Easy ways to get your finances in shape for the new year


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A good financial tip gives you a simple and actionable way to handle everything from budgeting and paying down debt to saving or investing, as well as achieving your ultimate money goals.

When you’re seeking financial advice, use that as the bar for whether a tip or trick is worth applying in your situation.

Here are 30 personal finance tips and tricks that clear that bar, according to experts. Try one a day, and in just a month, you will have achieved financial change you can take to the bank.

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1. List out your debt

The first step to paying off debt is to make a list of everything you owe, said Holly Johnson, co-founder of the personal finance site Club Thrifty.

“Create a list of each debt, how much it is and its current interest rate. Once you have your list completed, you can figure out a plan to pay off your debts — or drastically reduce them — over the next 12 months,” she said.

As for a debt repayment strategy, we’ll touch on a few in the financial tips to follow. But for now, compare the debt avalanche and debt snowball methods. The former calls for borrowers to attack their highest-interest debt first, which is most efficient mathematically, and the latter calls for you to pay off your smallest balances first as a way of building momentum. You might prefer one strategy over the other.

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2. Pay more than the minimum on your credit card

Don’t let the term “minimum payment” confuse you.

 When it comes to paying your credit card, settling for the bare minimum makes you beholden to interest.

“Pay more than the minimum on your credit card bill each month. Even if it’s five dollars [extra], it will help.” Jason Butler, founder of My Money Chronicles, said.

Paying more than the minimum doesn’t just lessen the toll of interest. In the case of student loans, it can also shorten your repayment term. If you made an extra $500 payment on a $30,000 balance with 7.00% interest, for example, you’d cut three months off your 10-year term, according to our extra payment calculator.

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3. Calculate your daily interest

If you have student loans, you might consider them “good” debt — it was for your education, after all. But when you add up how much interest you’re accruing each day, you might think differently.

Use the following formula to estimate your daily interest cost:

(interest rate) ÷ (number of days in the year) x (current principal balance) = daily interest

Say you have $30,000 worth of loans with an average interest rate of 7.00%. Your formula might look something like this:

.07 ÷ 365 x 30,000 = $5.75

Calculating daily interest will give you more context about the true cost of your repayment. It might also inspire you to pay off your student loans faster.

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4. Automate your savings

Feel like you can’t afford to save? Here’s one trick to try.

“My top quick and dirty tip would be to automate savings,” said Latoya Scott of Life and a Budget. “No matter how big or small, all it takes is setting up a direct deposit with payroll or auto deduction with your bank.”

Once the automatic transfer is set up, the money will flow directly into your savings — you won’t miss it. To ensure you avoid overdraft fees with your bank, though, maintaining a sound budget (see tips No. 12 and 13 below) will be crucial.

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5. Do an annual review of your finances

“Individuals should at least take an annual pulse of their finances,” advises Magdalena G. Johndrow, a certified financial advisor at Johndrow Wealth. “This doesn’t necessarily mean a full financial overhaul each year, but it could mean making small tweaks that in the long run may pay off.”

As part of this annual review, Johndrow advises looking over your retirement savings and investment allocations, as well as assessing your budget and setting new goals.

You might also want to call in the experts for your annual review if you’ve experienced big changes. 

“Every few years — or when a major life event occurs such as marriage or having a baby — I would suggest meeting with an advisor to thoroughly scrub through your financial plan. As life changes, you may need to modify your finances in ways you never considered,” Johndrow said.

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6. Write down your goals

Did you know that simply writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them?

“I’m all about writing down your goals — big or small. Whether it’s a house, a new dress, new running shoes, a car or a vacation, it puts your daily purchases in perspective,” said Allea Grummert, a former personal finance blogger. “An $8 shirt at Target is less appealing when I know I’m saving up for something better,” she added.

That “something better” could be paying down debt or saving up for a major purchase. Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your money, and adjust your spending habits accordingly.

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7. Have a no-spend day

Sometimes spending can turn into a mindless habit. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

For just one day this month, commit to a no-spend day, which is one of our favorite financial tips and tricks for saving money. You could save anywhere from a few bucks to a lot more, depending on how much you typically spend. This is a good way to hit the reset button and re-evaluate your spending habits.

