New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be reserved for diets and exercise. Sometimes the area of your life that really needs attention is your finances. As 2020 ends and 2021 begins, this might be especially true if you have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new year is the perfect time to give your finances a boost. Here are my top 15 financial New Year’s resolutions that can help improve your financial health.
I’m jumping in with the big ones first…
1. Start investing
Investing should be #1 on your list of New Year’s resolutions. While it may not be the easiest resolution on this list, it is one of the best ways to build your wealth. This is why I’m always thinking about different ways to obtain stocks, bonds, and other assets that have the potential for a profitable return. So, I’m just going to say it like it is: if you are ending 2020 without any investments, don’t let yourself end 2021 the same way. You could be missing out on big returns, even if you only have a small amount of money to invest!
If you don’t think that you have time to start investing, I get it. Investing can take time to understand.
While it’s totally possible to invest without the help of an advisor, many of us are choosing the advisor route. Remember that advisor also include robo-advisors, that can help you decide what to invest in including when to buy and sell.
If you’re feeling intimidated by the many investment options out there, check out these platforms that can get you started on any budget:
Public is an investment app that has changed the investing game by making it social. On Public, you can not only invest in the stock market and ETFs, but also follow other investors and discover new investment opportunities. If you are new to investing, but not to social media (let’s face it – who is these days?), then Public might just be the perfect place to start your journey.
One of my favorite things about Public is that it makes investing accessible to just about everyone. By offering the option to buy fractional shares of stock, users have the ability to invest in some of their favorite companies, without needing to fork over the big bucks. And with no account minimums or commission fees, users can keep more of their money where it should be, the market.
M1 Finance gives you all the perks of a robo-advisor and a traditional brokerage for free. After signing up, M1 gives investors the option of building a custom portfolio or choosing from over eighty of their expert portfolios!
The best part of M1 Finance? Through automated investing, you can deposit money and watch it be invested without having to do the heavy lifting. For newbie investors, especially those who are too busy to learn about the market, this is especially helpful.
With Acorns, you can start investing with just your spare change. After signing up for a micro-investing account and inputting some financial information, Acorns will create a diversified portfolio that reflects your wants and needs.
Building your wealth through Acorns is as easy as buying your daily cup of coffee. When you make a purchase, Acorns will round your purchase up to the next dollar and invest the difference for you. If you want to get your toes wet in investing before you dive head-first, Acorns might be the best option for you.
2. Build your emergency fund
When emergencies happen, you don’t want to be stuck without an emergency fund. Emergency funds can be lifesavers when unexpected challenges make their way into your life, like losing your job or getting into an accident. And since COVID-19 is expected to last well into 2021, and have even longer-term effects, it is more important than ever to ensure that you have a financial safety net.
So, if your emergency fund is non-existent at the start of the new year, it is time to change that!
To start, decide how much money you need in your emergency fund by calculating your monthly expenses. This should include not only your rent or mortgage but also your utilities and your basic expenses. Many financial experts agree that this should be at least three to six months’ worth of expenses, but it can’t hurt to overestimate how much money you would need in times of emergency.
If you need help calculating how much money you should save in your emergency fund, check out MU30’s handy emergency fund calculator to help you find your perfect number.
My husband and I like to keep our emergency fund in a high-yield savings account. These accounts allow us to access our savings quickly. Even better, high-yield savings accounts accrue interest at a higher rate than a traditional savings account, letting our money grow while it lies in wait.
Here are two high-yield savings accounts that I recommend:
Chime has cut the cord on pricey bank fees that can eat away at your savings, including monthly service fees and overdraft fees (up to $100), making it the perfect place to stash your emergency fund. And it only takes two minutes to set up your account!
If you are new to saving, you will enjoy how easy it is to get started through Chime. One of their most impressive features for new savers is their Automatic Savings, which rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically saves the change for you. If you use your Chime account as your emergency fund, this feature will help it grow indefinitely.
CIT Savings Builder
CIT Savings Builder has an APY of up to 0.45% and is one of the best high-yield savings accounts for people who are serious about savings. At account opening, CIT Savings Builder requires a minimum balance of $25,000, or a $100 minimum with a mandatory deposit of $100 or more each month. If you are making regular contributions towards your emergency fund, this should be easy to do.
This account is fee-free, which means that you get to keep all of your money for times of need.
3. Pay off your credit card debt
If credit card debt is bogging down your financial success, why not make it a goal to tackle it in the new year?
Paying off your credit card debt is an important step in becoming financially healthy. If you don’t pay it off, you are doing a serious disservice to your credit score.
