There's no more popular time than the end of a calendar year, or the start of a new one, to contemplate personal finances and resolve to do better. And there's good news from investment giant Fidelity in this regard: An estimated 78% of Americans expect to be better off financially in 2020 than they are right now. And when you see what steps they're planning to take to improve their finances, you'll understand why.

1. Building emergency savings

A good 85% of Americans across all generations plan to establish an emergency fund in the coming year. If you don't have one yourself, that's an important goal to add to your list, because without cash reserves, you risk racking up serious debt the moment an unplanned bill lands in your lap.

2020 calendar sitting next to notebook and mug


Your emergency fund should contain enough money to cover at least three months of essential living expenses. For better protection, however, you may want to opt for more like six months' worth of bills.

Where will the money for your emergency fund come from? You can eke out some savings by setting up a budget, seeing what you currently spend needlessly on, and then reducing those expenses. If you're really behind savings-wise, you may need to rethink your essentials, too -- for example, move to a smaller home to save money on rent so you have freed-up cash to put in the bank.

You can also try getting a side gig on top of your main job to boost your cash reserves. Having a second income stream could also buy you some protection in the event your hours are cut at work, or you lose your job.

2. Increasing retirement plan contributions

It's encouraging to see that 50% of Americans intend to ramp up their IRA or 401(k) contributions in the new year. The more money you allocate to retirement savings, the more long-term financial security you'll buy yourself. And if you save in a traditional IRA or 401(k), contributing more throughout 2020 will also serve the important purpose of lowering that year's tax bill.

The annual contribution limit for IRAs in 2020 is $6,000 for workers under 50 and $7,000 for those 50 and over. The limits for 401(k)s, meanwhile, are much higher -- $19,500 for workers under 50 and $26,000 for those 50 and older. Keep in mind that 2020's 401(k) limits represent an increase from 2019's, so if you're maxing out at present, you'll need to contribute a bit more to max out in the coming year.

3. Ramping up on charitable giving

The more money you donate to charity, the more you stand to lower your taxes, which could explain why 52% of Americans expect to give more to charity in 2020. But tax benefits aside, being charitable is just plain generous, and seeing as how the majority of tax filers don't itemize on their tax returns anyway, it's clear that many are making donations out of the goodness of their hearts more so than in an attempt to snag a tax break.

The moves you make during 2020 will dictate whether your finances take a turn for the better, or for the worse. It pays to focus on boosting your emergency and retirement savings, and if you're able to be more charitable in the process, that's a great thing to strive for. Ultimately, though, improving your finances could boil down to making smart choices and being mindful of your spending, so take some time to think about your money-related goals and what's required on your part to achieve them.