You might also want to consider a similar strategy to avoid impulsive shopping: creating a wish list of items and only pressing the “buy” button on a certain day each month. If you have to wait until this predetermined day to finalize the purchases, you give yourself more time to confirm that they fit into your budget — and that you still want them.

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8. Set up alerts

Get on top of your finances by signing up for text or email alerts for your credit cards, student loans and other financial accounts.

“Set up alerts for bank accounts and card accounts. These can remind you about payments and alert you to large transactions,” said Julie Rains, a writer at Investing to Thrive.

Spending five minutes doing this now can help you avoid missed payments, overdraft fees and other costly mistakes. You might also consider changing your payment due dates to fit with your paycheck schedule.

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9. Create a file for taxes

Even if tax season isn’t right around the corner, it’s a good time to get organized.

“Start putting all your tax information in that file, so you’re ready at tax time. Place info about charitable gifts, Goodwill donations, income from side jobs, etc.,” Rains said.

If you take screenshots of necessary files and upload them to your preferred digital storage space, such as Google Drive, you can avoid that mad hunt for all your documents every spring. Just ensure your documents are kept secure, online and off.

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10. Plan fast meals

“I love cooking and cleaning every day after work,” said no one ever. Going out to eat is nice, but can add up fast. 

Hélène Massicotte from the personal finance blog Free to Pursue suggests cooking fast, easy meals with a slow cooker.

“With a slow cooker, you can prepare meals for days at a time and not have to worry about burning anything,” she said. “You put the food in, set the timer and it’s ready when you get home, which helps us all avoid the temptation to grab something on the way home because we’re too tired to cook. And the leftovers are always delicious.”

This is an especially valuable financial tip, as it will save you time and money.

 If you like the idea of meal planning, relying on the cheapest grocery delivery services might also be right up your alley.

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11. Increase your retirement contribution

When you’re paying off debt, it’s easy to neglect your future. But you have time on your side, and compound interest can become your best friend if you start saving now.

Jim Wang, the personal finance guru behind Wallet Hacks, suggests upping your retirement contribution — even just a little bit.

“Just log into your 401(k) and increase your contribution rate by 10%. If you were contributing $500, make it $550. You probably won’t miss it, but you’ll love it in retirement,” he said.

You might also consider diversifying your retirement portfolio by starting or amping up your IRA. It’s absolutely possible to contribute to an IRA while paying off student loans.

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12. Use cash in certain budget categories

We all have those spending categories that we can’t seem to tame. To help limit your spending, Steven of Even Steven Money suggests paying cash for those categories.

“Take one part of your budget and pay only in cash. I chose coffee and lunch — I take out $20 each week, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

This financial tip is essentially taking a piecemeal approach to Dave Ramsey’s envelope method, which calls for consumers to use cash for all spending categories. It’s meant to break a cycle of debt by saving up and spending responsibly instead of making charges on credit cards with high interest rates.

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13. Create an anti-budget

The word “budget” can seem like a bad word. It just feels tedious. If you’re not into budgets but still want to get your finances in shape, Paula Pant at Afford Anything has the answer.

“Practice the anti-budget. It’s only two steps: First, figure out what slice of your paycheck you want to ‘save’ — by which I mean: use for anything that’ll improve your financial life, such as making extra debt payments, investing in a 401(k) or literally saving in cash,” she said. “Second, automatically transfer your ‘savings’ from every paycheck into a different account; ideally at a different bank.”

To ensure you’re allotting the right amount of funds, do a little bit of math (it’s not a budget!) to calculate your cash flow — that is, how much money you earn every month and how much you need for your average monthly expenses. Once you have those two numbers, you can put an anti-budget into practice.

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14. Make a five-minute call and ask about discounts

One of the quickest finance tips is to pick up the phone; a quick phone call could save you lots of money.

“Send a message to customer support about things you’re currently paying for and see if they’ll give a discount for your continued loyalty. This could result in benefits like a lower rate on credit cards or a lower cable/internet bill,” said Steven Fox, founder of Next Gen Financial Planning.

Get into the mindset that no bill is off limits and everything is negotiable. If you find that the voice on the other line isn’t receptive, research competing vendors for the products or services you use. You can build leverage at the negotiating table if a lower price is available elsewhere.

