The start of a new year is exciting but can be stressful. This is the time of year people make impossible resolutions that become overwhelming before the end of January.
When it comes to personal finances, you can avoid the resolution trap by keeping it real. Instead of making big impossible promises to yourself, try making a number of small changes you can actually handle.
Wondering what makes me credible in this area? Well here goes: I’m debt free, have a great credit score (above 800), am self-employed, and get no help from my family. Yes, I’m married, but my husband and I merged accounts only recently. I agreed to do this because sending each other money for groceries, house bills, and the mortgage was becoming annoying! But, as God is my witness, I’ve always paid my proper portion. I am a firm believer in being as independent as possible, because, as my mom always said, “uno nunca sabe.”
Here’s what’s worked for me to stay financially healthy…
Prioritize paying off loans.
One thing I’ll say repeatedly is that you must make it your number one priority to pay off every loan you have. If you’re paying just the minimum, you’ll never get out from under that debt. Put as much as you can into each monthly payment. Even $10 extra per month makes a difference over time.
Use a balance transfer card.
There’s a slew of cards that offer transfer balance deals at low or zero APR for the first year. I have taken advantage of these deals especially when there’s a big charge on my card. For example, during a recent move I had to buy lots of furniture and stuff for the new house, so once I was done with that big spending, I transferred the balance onto a zero-interest Citibank card. Now I have a whole year to pay off that amount with no interest rate. But don’t let zero-interest make you lazy. You have to pay it off, because if you don’t within the year, the interest rate will begin to accumulate, and then there’s no point. Citibank continues to offer me these no-APR deals every six months because they want to keep me as a customer, so now I know they are there just in case a financial burden comes up.
If you’re self-employed, put away 20 percent from each paycheck for taxes.
I’ve been freelancing full-time for more than 2 years now, and each check I get includes the full amount, meaning I don’t get charged a tax. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to pay taxes on it. So, in order for me to pay taxes on each paycheck, I take out 20 percent of the amount and put it in another account. When it’s time to pay annual taxes, I have my money ready to go.
Make a habit of putting 10 percent of every paycheck into a separate savings account.
Saving money is difficult, especially if you need every cent of it. If you get into the habit of putting money away the moment you get paid, it will add up and you will be amazed at how quickly that happens. If 10 percent is too much for you, try getting there slowly by putting in at least 5 percent.
Get started on that 401(k).
Do not plan on social security or that million-dollar business idea to keep you looking fly in your golden years. Federal social security is slowly becoming nonexistent, and the likelihood of you inventing the next fidget spinner is looking slimmer and slimmer, which means you must start planning for retirement now, on your own terms. One financial institution that can help you make sense of retirement is Fidelity Investments. Honestly, without Fidelity, I never would have started not only a 401(k) tax-advantaged savings account, but I wouldn’t have a small stock portfolio I can occasionally check on.
Start separate savings account for that special thing.
If you love to travel or buy expensive things that seem unattainable, start separate savings account for that special thing. This account is different from your real savings account because you can use this money for something you truly want. Your primary savings account should be for unexpected expenses like getting laid off, breaking your leg, facing an unexpected car repair, etc. But your secondary savings account is money you can actually use for that special thing. Each week put as much or as little as you can into the account. You’ll actually end up putting more once you see the amount increasing.
Don’t be afraid of having multiple accounts.
Having multiple accounts is nothing new. In fact, it’s a thing of the past to just have one checking and one for savings. Most banks require that you have just $50 in the account at all times, which isn’t hard to manage. I have multiple accounts, and it helps to keep track of where my money is going. One account is for taxes, another for savings, and another for that special thing I really want.
Make sure you pay each card ASAP.
Be careful not to overspend. Charge the card for the amount you can pay off. If you’re spending more than you have, you will always get into trouble. If you’re spending a lot, and don’t have enough to pay it back, be sure to then use the transfer balance in order to not get killed by APR on those charges. It’s always safe to never have more than one transfer balance in a year.
A helpful app that is useful for sorting out where your money is going is Mint. It tracks your monthly bills, gives you your latest credit score and assists with budgeting. We use so many apps all the time, so why not use one that is actually making your life better and less stressful?
Learn how to party when you don’t have money to go out.
There’s a misconception that if you’re living on a budget, you can’t have fun. That’s so untrue! On a recent night out, I asked the bartender how much a shot of tequila cost (about $8). But why buy a shot when you can get a whole bottle for $35? I’m not saying to get drunk in your kitchen, but it can be fun to host gatherings at home — and less expensive. Not only that but if people come over BYOB, it’s likely that you will keep all of the leftovers. So really, it’s a win-win.
Don’t show off on social media.
If your life is trying to keep up with the Kardashians, it may be affecting your wallet. Do you really need every Kylie Lip Kit? Must you truly have that beach front AirBnB just so you can blow up your Instagram? I’m not saying it’s not amazing to treat yourself to cool stuff or travel to the Bahamas during winter break. But, if your spending habits are putting you in debt just so your social media can be on point, is it really worth it? If you can do that splashy stuff and still have money to pay utilities, rent, and groceries, then by all means — enjoy.
Save serious (and I mean serious) money by finding your look at a thrift store. Urban Outfitters, H&M, American Eagle, Forever 21 brands, they’re all at thrift—and often just months or a year after they were at retail. If you can’t abide sifting through other people’s giveaway items, check out upscale resale shops and consignment stores. My husband and I have found family-heirloom-quality furniture at antique stores and estate sales. The last day of an estate sale, when they’re trying to clear everything out, can be a real score. I know this isn’t for everyone, so take it or leave it. But if you’re really trying to keep that budget in check while living well, this is not a bad strategy.
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