It's common to resolve to do better in life at the start of a new calendar year. And while pledging to eat healthier, exercise more, and spend less time on social media are all positive changes you might implement in the coming year, your finances probably need your attention, too. Here are a few money-related resolutions that'll help you begin 2020 on a positive note.
1. Commit to budgeting
Without a budget, you'll have no real way to track your spending, which could hurt your savings efforts. If you're without a budget, carve out an hour or so to look through your bank and credit card statements from the past year and compare your total monthly spending against your total earnings. You'll have an easier time knowing where to cut back to meet your remaining financial goals.
2. Stop giving in to impulse buys
It's pretty much impossible to walk into a store without seeing a great deal advertised. The same holds true when you access a website to shop. But if you don't learn to exercise a little willpower, you may really struggle to save as the new year goes on.
A better bet: Avoid impulse buys by making shopping lists before hitting physical stores, leave your credit cards at home, and bring only enough cash to cover the items you're planning to buy.
Of course, this won't work for online shopping. But you can prevent extra spending by instituting the 24-hour rule. If you force yourself to wait a full 24 hours before completing an impulse purchase, you'll often come to your senses during that time and realize you either can't afford the item or don't need it. The result is the same: You don't waste money.
3. Build your emergency fund
We all need money on hand for a rainy day, whether it's a home repair, automobile issue, or job loss. And ideally, you should have an emergency fund to cover three to six months of essential living expenses. Yet 39% of Americans don't have enough money in cash to cover an unplanned $400 bill, the Federal Reserve Board says.
If your emergency fund is nowhere close to complete, topping it off should be your greatest priority in the new year. You'll need to be prepared to cut back on spending, but if you follow a budget, identifying expenses to reduce will be easier on you.
4. Save for retirement
Even if retirement is decades away, you still need independent savings to enjoy your golden years. If you've been neglecting your IRA or 401(k) thus far, make 2020 the year you do better.
If you have access to a 401(k) through your employer, contributing is easy: Just decide how much you want withheld from each paycheck, and your payroll team does the rest. You can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) in 2020 if you're under 50, or up to $26,000 if you're 50 or older.
Annual IRA contribution limits are a lot lower: $6,000 for those under 50, and $7,000 for those 50 and over. If funding a 401(k) isn't an option, an IRA is your next best bet, and you can try finding one with an automatic transfer feature so that you don't need to worry about writing a check to your own savings every month.
The more money you save in a traditional 401(k) or IRA, the more of your income you shield from taxes. And that could help your savings efforts across the board.
5. Shake your credit card debt
If you're carrying a mortgage or student loans, it could take years to eliminate that debt completely, and that's OK. As long as you're keeping up with your payments, both of these are healthy kinds of debt. Credit card debt, on the other hand, falls very much into the unhealthy category, so if you're grappling with your share, make 2020 the year it goes away for good.
You can pay down your debt by cutting back on spending, or by getting a second job on top of your main one and using the proceeds from it to chip away at your credit card balances. At the same time, aim to make that debt more affordable. If you're paying a lot of interest, look into refinancing to a lower rate, whether via a loan or a balance transfer to a new credit card.
Upholding resolutions isn't easy, but if you commit to the ones above, you'll be thankful for it later on -- especially when you close out 2020 in a much stronger financial place than where you started out.