I think it’s safe to say that we’re ALL ready to leave 2020 behind.
One thing I’m walking into 2021 with is a set of new, improved financial habits. There’s nothing like a new year with a new slate to make you feel motivated to put your best (financial) foot forward. Here are some money tips that’ll help:
Get as specific as possible when it comes to creating your money goals.
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Why it’s important: Setting any goal gives you a concrete way to know what you’re aiming for — and a way to know whether you’ve achieved what you wanted (as opposed to just throwing darts in the air and seeing where they land). But a specific goal is next-level proactive. It helps you paint a clearer picture of practical steps you can take, and overall it makes it feel more realistic and more attainable.
Hear me out! Which of these goals do you think you’re more likely to achieve: “save a lot of money in 2021,” or “save $200 per month in 2021?” Probably the second one, right? Saving $200 per month is more specific — you’ll know you’ve met your goal if you end up with a total of $2,400 saved at the end of the year. With the first goal, however, “a lot of money” can mean
anything — saving $5,000 could mean you met your goal, but saving $2,000 could also mean you met your goal.
Here’s how you can do it: Grab your ~favorite~ notebook and a pretty pen (okay, any pen will do), and jot down a list of really specific money goals. Your list doesn’t have to be worthy of being in a bullet journal — it just needs to work for you! It helps to consider any big life events you need to save for (a wedding, college, buying a house, etc.), and be realistic about what you can actually achieve. Throughout the year, check in on your goals every few months to see where you stand and if there’s anything you need to tweak.
Create a simple budget to avoid overspending.
Why it’s important: A budget is like your financial outline for the month. It tells you how much money you have to spend on necessary expenses (rent, utilities, food, medicine, hygiene products, etc.), how much money you can allocate to things you want, and how much wiggle room you have to save money.
It also helps you identify areas where you can cut back or spend more. And, your budget helps you predict how much you’ll need to spend on an upcoming expense. If you spent about $100 on your mom’s birthday gift last month, you can estimate you might also spend about the same on your dad’s gift the following month, and you can now plan accordingly.
Here’s how you can do it: Your budget doesn’t have to be perfect — it just has to work for you! A simple spreadsheet can go a long way. If you want to take things up a notch, you can also use the YNAB (You Need A Budget) app for a clean, detailed, customizable monthly template.
Check your accounts regularly to make sure there aren’t any unfamiliar charges eating up your money.
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Why it’s important: We’ve all been there. You get your next credit card bill or check your bank account and see a balance that’s totally not what you expected — where the heck did $100 go?!?!?!?! Unfamiliar charges could be a sign that someone has your card or account info and is using your money fraudulently. They could also be a sign that you still have a no-longer-needed subscription or service that you totally forgot about. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you stop both scenarios in their tracks!
Here’s how you can do it: If your bank has a mobile app, download it so you can check your account balance anywhere at any time. Some banks also give you the option to receive text messages or calls as soon as a questionable charge is made to your credit card. If you have this option, opt in so you can be notified of potentially fraudulent purchases and freeze your card sooner rather than later.
Set designated “no-spend” days so you can curb your spending in small ways.
Why it’s important: When life hurls a ton of costs and expenses your way — you know, the really essential stuff like those must-have shoes, a cool new gaming system, or an iced coffee from the café around the corner — taking a no-spend day is like a much-needed break for your debit card. Plus, no-spend days can actually help stop you making impulse purchases you might regret later. If you see something you want to buy, you’ll have to wait until the next day to buy it — this time to sleep on it will help you decide if you’re actually still passionate about the item.
Here’s how you can do it: Start small and designate two no-spend days a month. If this works for you and you want to up your no-spending game, increase the frequency to one day per week.
Automate your bills so you never miss a monthly due date (and get charged those money-munching late fees).
Why it’s important: When you miss a payment, you accumulate late fees that you’ll obvs have to pay as well. And, late or missed payments can also lower your credit score. In other words, you’ll want to avoid missing your due dates at all costs — but, of course, life happens, and when things get extra busy or stressful, it’s easy for the weeks and days to escape you.
Automating your bill payments takes the guesswork out of remembering to check your calendar for due dates. The money will leave your account, as scheduled, to pay your bill on time so you don’t even have to think about late charges!
Here’s how you can do it: This can usually be done by logging into the account for your bill and setting up payments for a specified amount on a specified date each month. Easy, peasy! Gone are the days of panicking a little when you realize too late that you forgot to pay your credit card bill.
Pay a little more than just the minimum payment on at least one of your debts.
