Although many people start New Year’s resolutions in January, there’s nothing magical about January with regards to self-improvement. Still, the best time to make a change or set a goal is today, so if you’re ready to level up in your life, there’s no time like the present. Here are five financial habits that you might consider starting this year.
Commit to a written budget (and review it often)
The very first thing that you’ll want to do is commit to a budget. Having a budget is the cornerstone and foundation for financial success. Knowing where your money is going (and not going) can help you understand where you’re at. If you’ve had trouble making or keeping a budget, resolve to start a budget this year. A tool like Mint can be a great way to put your budget on autopilot.
Remember that a budget is just a tool to help you to not spend money on the things you don’t find important so that you have money to spend on the things that you do find important. If you already have a budget, make it a habit to review your budget, at least monthly. That can help you identify where you might be able to make improvements.
As you start or recommit to your budget, make sure that it is written down. Budgets that are not written down, like goals, tend to fall by the wayside easily.
Start (or build) your emergency fund
Another great habit to get into in 2021 is starting an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be one of the very first things you do with any extra money you have in your budget. Even before working on eliminating your debt or saving for retirement, it makes a lot of sense to set aside money for emergencies.
A good rule of thumb is to start with a $1,000 emergency fund. It may not cover catastrophic emergencies, but it can help you to avoid having to spend on your credit cards when the unexpected happens. After you’ve started that basic emergency fund, then you can continue to build it up while also starting to pay off debt or invest for the future. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a couple of months of expenses in your emergency fund. That way you’re covered for a while in case you lose an income source or have a major emergency.
Make a plan to eliminate your debt
The next habit to start or continue this year is to eliminate your debt. Depending on how much debt you currently have, it may not be realistic to pay off all of your debt in 2021. But no matter what, you should have a plan in place. There are a variety of different debt repayment strategies – the debt snowball and the debt avalanche among many. It’s important to pick a debt payoff approach that works for you, and that you can stick to. Make it a habit to spend less than you earn and work towards becoming debt-free.
Spend with a purpose
Another great habit that can help you live within your means is to spend with a purpose. Spending with a purpose means that you are conscious with your spending. If you ever find yourself wondering where all your money has gone, you may benefit from being more deliberate with your spending.
Many people find success by setting a rule about any non-essential spending. For example, before you make any purchases besides essentials like rent, utilities, and debt payments, you must write it down. Just the act of writing it down (or taking a picture of it) is enough for many people to be more deliberate and conscious about what they choose to spend their money on.
Pay yourself first, and make sure to give yourself a raise
If you’re like many people, you may have good intentions of saving money each month, but at the end of the month, you find there’s nothing left over after all the bills are paid. One habit that people who are successful financially have is to pay themselves first. Put your savings money aside at the BEGINNING of the month. It’s a bit of a mental trick, but many people find that having that money out of sight helps them to save more.
Another financial habit to start is to always give yourself a raise. Whenever you get a raise at work or come across any “extra” money, IMMEDIATELY put it either in your emergency fund or use it to pay down your debt. Putting any raise or extra money towards your savings (instead of increasing your standard of living) is a great habit to start.
This is a great habit to start, especially if you are young or just starting out in your professional life. Of course, paying yourself first and giving yourself a raise, doesn’t mean that you have to only eat ramen or can’t have nice things. But thanks to the magic of compound interest, the sooner you start to save and invest, the better off you’ll be.