Top Financial Resolutions for 2019

With the drop of the crystal ball in Times Square, many of us had already begun contemplating our 2019 resolutions. According to the University of Scranton, approximately 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every January. Although losing weight, eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking and learning a new skill or hobby make the resolution list every year, financially-themed resolutions are among the most popular. 

Sadly, the fact is that less than 10 percent of the financially motivated resolution-makers achieve their goals. We start out with strong, resolving to get better about money matters, improve for several weeks, or maybe even months and then lapse back into our bad habits. 

In many cases, we set ourselves up for failure by setting unrealistic goals and expectations. With this said, let’s start 2019 out right by making more reasonable financial promises to ourselves…ones that we may be more likely to keep. 

1.Develop a Realistic Budget and Stick to It– Even though following a budget is the most effective money management tool, only 41 percent of Americans utilize one. Contrary to what many people think, a budget only takes a little over an hour to set up and about another 30 minutes revisiting it each month. 

Start by listing your recurring monthly expenses (rent/mortgage payment, car payment, utilities, etc.) then factor in your one-time expenses like your annual Sam’s Club membership fee. Review your bank and credit card statements to get a real picture of what you spend across various categories (food, entertainment, home maintenance, etc.) each month. Now compare your total spending to your post-tax income. 

Once this framework is in place, you’ll be able to see where your money is going and where you can cut back and reallocate. Most people are surprised by how much they’re spending in one area. Knowing this can help you see where you can move some of the money to other areas such as saving or even something you’re more passionate about like travel.

A budget is more than a tool that helps you see where you can cut back on your spending. It can actually uncover other opportunities you never thought you could pursue like purchasing a new car or a bigger home.

2. Establish an Emergency Fund– Approximately 40 percent of American adults don’t have enough money saved to pay for a $400 emergency. If this is you, boosting your financial reserves should take priority over all your other financial goals in the coming year. You should have at least three months of living expenses tucked away to prevent an unexpected expense like a home or automobile repair from landing you in debt. 

You need to closely examine your budget and determine where you can cut back to be able to contribute to your emergency fund. In some cases, this may require serious changes. But, it will be worth it in the long run…keeping you financially healthy.

3. Boost Retirement Savings– You won’t be able to live on Social Security alone. These benefits are designed to replace about 40 percent of the average worker’s pre-retirement income. You will need approximately double that amount to live comfortably in retirement. That’s why it’s important to step up your retirement savings, especially if you’re older and the balance in your retirement account isn’t what it should be.

On a positive note, the retirement plan contributions limits increased for 2019. Workers under 50 can put away up to $19,000 annually in a 401(k) and $6,000 in an IRA. If you don’t have the funds to max out your 401(k) or IRA, pledge to save more than you did last year and work your way up from there.

4. Eliminate Credit Card Debt– The average American household has approximately $8,000 in credit card debt. Not only does this debt come with higher interest rates but it also has the potential to lower your credit score. 

So, it’s time to get serious about eliminating credit card debt. The best plan of attack is identifying the credit card balances with the highest interest rates, and pay them off first. You should also look into transferring your credit card balances to a single card with a lower interest rate. However, to effectively chip away at this debt requires revisiting your budget and determining where you can trim expenses to be able to allocate more to paying off this high interest debt.

Note: Although the idea of paying bills more than once a month may make you cringe, a case can be made for paying down a credit card balance in increments throughout the month. If you carry a balance, making earlier payments means paying less interest overall. In addition, multiple payments can boost your credit score along with your willpower to keep plugging away at the debt.

5. Focus on Your Physical and Emotional Health– There is a clear connection between physical, emotional and financial health. According to the American Psychological Association, money is our biggest source of stress. This stress has serious physical and emotional consequences as well as associated health care costs. 

6. Invest in Yourself– How often have you thought, “If only I could go back to school or obtain an advanced degree.” Well, there’s no time like the present to make this a reality. If money has been what’s been stopping you, make some financial changes this year (adjusting your budget) and use the savings to invest in yourself. By getting a master’s degree or a new professional license or certification, your earnings may subsequently increase to more than make up for the investment. 

So, with all this said, let’s make 2019 the year for change. With some determination, you can succeed in sticking to some of these resolutions so that you’ll have something to really celebrate when the ball drops in 2020!

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