Resolved: This year I am going to get my financial house in order, even if it’s only a little bit.
Of course, making a resolution is easy—especially in January—but keeping a resolution the whole year long is a bit tougher.
However, there’s no reason it has to be. Instead of some abstract determination to “do better” let’s review some solid, effective steps that will help you improve your financial situation throughout the year, and maybe even the rest of your life.
VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t think you have to apply all of the tips. Start with the one that feels the most doable, and once it’s done, or the habit firmly established, move on to the next-most-doable one and so on.
PAY THE SAME DAY
Pay off your credit card purchases as soon as you make them. If you’re going for airline points or cash-back offers, you’ll still get all of the benefits, without a surprise month-end bill in the thousands of dollars.
Paying as you go helps you keep track of how much you’re spending and how much you have left, and helps you avoid late fees when you’ve spent more than you realized.
SNOWBALL VS. WRECKING BALL
Pick one debt and focus on paying it off ASAP. You can opt for the “snowball” approach of paying off your smallest debt and then adding, or snowballing, that payment onto your next largest debt, or the “wrecking ball” approach where you focus on paying off the debt with the highest interest.
Paying off one debt in its entirety not only looks good on your credit report, it feels great. And when that one’s paid off move onto the next, and then the next, and so on.
PAY ONE EXTRA MORTGAGE PAYMENT
It may not seem like much, but that 13th payment—either as a lump sum or over the course of the year—can cut over four years off your of your mortgage, save on interest payments, and help lower your debt-to-income ratio.
START SAVING (EVEN IF IT’S JUST A LITTLE BIT)
40% of Americans don’t have even $400 set aside to cover emergencies. That’s just eight dollars a week over the course of a year. So choose to start this week.
Once you realize you can weather a hit that might have had you reaching for the credit card yet again your anxiety will start to ease, and you’ll be able to focus on making even smarter financial decisions.
RAISE YOUR CREDIT SCORE
Even an increase of 10 points can put the best home mortgages and credit offers within your reach.
Get a copy of your free credit report and fix any errors you find. If your report is clean, make sure all of your future payments are on time. Try to over-pay any standing debt—even if it’s only a few dollars—to help bring your income-to-debt ratio down a bit faster.
And don’t think that not using your credit card is the best option. Using it once a month for a small purchase and paying it off right away is better for your credit history than not using it at all.
If you can’t get a normal credit card, you can still get a secured credit card, and use it—carefully—to begin establishing or repairing your credit score.
EXERCISE AND DIET
Multiple studies list the multiple benefits of getting in shape, but here’s the one that matters for our purposes: There is actually a link between your physical health and your credit score. Not surprisingly, healthy people tend to make healthier financial decisions.
Start small and stick with it to establish the habit, and then slowly add more exercise time or improvement to your diet. If nothing else, you can save hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on health care by getting in better shape.
COMMIT TO A MONTH OF “NO”
As in “no spending” beyond the basics. No dining out or fancy coffees. No movie night out. No new clothes, no matter how much they’re on sale.
This will help you focus on where your money goes and whether it’s really giving you your best bang for the buck.
If a month is too long, start with a week. Keep track of how much you would have spent, and put, say, 10% of that into a savings or retirement account.
START A RETIREMENT FUND
Again, it doesn’t have to be hundreds of dollars. Start with just five dollars a week using an automatic investing app like Acorns. What matters is that you establish the habit now to reap the benefits for the rest of the year and all the years after.
START TODAY, BENEFIT EVERY DAY AFTER
Your financial health isn’t dependent on one or two giant leaps, and it doesn’t require some hallmark event or particular calendar date. It’s an accumulation of lots of small, smart, steps that you can make any time.
So why not start now?
Learn more great tips for upping your financial health! Answer a few questions here, and a home lending expert will contact you.