for ways to cut spending and boost your savings, like going out to eat less or picking up a side gig.

Cork and confetti on calendar

Image source: Getty Images.

If you have yet to begin saving for retirement, and you're not alone, 2019 is the year to open that first account. Begin with a 401(k) if your employer offers one and set up automatic contributions of at least enough to get all of your employer's match, if they offer it. An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a Roth IRA are other options if your employer doesn't offer a 401(k). Self-employed? Consider a SEP IRA.

Retirement contribution limits are increasing in 2019. You'll be allowed to contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA and $19,000 to a 401(k), compared to just $5,500 for IRAs and $18,500 for 401(k)s in 2018. Adults 50 and older are allowed catch-up contributions of $1,000 for IRAs and $6,000 for 401(k)s, bringing their total contribution limits to $7,000 and $25,000, respectively.

2. Review your investments and make necessary changes.

As the new year rolls around, take a look at your investment portfolio to evaluate what's working and what isn't. If some of your investments are consistently losing money with no bottom in sight, it may be a good idea to sell them off and use that money to invest in something else. Or perhaps your risk tolerance has changed and your existing investments don't align with your current goals.

It's best to correct these issues as soon as possible. If you're unsure of how to handle your investments, consult with a financial advisor who can give you advice on your specific situation.

3. Create a budget.

One of the best ways to avoid overspending and maximize savings is to create a budget. Add up your monthly expenses -- housing, utilities, groceries, bills, etc. -- and subtract this amount from your average monthly income. If you're left with a paltry sum, it may be time to make some lifestyle changes.

Look for places where you could cut costs. Small adjustments like cooking at home more often can free up more cash that you can put toward saving for your long-term goals or toward enjoying life in the present. There is no dearth of apps available that help you budget and track your spending. Download several to test out and then decide which one will be your new best friend in the new year. Good habits like budgeting are a great resolution for 2019.

4. Re-evaluate your insurance policies.

Review your insurance coverage at least once a year to see if you can find a better deal with another carrier. Every insurer uses a different algorithm to calculate risk, so make sure to get a few different quotes from different companies. By shopping around, you can ensure that you're not paying more than you need to for the coverage you want.

Even if you don't switch companies, it's important to review your policies to ensure that their coverage is still adequate. If inflation has eroded the value of your policy, you may not be fully protected in the event of a total loss. This means more out-of-pocket costs for you, should you wind up experiencing an unexpected event.

5. Plan for your financial goals.

If you have debt, resolve to set aside a portion of your savings each and every month to go toward debt repayment. The easiest way to do this is to build it into your monthly budget.

For installment debt, like a car loan, you should already have a regular monthly payment you can plan for. Automate it if you haven't already.

For revolving debt, like credit card balances, you may need to set a monthly goal for yourself. Use a credit card debt calculator to figure out how long it would take you to pay off the debt if you make a set monthly payment of your choosing; then make adjustments until you find something that's manageable. Look into transferring your balance to a card with a 0% introductory APR or taking out a personal loan to pay off the credit card debt so you can have a predictable monthly payment instead.

You also should figure out how much you need to save in order to achieve your long-term goals, whether that means saving for a trip, a wedding, a baby, college, or a down payment on a home. Determine how much money you'll need and when you'll need it by. Then, divide that amount by the number of months from your deadline to figure out how much you should be saving each month to reach your goal.

You're much more likely to fulfill your New Year's resolution if you have a concrete plan for how you'll do it. These five steps will give you the tools you need to finally improve your finances and set you up to reach your financial goals.

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