When searching for ways to pay off your debt, I recommend opening a balance transfer credit card. While it may sound counterproductive on one hand, these cards can help you consolidate your debt and even stop it from collecting interest for some time. That’s a big incentive right there!
The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of my favorite balance transfer cards because of its introductory 0% APR for 18 months on all balance transfers and then the regular APR is 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable). The 0% APR for 18 months on all balance transfers is a significant amount of time for you to pay down your debt, without the need to worry about pesky interest charges.
The Citi® Double Cash Card’s balance transfer intro offer is not the only perk, however. Cardholders will enjoy 2% cash back – 1% when you spend and 1% when you pay your bill. On top of that, the Citi® Double Cash has no annual fee, leaving more of your money available to pay down your debt.
4. Start a budget and track your expenses
If you don’t already have one, you need a budget. Creating and sticking to one could be the single best thing that you do for your finances in the new year. Budgets force you to take a hard look at the money that you bring in, the money that you shell out, and the money that you may owe.
If you have never followed a budget before, the thought of starting one can be daunting. The truth is, budgets can be incredibly freeing. Once you get used to following your budget, you can begin finding ways to free up cash to put towards your future.
Personal Capital is an amazing budgeting tool that can help users see their full financial picture for free. By linking their bank accounts, users gain access to a host of tools that can help them manage their finances, like investment portfolio analysis, a fee analyzer, a personal finance manager, and even their net worth.
One of the things that I like best about Personal Capital is their budgeting feature, which makes it easy to stay on track of your spending. Coupled with the other tools that it offers, Personal Capital could be the only finance app that you need.
If you have ever wished for a personal assistant to help you manage your money, you are going to love PocketSmith. This powerful tool can help you organize everything from your spending to your retirement and will even forecast up to 30 years of your financial future.
Because of this, budgeting with PocketSmith is easier than you ever thought it could be. PocketSmith users can import their financial data, including their spending, directly into their account. From there, PocketSmith will help track and adjust your budget based on its forecasted projections.
If you want to get serious about your budget, give PocketSmith a try.
5. Pay off your student loans
Student loan debt is one of the nation’s largest consumer debts and if you have it, you know just how painful it can be. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get rid of your student loan debt altogether? Well, depending on how much you have, 2021 could be the year that you make it possible!
Making a plan to pay off your student loans is all about getting organized. Knowing who you owe, how much you owe, and how you will afford to pay off your loans should be your first priority.
If you are having trouble trying to fit your student loan payment into your budget, it’s worth it to give your lender a call. Often, you can work out income-driven repayment plans or deferments that can lessen the financial blow of your current loan payments.
If you need help figuring out how to pay off your student loans, give Credible a try. Credible can help you refinance your loans by comparing up to 10 different lenders, for free. And with no impact on your credit score, there is no risk! Credible will even pay you $200 if you find a better refinancing rate through someone else.
My favorite thing about Credible is how easy it is to use. After a two-minute application process, users will see their prequalified rates and can apply for the loan directly through Credible. After as little as one business day, you can expect to receive a final loan offer.
6. Open a retirement account or fine-tune your existing one
When you are young, saving for your retirement probably sounds like the least exciting thing that you can do with your money. The truth is, the sooner that you start, the more secure you will be when your retirement comes. Investing in your retirement means that you are investing in your future.
If you’re employed, a quick conversation with your boss or human resources department can help you find out if your employer offers retirement accounts like 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Often, employers who have them will match a percentage of your annual contributions. This match is like an extra bonus from your employer that you don’t collect until retirement.
If your employer does not offer retirement accounts or you’re self-employed, you still have options for saving for your retirement. IRAs, or Individual Retirement Accounts can be opened by anyone.
Betterment knows that everyone’s retirement needs are different. This is why they help users personalize their retirement plans by asking questions about your family, goals for retirement, and how much you already have saved. And they know what they are doing! Betterment has been around since 2008 and has been credited as the first robo-advisor.
Investing for your retirement through Betterment is simple because they do all of the heavy lifting for you. Once you set up your Betterment account, your entire portfolio will be managed for you, and all that you have to do is contribute funds. Over 30 years, Betterment believes that they can help you earn an estimated 38% more towards your retirement. Imagine what you could do in retirement with all of that extra money!
Blooom is a robo-advisor that specializes in retirement plans like 401(k)s. For free, blooom helps you analyze your current 401(k) plan and gives their recommendations. And as someone who does not love extra fees, blooom has a flat fee of $10 a month which I appreciate. I also appreciate that you can open an account with just $1.
