Fidelity recently performed its Tenth Annual New Year Financial Resolution Study and found that once again, the top three financial resolutions among Americans are:
1) Save More
2) Pay Down Debt
3) Spend Less
These are three very broad goals, with many ways to achieve them – here are a few specific ideas how:
Automate Your Savings
A great way to make sure you increase the amount you save this next year is by automating the process as much as possible. Set up automatic monthly transfers to a savings account, brokerage account, or retirement (401k or 403b) plan through your employer. I find it is easier to save money before you ever have the opportunity to spend it, rather than hoping for money to be left over at the end of the month.
Increase Automatic Savings
If you have already have some form of automatic saving (or are very diligent about saving on your own) that’s great! You can simply increase the amount you automatically save. Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it all at once – you can always increase your saving in small increments over the course of the year to give yourself more time to adjust.
Make Sure You Are Getting Your Full 401k Match
One of the best ways to increase your savings is to make your employer do more of it for you! Many employers match their employees’ contributions to their retirement accounts up to a certain percentage of their income. Savers should make sure they are taking full advantage of that benefit, otherwise you are leaving free money on the table.
Contribute to a Roth or Traditional IRA
Defer taxes now using a Traditional IRA, or save on taxes later using a Roth IRA. Lower taxes = greater savings.
If You Can’t Save Extra Dollars
If your lifestyle simply will not afford you any extra dollars to save, evaluate if you can cut expenses in your investment portfolio by switching to low-cost index funds instead of actively managed funds. Saving on expenses = greater savings over time.
Debt can be stressful – so stressful, that many people sweep it under the rug, simply making minimum payments and vowing to figure it out “someday.”
I think it is helpful for people to actually take a realistic look at their debt, and do the math to see how fast they will pay off their various sources of debt at their current rate (if they’re paying it off at all). This can provide a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a baseline to try to improve upon.
It also provides a basis for making debt planning decisions in terms that people can understand – for example, they can see how much earlier they can pay off their debt pay paying down a little extra each month.
Track Your Spending
I think a great starting point when it comes to achieving the goal of spending less is actually getting a realistic grasp on how much you spend in the first place.
There are a ton of helpful apps and websites like mint.com that help you track and categorize your spending. If you are lucky there will be some places where it will be obvious you have been “treating yourself” a bit too often, and can make cuts with a pretty minimal impact on your lifestyle.
For me it was eating out - there are so many good restaurants in Plano, Texas, and it is easy to get carried away!
Make a Budget and Stick to It
Spending less requires discipline – and making a budget with concrete spending limits for different categories can make it easier to be disciplined and balance your spending throughout the month.
Make Tactical Switches
There are often ways to lower your spending while still receiving practically the same thing. I think the way TV and movie services have changed is a great example of this. Tons of people are switching from traditional cable to lower cost alternatives like Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, or other apps and standalone services. These services provide all the entertainment you could want, for a fraction of the cost of a traditional cable TV service. You can also do things like switch to generic brands that are practically the exact same product in a different box.
There are a lot of things that people spend their money on that they can get for free. In my case, I have found myself enjoying a lot of free entertainment and exercise lately.
I think health is a great investment and worth just about anything you can spend on it, but there are plenty of ways to exercise for free. I have a gym in my apartment so I don’t pay for one, and I like walking or running on the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve and other parks/trails. YouTube has a ton of great exercise videos – I love yoga videos from Yoga With Adriene’s YouTube channel.
Speaking of YouTube – there is a ton of great entertainment and educational material on there as well. At least there is for nerds like me who enjoy documentaries, lectures, audiobooks, and the occasional podcast from Joe Rogan.
Stick With Your Investments
The last few months have shown us that it is not always easy to stick to your investments when the market seems to be going crazy. But these are in fact the most important times to stick with your investments to avoid turning a temporary decline into a permanent loss by selling them.
Focus On the Long-Term
Amidst short-term market turmoil it is easy to lose sight of the long-term growth stocks have provided historically, and will continue to provide in the future.
Recognize Your Emotions, But Don’t Act On Them
You wouldn’t be human if market drops like this didn’t cause you to worry, or become some degree of fearful. It is easy to stay calmly invested when the market is going up, but when it goes down it is easy to fall into a habit of checking account balances more often and get a in a vicious cycle of worry.
These emotions are tough to deal with and the cycle of worry is hard to break on your own. If this is the case for you, talk to someone who can calm your fears and keep you from acting on your emotions in a way that could be detrimental to your financial future. We are here for you!
Paul R. Ruedi, CFP® is a financial advisor at Ruedi Wealth Management in Plano, Texas.
Paul has been quoted in news publications including USA Today, Time Magazine, The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Forbes, Inc.com, Business Insider, US News and World Report, GoBankingRates, The Street, NerdWallet, and The Penny Hoarder. He also writes articles that have been featured in CNBC, Investopedia, Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq, and MSN Money. He was named one of Investopedia's Top 100 Most Influential Financial Advisors in 2018.