The start of a new year makes it easier to define your financial resolutions — and stick to them. But why is financial wellness important? Increasing your financial literacy can help you save money, tackle debt and meet your budgeting goals to improve your financial health.
Track your spending for a three-month period
Keeping tabs on your expenses over an extended period makes it easier to decide what’s working and what’s not when it comes to your spending. Use an online app — or just a notebook — to figure out how much you spend and on what. Be sure to break it down into categories. Getting a detailed look at your spending habits now helps you set more realistic goals down the line.
Create a budget — and set goals
After getting a clear picture of how you spend your money each month, it’s important to set a budget. Keep in mind: Each new financial goal will likely have an impact on your existing ones, which means revisiting old goals and reassessing your overall priorities. For instance, major life changes such as the birth of a child, a new job or saving for a new home require you to adjust your spending goals.
Prepare when buying a home
Be educated on ways to save for a down payment and find out how to obtain financing. When you buy a home, it should cost no more than 2 to 2.5 times your household income, and your mortgage should be no more than 80% of the home’s value. Having a firm grasp on the details of mortgage loans will help you make the best decision. Use a home buying checklist to help you prepare and avoid the risks of mortgage loan denial.
Spend your healthcare dollars
If your insurance plan includes a flexible spending account, you may have some money left as the year comes to a close. If you have more than $500, be aware of the use-it-or-lose-it rule. Make the most of your benefits by completing all preventative exams and taking care of other medical needs before year’s end.
Make automated savings deposits a habit
With all the other distractions in our daily lives, it can be easy to lose track of your intent to save. Try a savings strategy that automatically deposits a portion of your earnings into your investment, retirement and emergency saving accounts so you’re not spending time moving money between accounts. Automating these monthly deposits can be an effective tool for ensuring you make progress toward your financial goals while helping to make saving a habit. Many experts suggest putting at least 10% of your income into savings — and some recommend as much as 25%. Sound too hard? Start with 1% of your paycheck and increase as your salary grows.
If your savings involve investments, an automated strategy lets you invest on a regular schedule, no matter what the markets are doing. This can help you avoid letting your emotions dictate when to buy and will help keep you in the market during a short-term downturn. It can be hard to make smart investment choices when the market is volatile, but it’s important to ride it out. Over time, a schedule of periodic investments allows you to buy more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when prices are high — a concept known as dollar cost averaging.
Manage your debt
Monitoring your debt is a key component in establishing good credit. Carrying some debt is normal, but too much debt can overwhelm your budget and impact your credit score. Manage your debt by paying off credit cards with the highest interest rates first. For additional debt, pay as much as you can on your smallest debts and pay at least the minimum on large ones — even modest accomplishments can be great motivation.
Understand how lending works
Knowing when it makes sense to borrow is important. Whether you’re going back to school, taking out home equity, buying a car or remodeling a room, you might need to take out a loan or get a credit card. Learn how your credit score and credit report have an impact on the availability and cost of a loan and determine how to fit loan payments into your budget.
Set aside cash for emergencies
Tackling unexpected financial setbacks — be it a job loss or illness — without a sufficient emergency fund can leave you in sudden debt. Financial professionals recommend having an emergency savings fund with at least three months’ worth of expenses — six to nine is even better. Work within your budget to create an emergency savings plan that makes it easier to bounce back.
Contribute to a 401k to lower your tax bill
Adding additional pre-tax money to your retirement savings may help lower your annual taxable income. The maximum amount individuals under 50 can contribute in 2021 is $19,500 ($26,000 if you are 50 or older). Since you can’t add money to the account yourself, talk to your employer’s payroll department to increase your deferral amount.
Seek outside advice
Figuring out your finances takes time. Many people choose to get advice and consult a financial professional to help them meet their goals. Consider working with a pro or doing more research to learn how investment accounts, retirement accounts and compound interest can work for you.