According to a survey from Fidelity, only 31% of Americans planned to set goals to improve their finances in 2015. That was down from 43% the year before.
Setting goals provides us with focus, direction, and an action plan for getting big things done. Goals and resolutions help hold us accountable and provide us with a way to measure how far we’ve come -- and what we need to do next.
So I’d like to take a moment to inspire those folks who didn’t set a financial goal last year. Your personal finances can provide you with the ideal life you want to live if you carefully manage and maintain them.
Resolutions to improve your finances in 2016
1. Build a (better) budget
Creating and maintaining a budget is a fundamental must-do in good money management. But when is the last time you reviewed your budget? Do you really track all your spending?
If you tend to rely on mental notes to track your expenses and spending, it’s time to set a goal to build a better budget in 2016. Use Mint.com or another digital tool to help you, or keep it old school and try an Excel spreadsheet.
Read more: Apps that help you build a better budget
If you run a Google search for “budget templates,” you’ll also find a slew of options to help get you on the right track to accomplishing this money goal. Or you could try the “easiest budget ever” from AffordAnything.com if tracking every last detail sounds excruciating.
2. Max out one retirement account
Make it a goal to contribute the maximum to one type of retirement account this year. The IRS changed the contribution limits for 2015 on some accounts, but the limits will remain the same in 2016 on of the most common places to stash retirement cash:
- You can contribute $18,000 to 401(k)s in 2016
- You can contribute $5,500 to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA (or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older) in 2016
If you don’t have any of these accounts, consider opening a traditional or Roth IRA. You need to contribute about $459 per month to max out an IRA next year. There’s more on how to do this in Clark’s investment guide.
If you have a 401(k) at work and your employer offers a matching program, invest enough in your account to get that employer match -- it's free money toward your retirement! Then if you have money left over to save, put it away in a traditional or Roth IRA. A Roth is the best account to contribute the max to, because your earnings grow tax free, and then when it comes time to retire, you can withdraw the money tax free.
Self-employed? You can open something like a SEP IRA instead if you want to save more. With a SEP, you can save up to $53,000 or 25% of your income, whichever is lowest.
Remember, the earlier you start, the more time you give your retirement savings to compound. And compound interest is what allows you to put your money to work so growing wealth is easier -- giving you more money in retirement!
3. Break up with spending on more stuff
Tired of experiencing buyer’s remorse? Ready to kick the clutter from your house once and for all? Want to save more money while you’re at it?
Then make your new year’s money resolution all about breaking up with spending on more stuff you didn’t need. Embrace minimalism -- in some form or fashion. You don’t have to get extreme, but decreasing your need and dependence on material possessions frees up your time, energy, and money for other, more satisfying experiences.
If you need some inspiration to get you started living a life where unnecessary stuff doesn’t weigh you down, check out blogger Cait from Blonde on a Budget. She’s documenting her experience with minimalism and living well with less.
4. Create a plan for financial issues
Most of us have some bad financial habits lurking somewhere. Perhaps we have a bit of credit card debt that we’ve been avoiding. Maybe there’s a student loan that we’re just paying the minimum on, because, let’s face it, it’s hard enough to get by on an entry-level salary as it is. Ask yourself: what financial issue do I know is a problem, but I’ve been ignoring because that’s easier than facing it head-on? Recognize where the problem is and then make your 2016 money resolution to create a plan to tackle and eliminate it.
Read more: How to start paying off credit card debt
If you’re in debt, this means adding up every last cent that you owe. This can be painful, but it’s necessary to understand what the picture of your personal finances really looks like.
If you have a spending problem, track your spending closely and be honest with yourself about what you need and what you bought that was simply a “want.” (Did you really need that $500 bag? Those $200 boots? The $2,000 piece of technology?)
If you don’t know a thing about investing, admit what you don’t know. There’s no shame in asking questions, doing research, and learning more.
Essentially, you need to recognize where you have a problem, acknowledge that it is a problem that’s hurting you and holding you back from financial stability and security, and then set a goal to make a plan of action.
5. Earn more money
Yes, this is a goal you can set and achieve because you do have control over your income! While there’s no one to walk up to and ask for a million bucks a year, you can take action to earn more money in 2016.
If you’re employed, start by looking at how you can negotiate for a raise. (Make sure you’ve earned it before you ask!) You can also consider developing your career and exploring new positions and opportunities if you’re unsatisfied with your current job and pay.
Read more: Top-rated side jobs to make extra cash
6. Save more money
Or how about a no-spend challenge? Try going for a weekend, a week, or a month without making discretionary purchases. Yes, you can still pay your bills, buy groceries, and put gas in your car -- but no shopping or spending on unnecessary items.
Read more: How frugal folks can save even more
If that’s too extreme, you can set different spending goals for each month. Perhaps in February, you can say “no money spent on meals out” and hone your cooking skills at home instead. In March, cut out spending on alcohol. In April, put a spending ban on clothes or shoes.
7. Don’t overlook the small stuff
Feeling like none of these goals would help you do any better with your cash? Here are some additional money resolutions you can consider if you feel happy and confident in your current financial situation:
- Track your net worth quarterly so you can see your progress.
- Travel hack your way to a free trip (with responsible, smart, planned spending that you would have done anyway!).
- Automate your contributions to savings and investments.
- Boost your emergency fund.
- Try cutting an expense you haven’t considered before. Go three months’ without it before evaluating whether you really need it or if you can save that money instead.
- Use coupons when you can. Try looking online (instead of spending time clipping) or use a browser extension like Honey to help you.