For many, making New Year’s resolutions is an annual ritual — along with breaking them a short-time later. But if you resolved this year to get your finances in shape, here are six resolutions to do that — and ways to help you keep them.
1. Cut spending. The best way to control outgo is to budget. A good budget allows breathing room and is easy to set up. A simple and popular budget guideline is the 50-20-30 rule: up to 50 percent of your take-home pay goes to essentials, 20 percent to whittling debt and adding to savings, and 30 percent to discretionary items, such as dining out, shopping, charitable giving and streaming or cable TV. Also, the budgeting app Mint tracks your financial accounts, lets you set spending limits and sends alerts if you go over them.
2. Pay off debt. Sometimes reducing balances by size, from smallest to largest, is more effective than paying off high-interest debt first because you’ll check off individual debts more quickly. That provides the momentum to see your plan to the end.
3. Save more for retirement. This one’s easier after you’ve tackled spending and debt. If your employer matches your contributions, it’s easier still. Increasing your contribution by one percentage point a year can help you get to the retirement savings goal that many experts recommend: 15 percent of income, including any employer match.
4. Build an emergency fund. Don’t worry about how many months of expenses it covers — at least, not at first. Start by setting up automatic payments from your paycheck to a savings account.
5. Reap more rewards. Earn back hundreds of dollars a year for your purchases. The no-fee Citi Double Cash Mastercard pays a total of 2 percent on everything you buy.
6. Lose that stubborn 10 pounds. Getting fitter saves health care costs down the road. And there are plenty of free and low-cost ways to shed pounds. Look for free fitness events and classes in your community. The November Project (www.november-project.com) holds free public workout events for people of all fitness levels in about two dozen cities across the country. Runners (and aspiring runners) can log some mileage during Parkrun’s free, timed and noncompetitive Saturday morning runs (see www.parkrun.us for locations). You’ll also find free workout classes at some retailers. Lululemon stores, for example, have free yoga classes.
If gym workouts are more your speed, take advantage of free trials to find a gym you like.
Rivan V. Stinson is a reporter at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org . And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.