7. Build your credit
If you are going into 2021 without any credit, it is time to start building some. The credit system was put in place as a way to give future lenders and creditors information about potential borrowers. This allows them to make an informed decision and weigh the risks of loaning money to you.
If you haven’t built your credit, you could find yourself regretting it when you want to finance a car or even buy a house. Most lenders will not give out loans to people with poor credit and if you’re lucky enough to find one that does, your interest rates are often through the roof!
Taking out a loan with a cosigner or becoming an authorized user on your parent’s credit card can help you get started. Personally, I began building my credit with a secured credit card. When you get a secured credit card, you’ll need to put down a deposit, which then becomes your line of credit.
Here are two of my favorite credit cards for folks just starting to build (or repair) their credit:
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card is unique among secured cards in that they won’t run your credit when you apply, giving even those with no credit the ability to qualify. Plus, after you open the card and start making on-time monthly payments, OpenSky will report these payments to all three credit bureaus so you can start building credit right away.
Since the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card is, in fact, a secured card, you will be required to put down a security deposit, and that will become your line of credit. In this case, you can deposit anywhere between $200 – $3,000.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
The Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® is an unsecured credit building card. That means you can still build credit without having to pay a pesky security deposit to open a line of credit. You’ll have your on-time payments reported to all three credit bureaus, so you’ll start building credit pretty much as soon as you open the card.
What’s nice about the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® is that you can see if you pre-qualify for the card without taking a hit to your credit score. That way, you’ll know in a matter of minutes if you should continue with the full application.
8. Create a will
Don’t be fooled into thinking that having a will is just for old people. If you don’t have a will already, making it one of your 2021 New Year’s resolutions could benefit you and your family. Without one, in the event of your death, your state’s laws will determine who takes ownership of your assets and property.
If you’re wondering if you really need a will, the answer is probably a resounding yes. Most importantly, wills are strongly recommended for those who have children, have a spouse, or have a positive net worth. Having a will protects your family and your assets, something that all of us can agree is important.
If you don’t have a will, don’t put it off!
Trust & Will
Trust & Will makes creating a will or trusts easy. In fact, they can help you make one in only 10 minutes! By walking you through the entire process of creating your will online and customizing it to your wishes along the way, users can feel relieved knowing that their wishes will be carried out in the event of their death. After you’re done, Trust & Will will even ship it straight to you.
Perhaps most importantly, as life continues and your situation changes – as it usually does – Trust & Will makes it super easy to update and edit your will whenever you need to.
9. Spend less money
Everyone wants to save money, right? One of the best ways to do that in 2021 is to consciously spend less of it. While it is easier said than done, spending less money in 2021 is doable with a few tweaks to your spending habits.
To begin spending less money, I recommend this: take a hard look at your budget and try to find spending categories that you can cut back on. Lessening, or even getting rid of, spending categories allocated towards things like coffee runs and eating out could save you a significant amount of money each month.
Here are a couple more of my favorite ways to save:
- Find a better deal on cell phone service. Cell phone service can be expensive. If you haven’t shopped around lately, give it a try. Many cell phone service companies will work hard to beat their competitors and will often beat your current rate!
- Learn how to clip coupons. Clipping coupons is an easy way to save money at the grocery store and beyond. Often found in local circulars and newspapers, using coupons can add up to some significant savings.
- Make a grocery list. Grocery lists can keep you on track financially in the midst of temptation, saving you from overspending on snacks and unneeded ingredients.
- Make coffee at home. Coffee runs add up quickly, but it would be hard to get through the workweek without it. Instead of running to the coffee shop, try making coffee at home and bringing it to work in an insulated thermos.
- Bring lunch to work. If you are eating out for lunch every day, your finances are more than likely feeling the pressure. Why not try giving them a break and pack last night’s leftovers instead?
- Have date nights at home. Date nights can be an important part of staying connected with your partner and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice them. Finding alternative date night ideas, like cooking dinner together at home, can help you rack in the savings.
- Try a meal delivery service. Meal delivery services will deliver pre-portioned ingredients and easy to follow recipes straight to your door. Blue Apron is one of the most popular meal delivery services and there is a reason for it! With meals like provencal-style cod and charred lemon, you will feel like your own personal chef! And there are options for Weight Watchers too. Home Chef is another option, offering meals that take as little as five minutes to prepare. Plus, whether you’re looking to cut back on meat, carbs, calories, or more, Home Chef has options for you. If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly meal delivery service, you should also check out EveryPlate. With meals starting at just $4.99/serving, you can find tasty food for less.