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15. Update your beneficiaries

Now is also a great time to update your beneficiaries, Fox said.

“Review and update beneficiaries for life insurance policies, IRAs and 401(k)s. Most people rarely look at it, but it’s extremely important, particularly if you have been through major life changes such as getting married, divorced or having kids,” he said.

Here, the financial tip is simple: Confirm that your loved ones will be taken care of if something happens to you. Changing beneficiaries isn’t a complicated process and should only take a little bit of leg work on your part. But handling it now could save your family some major headaches down the road.

While you’re at it, learn about what happens to student loans when the borrower passes away.

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16. Check your credit report

Your credit report can help determine your credit score, so you want to make sure there are no errors. Spend some time checking your credit report to start the new year fresh.

“You can check your Experian credit report for free — and without having to enter a credit card — on FreeCreditReport.com,” said Blaine Lyerla, the former managing editor of consumer education at Experian.

You can also check out AnnualCreditReport.com to get free credit reports from all three credit bureaus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers could access their reports free of charge as often as weekly.

Again, checking your report is crucial, as potential errors on the report could damage your ability to get credit or obtain it at better interest rates.

 Fortunately, fixing credit report errors is a fairly straightforward process.

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17. Check your credit score

For the same reasons as above, you should check your credit score regularly. Your credit score is a numeric representation of your credit that informs lenders about what kind of borrower you are.

You can get your free credit score with services like My LendingTree. You may also be able to get your free FICO credit score through your credit card.

Knowing your credit score is especially important when it comes to shopping for credit, whether it’s for student loan refinancing, mortgages or something else. You might even go so far as to ask your prospective lenders which type of credit score they use as part of their underwriting; this way, you can work to improve the credit score that’s most critical to your loan application.

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18. Go digital

Could downloading your bank’s mobile app make you more mindful of your spending? It worked for Sarah Li Cain, blogger at High Fiving Dollars.

“Sounds silly, but effective: I downloaded an app from my bank. I check my bank account balance to see if I’m on track with my spending goals,” she said.

Strive to spend just one minute a day checking your account balances and transactions. You’ll be proactive against any fraud and check in on your spending.

There are other benefits of going digital with your bank: Some financial institutions offer mobile credit score tracking.

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19. Know your actual hourly rate

When you start a new job, you might be happily surprised by your salary — or abysmally disappointed. Regardless of your situation, your real hourly rate is different from your salary and should be the foundation of any budget or spending plan.

Look at your pay stubs and see what you’re taking home after taxes. Divide that by the hours worked to find your real hourly rate.

Once you know your actual hourly rate, you should have more perspective about whether your position, if it’s full-time or freelance, is worthwhile. Having this number handy might also help you negotiate your wages when the time comes.

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20. Calculate your net worth

Want a financial tip that’ll help you take a major step toward financial awareness? Calculate your net worth. How do you do that? Take your assets (cash, investments, etc.) and subtract your liabilities (debts).

If you’re looking for a north star among your financial goals, net worth could be it. The number is an overall reflection of where you stand with debt as well as liquid and invested assets.

And if your big financial goal is to join the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement, you might have a particular net worth in mind that’ll help you get there.

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21. Sign up for autopay on your debt

Missing a payment can hurt your credit score and tack on unnecessary late fees. Lee Huff from Bald Thoughts encourages people to sign up for minimum payments on your credit card.

“It’s ideal to pay credit cards off in full each month, but life happens, so make sure every credit card is set up to at least make the minimum payment automatically, so you don’t get hit with late fees,” he said.

You can also sign up for autopay on your student loans. This set-it-and-forget-it approach might even get a discount on your interest rate. Many private student loan companies offer borrowers a rate reduction of 0.25 percentage points upon enrolling in automatic payments.

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22. Create targeted savings accounts

Improve your finances by creating more than one savings account. Having all your savings lumped together can make it tough to be clear on your goals.

“Create an emergency fund, car replacement fund or vacation fund by signing up for automatic transfers to a savings account,” said Zina Kumok, founder of Conscious Coins Coaching.

This can be a helpful strategy if you don’t feel like you have the discipline to keep your separate spending categories truly separate. It could also help you budget: If you realize your vacation fund is running low after a recent trip, you might adjust your cash-flow expectations until the fund is replenished.