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Why it’s important: Paying off debt can often feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps backward. You keep making your payments on time, but the balance barely seems to get any lower!!! If you’re only making the minimum payment, chances are your hard-earned cash is mostly going toward the interest payment and not the principal amount. This can make you feel like it’s going to take you a decade to pay down a credit card or student loans. Paying a little extra can cover the interest And that means ridding yourself of debt even faster. and help you chip away at the principal amount.
Here’s how you can do it: This is where your budget can come in handy! You’ll be able to see how much more you can afford to put toward your debt. Even adding an extra $50 to your payment could make a huge difference and shave a few months off the life span of your debt. You’ll pay it off quicker so you can focus on allocating money toward other areas of your life.
Start building an emergency fund — even if you just start by setting aside $100 a month for unexpected expenses.
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Why it’s important: An emergency fund can help cover, well, your unexpected emergencies! It also ensures that those expenses don’t become a major financial hit to your resources (aka, having to open up another credit card, bleeding your savings dry, or taking out another personal loan).
If your pet gets hurt and you need to pay for an operation, your emergency fund money can help you do this. If your car ends up needing an unforeseen repair, you’ve got it covered. And if you lose your source of income but still have to pay rent, this fund can help you stay afloat for few months.
You can also use your emergency fund for big expenses that are on the horizon. Did you know that another use of your emergency fund can be paying tuition for college or grad school? You’d just have to be proactive about replenishing your fund as quickly as possible.
Here’s how you can do it: Open up a separate savings account (preferably one with an interest rate of at least 0.5% so your money can grow just by sitting in the account). Contribute as much as you can (even if it’s only $50 per month!!!). Experts say a fund that can cover at least three to six months of expenses is generally a safe threshold (of course, it depends on your circumstances). It may take a while to get there, but starting is the most important thing.
Learn as much as you can about saving for retirement.
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Why it’s important: Twentysomethings often have a hard time envisioning retirement, which makes it even easier to believe that saving for your golden years is a problem for your 40s. But the earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to grow — and the more money you’ll end up retiring with. People severely underestimate how much money they’ll need to retire. The right amount depends on a number of factors, but experts generally say you’ll need at least one million dollars to replace your income when you’re retired and aren’t expected to work. It’s easier to save a million dollars when you give yourself 40 years to do it, versus giving yourself just 20 years.
Here’s how you can do it: Explore some common retirement accounts, like the Roth IRA or 401(k) (we actually asked financial experts to answer your most-Googled questions about 401(k) plans). And if it helps, schedule an appointment with a financial planner who can explain more about the type of savings plan that will work best for your personal circumstances.
Invest in yourself.
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Why it’s important: All the money in the world won’t matter if you aren’t healthy or well enough to enjoy it. Building good financial habits also means knowing when to invest in the things that will help you live a fuller and happier lifestyle. Plus, when you feel good, you’ll make better decisions about where your money goes.
Here’s how you can do it: Think about the lifestyle investments that can relieve stress and help you take care of yourself. Maybe that means splurging on an indoor bike that’ll help you get some exercise every day (even during winter!) or subscribing to meditation app. Or, perhaps that looks like shelling out extra cash for high-quality ingredients so you can fuel your day with meals that are extra satisfying.
Think about the items you’d like to spend more on — and budget for them.
Why it’s important: Iced coffee may seem unnecessary to you, but it could be the highlight of someone else’s day. Likewise, maybe you buy a candle every time a new scent catches your eye (or nose, in this case), but someone else may not see the value in filling their house with them. Don’t beat yourself up for spending money on things that make you happy — it’s ok to splash out on a new designer perfume if that fragrance puts you in a good mood and makes you feel ready to tackle all your tasks. But like any other expense, these items should be budgeted for so you don’t accidentally go overboard.
Here’s how you can do it: Think about the purchases you’re always most excited about (and actually use). Sometimes, it may not be a physical product, but rather a service (spa day, anyone?) or an experience (paying for a full tank of gas is totally worth the long drive to a beautiful hiking trail). Include the costs in your budget so you can figure out how to move your money around and afford the things you want.
Keep your bank info in a safe place so you won’t have to stress about forgetting your credentials.
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Why it’s important: This won’t help you save thousands of dollars or budget like a pro, but it will make a mundane task feel basically effortless. Rounding up your info for your bank accounts will make it easier for you to make transactions when you need ’em (meaning you won’t have to sit down with a specialist and spend hours trying to prove your identity to login to your accounts).
Here’s how you can do it: All you need is a handy, dandy notebook (and pen, of course). Jot down login info for your online financial accounts (including any budgeting or savings apps you have). Then, experts suggest locking the notebook away in a safe part of your home.
Take a long, hard look at all the services you’re subscribed to and cancel the ones you don’t need anymore.