- Cut back on subscriptions – We live in a world overrun by subscription services. It can be easy to sign up for a bunch and then never use half of them. If you’re looking to cut back on your subscriptions and save some serious cash, Trim can help. They’ll scan your bank accounts looking for all your subscriptions, provide you a list, and you can have them cancel any ones you’re not using. They’ll even help you cancel your gym membership!
10. Save money on insurance
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is the importance of protecting the ones that you love. In 2021, why not make it a goal to do so, while also keeping more of your hard-earned money in your bank account? I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is by saving money on insurance.
Lemonade offers low-cost insurance for homeowners, renters, and pets. And when I say low-cost, I mean it. Lemonade Pet Insurance, for example, starts at just $10/month and covers everything from diagnostics like x-rays and labwork to emergency visits and medications. And to top it off, they offer medical advice with their plans, so you don’t have to pester your vet every time you have a question.
As for homeowners insurance, you can pay as little as $25/month, and for renters insurance, you can pay as little as $5/month. All while still getting top-rated coverage and quick payouts (three minutes, to be exact) whenever you need to make a claim.
Policygenius is an insurance marketplace that makes it easier than ever to find the best rates on many different types of insurance, from homeowners to life. If you are looking to save money on your insurance in 2021, I recommend making Policygenius one of your first stops.
The thing that I like best about Policygenius is that they are not affiliated with any specific insurance companies. This means that the quotes that you receive are honest and not tainted by any bias. Once you receive your quotes, Policygenius will even help you apply for your new insurance policy. And if that isn’t enough, their team of insurance experts are available to answer any questions that you may have, making getting insurance easier than ever.
Gabi, like Policygenius, is a life insurance marketplace that compares quotes for you. But unlike Policygenius, they only offer home and auto insurance. While this may seem limiting if you are looking to find new low rates on all of your insurance products, it is worth the extra step to check out Gabi when it comes to your home and auto insurance.
Gabi takes an extra step and automates the insurance process. For starters, you can upload your already existing policy, and Gabi will try to beat it. And they don’t just stop there. Every six months Gabi will automatically try to find you a better deal again!
11. Define your long-term financial goals
Sometimes you get so caught up in our present financial situation that you forget to plan for the future. Setting long-term financial goals is an exciting way to keep yourself on track and to ensure that your money is working for you.
Long-term financial goals vary depending on the person and the state of their finances. These goals could include saving for retirement, a downpayment on your future home, or even saving for that trip that you have always wanted to take. After you have defined your financial goals, it is time to start planning for how and when you will reach them.
I like to organize my long-term financial goals into my monthly and yearly household budget. This allows me and my husband to aggressively work towards our goals. We’ve also gotten some help from the professionals! When looking for an advisor, we checked out SmartAsset.
SmartAsset is a trusted source to find a financial advisor that truly works for your financial goals. All you need to do is answer a few simple questions, and in minutes you’ll be matched with three pre-screened candidates that fit your needs. With thousands of advisors at their disposal, SmartAsset has an advisor that will work for just about everyone.
On top of that, SmartAsset also offers an abundance of resources, so you can do some financial planning on your own. These include home buying, tax, and retirement calculators, bank and credit card guides, as well as investment articles and how-to guides.
12. Track your expenses
If you aren’t tracking your expenses, make 2020 the year that you start. It is one of the easiest resolutions that you can make.
Implementing this habit in my household was easy. My husband and I decided to ask for receipts with every purchase, ensuring that we don’t miss any expenses. After making a purchase and returning home, we began recording the totals on our receipts into monthly spending categories. These include areas of spending like groceries, entertainment, and gas.
Knowing how much we spend each month allows us to not only make a more accurate budget but also plan for the future. Keeping track of your expenses gives you a reference to look back at when creating a budget, including utility bills that may change due to the seasons.
When you’re looking to track your expenses try one of these two apps:
Personal Capital allows you to track all of your accounts in one place, making it easy to track your expenses and get a clear image of your finances. Through their award-winning Dashboard, users can see their approximate net worth as it changes.
Personal Capital’s app is free to use for customers who do not want Personal Capital to manage their finances.
Toshl’s app makes connecting your finances simple. Through the app, you can link all of your money, including credit cards and cash. After connecting your accounts, Toshl will help you set financial goals, create a budget, and track your finances.
Toshl offers three different plans, with each step up boasting more features. Basic Toshl, their most basic offering, is completely free. If you wish to upgrade your Toshl experience, you can expect to pay anywhere from $4.99 a month to $119.99 once for 36 months of service.