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23. Monitor spending

One easy way to get a grasp on your money is to see where it’s actually going.

“Start monitoring your spending better by signing up for a site like Mint.com. See how much you spend and cut back on something unnecessary,” said personal finance writer Karen Cordaway. “It can identify money leaks and help you quickly sidestep future spending.”

After tracking the comings and goings of your cash, you might discover you’re still paying for subscriptions you no longer use. Monitoring transactions will also help you discover incorrect or fraudulent charges before it’s too late to correct them.

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24. Unsubscribe from sales emails

The temptation to spend is everywhere, but the hottest spot has to be your inbox. Consider unsubscribing from sales emails using a service like Unroll.me.

This way, you’ll be less likely to spend impulsively on products you don’t really need.

And as long as you’re giving your email inbox a makeover, consider signing up for newsletters chock-full of financial tips and tricks. A newsletter like Morning Brew, for example, can help you stay up to speed on the stock market if you’re dedicating more time to investing.

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25. Find out if you need a raise

Has it been awhile since you got a raise or promotion? Look on PayScale and Glassdoor to see if you need a raise for the new year based on your job, experience and location.

There are also tell-tale signs that you’re underpaid. Perhaps you’re key to driving revenue for your employer or maybe you’re just being paid less than a male peer because of the longstanding gender pay gap in the workplace.

Once you determine a figure closer to your true worth as an employee, don’t be shy about asking for it. You might start by building a case to share with your boss. Include all the reasons that you’ve outgrown your current earnings. If your pitch falls on deaf ears, you might consider shopping around for a new employer.

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26. Start saving for the holidays now

Right after the holidays, you should start saving for next year. If you struggled to afford this past holiday season, you might wonder how you can start saving for the next one. That’s all the more reason you should start saving ASAP, said family finance expert Catherine Alford.

“I put $50 a month in a Christmas fund starting in January,” she said. This financial tip and trick especially pays off when Alford actually has money left over, rather than going into debt.

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27. Find investment opportunities anywhere

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t afford to invest? Financial educator Buddy Broome said you can find spare cash to invest with a little work.

“One example is to look at any recurring bill that someone pays monthly. For example, if the customer typically pays $100 each month to the gym for membership, what if the customer paid the gym $1,000 upfront?” he said.

Offering to pay a monthly charge upfront for a longer period of time could net you a discount, which could free up some money to invest with.

That’s just one way to come up with a little bit of savings, but there is no shortage of strategies. In addition to cutting expenses, you might also look for creative ways to increase your income, such as side hustles.

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28. Adjust your tax withholding

If you celebrate a refund every year come tax time, you might be overpaying your taxes. While a refund is nice, putting more money back in your paycheck to pay off debt can be more helpful.

Many of us aren’t good with lump sums of money, so consider adjusting your tax withholding instead. Need help? Think about consulting a tax professional. Your employer’s human resources department can also help you figure out how to complete the W-4 form that determines your withholding amount.

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29. Sell unwanted goods

Before the year gets much older, it’s time to purge. Get rid of everything you no longer want or need and sell it on apps like OfferUp. You can use your smartphone to easily snap a picture, post a description and sell your items.

If your closet is overflowing, consult the best places to sell clothes online. You might be surprised to learn that the brand names you no longer wear are worth more than a pretty penny to someone else.

Selling your unwanted stuff could yield extra money to pay down debt or increase your savings, among other financial aims.

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30. Tweak your budget for the new year

Whether you practice a traditional budget, the anti-budget or use a budgeting app or a spending plan, it’s important to plan for the year ahead.

“Refresh your yearly budget to account for changes to your income and expenses, and maintain a realistic view of your financial plan,” said Shahar Ziv, founder of Acing Your Finances, a financial education firm.

“Oftentimes, expenses rise in the new year — landlords raise rent, monthly premiums on health insurance go up — and, hopefully, income rises too. Refreshing your budget will give you a more accurate view for the new year and allow you to reallocate ahead of time,” he said.

Changing your financial life can be tough, but don’t let the big picture get you down. With these 30 personal finance tips, you can take steps every day to improve your financial situation.


This article originally appeared on StudentLoanHero.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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