Why it’s important: We probably all lose a significant amount of money each year just from staying subscribed to “low-cost,” automatically renewed services (like your $10 gym membership you haven’t used in months). Eight bucks a month may not feel like a whole lot — in fact, you probably just see the charge on your account, roll your eyes, and say, “I’ll cancel it next month.” But next month becomes the month after, and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you’ve already spent over $75 a year for something you don’t even use.
Here’s how you can do it: Go through your bank and credit card statements for any recurring charges. Highlight them or write them all down and analyze which ones you actually use enough to justify paying for them. Fair warning: you might have to make some pretty tough decisions, but your wallet will thank you.
Come up with creative ways to save money to make the process feel less daunting.
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Why it’s important: Saving money doesn’t have to be boring or feel like a burden! Sometimes, all you need is a savings system that works for your lifestyle and excites you when you check your balance to see how much cash you’ve racked up. The $5 bill method basically turns your savings into a fun game of I spy — simply tuck away every $5 bill you come across. The 52-week challenge makes you save $1 the first week, then each week you increase your savings by $1. You’ll end up putting away $52 by the last week of the year, giving you a total of $1,378 saved! This challenge lets you start off small and slowly get comfortable saving bigger amounts each week.
Here’s how you can do it: Do a little research on the good, ‘ol internet. Or, just check out our roundup of super-effective money saving challenges!
Sell unwanted items so you can declutter your life AND make some extra cash for savings or new purchases.
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Why it’s important: The new year is usually a popular time to rid your life of the objects that no longer serve you (bye-bye, barely used blender!). So why not get a little cash out of the objects you bought but don’t need? Your cupboards and your bank account will thank you!
Here’s how you can do it: As someone who gets veeery emotionally attached to things even when I haven’t used them in years, I know from experience that it can be hard to part with possessions. But, a good rule of thumb that helps me finally decide what to give up is thinking about whether or not I’ve used the item in the last two years. If the answer is no, it’s a signal that I didn’t really need the item and likely won’t in the near future.
Once you figure out what you want to keep and what you don’t, you can use sites like
Wish and Poshmark to list your items for sale.
Dump the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses.
Why it’s important: “Keeping up with the Joneses” is a popular way of saying “wanting to live the way others live” (which is actually one financial mistake millennials hope Gen Z’ers avoid). You don’t know what financial advantages other people may have that allows them to spend lavishly on rent or only drink the finest of wines. You also don’t know what financial obligations they may be ignoring in order to keep up their lifestyle.
Here’s how you can do it: Resist the urge to mindlessly scroll through Instagram when you’re bored. It’s so easy to get feed fatigue when you’re constantly watching others flaunt fancy purchases and dinners at upscale restaurants. Also, make peace with the fact that if you stay dedicated to your own financial goals, you’ll be able to work towards purchases you’d really like to have.
Work up the courage to have some of the difficult money conversations (that you usually sweep under the rug).
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Why it’s important: Money has long been a topic that many families and friend groups avoid discussing. But the truth is: having a better understanding of someone else’s relationship to money can actually strengthen some of your connections and avoid major issues. Having disagreements about how to handle money with your partner can lead to stress and tension. And, not being honest with a friend about what you can realistically afford for a dinner could lead to you overspending (and in some serious scenarios, ending up hit with overdraft fees).
Here’s how you can do it: Being honest doesn’t have to mean sharing every single detail of your finances, down to the last penny you earn. It also doesn’t have to mean totally missing out on quality time with a loved one because their idea of a good time is just a bit too much for your budget. Offer an alternative option that’s cost-effective for you, but still shows that you’re willing to be present or lend a hand. If your friend wants you to go on a road trip you can’t afford, let them know you don’t have the money for the trip, but you’d love to get together for dinner or a coffee before they leave.
Be open to learning more about managing your money.
Why it’s important: You won’t become a personal finance expert overnight — there will always be something new and exciting to learn! Staying inside of your own little knowledge box can hurt you in the long-run because some of what you know may be hinged on outdated info or advice.
Here’s how you can do it: Listen to podcasts on personal finance — we rounded up 17 of ’em! Follow Instagram and TikTok accounts that center around teaching money management and investing (if you’re into that topic and want to learn more, of course). BTW, Tori Dunlap runs a super informative TikTok aimed at women who want to improve their finances. And, Investing With Rose is an encouraging Instagram and YouTube account for anyone who wants to learn more about how to invest. Otherwise, simply google what you’re curious about!
What are your money resolutions for the new year? Share ’em below, and you could be featured in an upcoming post.
If this sounds like music to your ears (and bank account), check out more of our personal finance posts.
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