This time of year is synonymous with new year’s resolutions, often tied to healthier habits, whether it’s physical health, mental health, or financial health. From a financial standpoint, it’s usually a moment to re-evaluate our spending and savings, adjust our budget, and set new goals based on our priorities. I understand the psychological benefit of the calendar year moving forward; however, it is not as valuable as it seems when it comes to managing our money. Laura and I do not use the start of a new year to re-evaluate our financial situation; that is something we plan, discuss, and action on throughout the year as we evolve our careers, family, etc. Frequently checking in on your financial situation and making adjustments should be a fluid process.
First, determine if you need to save more or spend less in any area. Saving and spending are inversely proportional to each other. The average person is much more likely to spend too much and save too little; this is because spending feels good immediately, and saving doesn’t naturally provide the same level of satisfaction. It’s kind of like chocolate; it is meant to be eaten, isn’t it?!
Clarify and Identify
There are two components that will help guide you when performing a check-in.
- Clarify: What are your goals and corresponding timeframe?
- Identify: How do you make progress towards your goals?
Goals change because our lives change. We need moments throughout the year to reevaluate and reprioritize. If a sudden expense comes up, you need to shift money towards the new debt acquired. If you anticipate a reduction in income, then you need to build up additional cash savings. If you owe the mafia your next paycheck, then you need to eat leftovers so you don’t get whacked! Here are some additional examples of clarifying your goals and identifying ways to achieve them.
Clarify: Payoff your student loans in two years.
Identify: Pick up extra shifts once you have used a debt-payoff calculator to figure out how much extra you need to pay every month.
Clarify: Increase retirement contributions (401k/403b) by 4% next year
Identify: Prioritize merit increases or bonuses towards increasing your savings rate.
Clarify: Save for a house down payment by the end of the year.
Identify: Pause discretionary spending, from going out to eat to packing lunches and turning date nights into game nights.
When we make progress towards our financial goals, we do so by choosing to put a specific amount of money towards each of them. It would be very simple if we only had to work towards one goal at a time, but we know life doesn’t work like that. When it comes down to it, our financial progress is directly related to how many dollars we use to add assets and reduce debts. Our ability to make more progress is immediately impacted by how much we spend, and it is easiest to identify where you can spend less money for the purpose of saving more.
Reduce Unnecessary Costs
Here are some tips on how you can reduce unnecessary costs:
Cable vs. Streaming. Take a look at what you pay for vs. what you actually watch. We canceled our cable and immediately saved $100 per month while maintaining access to our favorite shows.
Automated Subscriptions. We’ve all done it. Whether you signed up for a free 7-day trial that you forgot to cancel or have been paying for a membership that is no longer relevant, check those bank statements for things you are not using, such as a wholesale club membership, digital newspaper access, gym classes, etc. There could be hundreds of unused dollars right at your fingertips.
Shopping. As tempting as it is obvious. If there is something, you think you want, restrain from that impulse buy. Consider this: try not looking at the item for two weeks and see if you still feel the same way you did when you first saw it, this is something we practice frequently, and it works. IF you end up buying that item, it should be done after you have met your savings and debt contributions for the month.
These are small ways to save that can make an impact over time and help you work towards bigger goals. Regardless of the time of year, we should re-evaluate our goals, especially if there has been a significant life change, financially or otherwise. Goal setting requires conscious and consistent effort, which is driven by spending less, saving more, or earning more.
Wishing you a happy and healthy new year!