Your finances should ideally improve from year to year, especially as your career evolves and your earnings steadily climb. But most Americans don't expect their finances to improve in 2019, according to a new survey by Bankrate. In fact, 44% of U.S. adults think their financial circumstances will stay the same this year, while 12% expect them to worsen.
When asked why they feel that way, 49% of Americans were inclined to point a finger at political leaders in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, 38% cited a higher cost of living, while 37% blamed the fact that their personal debt loads increased.
If you're not optimistic about your finances this year, there are steps you can take to improve your outlook. Here are three important ones to focus on.
1. Start following a budget
Most Americans don't follow a budget, but without one, you'll have no way of knowing where your money is going month after month. By creating a budget, on the other hand, you'll have a means of tracking your spending so that you can cut back on expenses in a meaningful way, thereby improving your financial picture.
If you're new to budgeting, you should know that it's not particularly time-consuming. All you really need to do is comb through your bank and credit card statements to get a sense of how much you spend on different expenses on a regular basis, and then compare that total to what your paychecks deliver. If there's little to no room left over for consistent savings, you'll know you'll need to start reducing your spending in the categories that offer the most wiggle room (think cable, rideshares, restaurant meals, entertainment, and anything else you can technically live without).
2. Get yourself a side hustle
If you didn't get a salary boost in the new year, it's understandable that you might not expect your financial picture to improve. The good news, however, is that you have the ability to boost your own earnings via a side hustle. Putting in even a few hours a week on a second gig could leave you with a nice sum of money at the end of each month -- money you can use to knock out your debt or build some cash reserves. Best of all, that side hustle doesn't have to be something that feels like work; you can take a hobby you enjoy and turn it into a moneymaking opportunity.
3. Build an emergency fund
A frightening 40% of Americans don't have the money on hand to cover a $400 emergency. If that's the situation you're in, you might find yourself feeling pretty unsettled about your financial prospects this year.
The solution? Build an emergency fund -- ideally, one with enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. By cutting expenses in your budget and working a second job on top of your main one, you can slowly but surely build up some cash reserves so that you're not forced to lose sleep over the prospect of facing an unexpected bill. Without emergency savings, you risk forcing yourself into debt when the unanticipated happens, and that's a good way to end the year worse off than you are at present.
The fact that more than half of Americans don't expect their finances to improve this year is disturbing. If you're in that camp, you do have the power to change your circumstances between now and December. Start budgeting, boost your earnings with a side gig, and establish an emergency fund. Once you do, you're likely to find that your attitude and outlook change for the better.