If you have a mortgage, chances are that you would like to get rid of it. Well, making extra principal mortgage payments in 2021 could help you be free from it faster!
Those who can afford to put extra money towards their mortgage, but don’t, are missing out on some major savings. If you pay your mortgage for the life of your original loan, you could end up paying nearly as much in interest as you do for your home itself.
A $150,000, 30-year mortgage with an interest rate of 4.5% will cost a total of $273,610 by the end of thirty years. This means that $123,610 of your payments have been made towards interest.
If you take the same mortgage, but pay an extra $100 monthly, you would save $29,723.18 and shorten your loan by six years and four months.
If you want to make paying down your mortgage a priority in 2021, simple loan pay-off calculators can help you figure out how much extra money you would like to put towards your mortgage.
You could also consider refinancing your mortgage, which can provide you with a much better interest rate, which, in turn, can lower the total cost of your loan. Here are two companies that you should consider refinancing your loan through:
Figure also offers a 100% online application that you can complete in a matter of minutes, and you can get funding in just a couple of weeks. You’ll simply need to enter some basic info and Figure will grab the rest.
Pair their easy-to-understand process with their huge amount of resources and dedicated customer support, and you have a company that is truly dedicated to making the mortgage process easier (finally!).
¹ Figure’s APRs can be as low as 2.99% for the most qualified applicants and will be higher for other applicants, depending on credit profile and the state where the property is located. For example, for a borrower with a CLTV of 45% and a credit score of 800 who is eligible for and chooses to pay a 4.99% origination fee in exchange for a reduced APR, a five-year Figure Home Equity Line with an initial draw amount of $50,000 would have a fixed annual percentage rate (APR) of 2.99%. The total loan amount would be $52,495. Your actual rate will depend on many factors such as your credit, combined loan to value ratio, loan term, occupancy status, and whether you are eligible for and choose to pay an origination fee in exchange for a lower rate. Payment of origination fees in exchange for a reduced APR is not available in all states. In addition to paying the origination fee in exchange for a reduced rate, the advertised rates include a combined discount of 0.75% for opting into a credit union membership (0.50%) and enrolling in autopay (0.25%). APRs for home equity lines of credit do not include costs other than interest. Property insurance is required as a condition of the loan and flood insurance may be required if your property is located in a flood zone.
Compared to Rocket Mortgage and Figure, Credible does things a little differently. Rather than offering direct lending, they can pair you with multiple lenders, so you can see, all in one place, what your rates would be. In less than two minutes, Credible will show you a list of reliable lenders, highlighting the important info you need to know about each.
As a loan marketplace, Credible is the perfect place to start your refinancing search. That way, you don’t find yourself spending a bunch of time applying directly to multiple lenders. This will save you time, and a couple of dings to your credit report.
14. Save money with money-making and reward apps
What if I told you that you are throwing money out the window every time that you shop online? If you are shopping without a cash back app, this is most definitely true for you! And since most of us have resolved to online shopping, this extra money could be adding up quickly!
To remedy this, I like to use a cash back app. Not only do cash back apps help you save money, but they can help you make money, too!
If you are looking to save, or make, money, Swagbucks is a great choice for you. In fact, it is the internet’s leading rewards site! For users who are hoping to save money, I recommend installing Swagbucks browser extension, the “SwagButton.” When you shop online, the SwagButton will alert you to available cash back offers, which can then be activated with a simple click! It will even automatically apply coupon codes for you, so you never have to scour the internet for one again.
And if making money is more your thing, Swagbucks can help you with that, too! Through their online surveys, users can trade their opinions for points, which can then be redeemed for gift cards and PayPal transfers. You can even earn points by watching videos!
Capital One Shopping
Capital One Shopping is a powerful browser extension and app that can help you get the best deal on all of your online purchases. The easiest way to use it is to enable the extension, which is easy to do by following the directions on their website and add things to your cart at your favorite stores.
As you browse, and at checkout, Capital One Shopping will work it’s magic in the background. If there is a better deal out there, they will find it, and alert you to where you can purchase it for less. And Capital One Shopping doesn’t stop there. As you shop, you will collect credits, which can then be traded for gift cards!
So, if you are determined to save more money in 2021, give Capital One Shopping a chance!
Disclaimer – Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links we provided.
15. Get your taxes done early
Tax season is coming and there is no need to stress about it. Getting your taxes done early in 2021 can help put your mind at ease and save you from taking an extra trip out of the house. You may even find yourself with your return in hand faster than if you wait until closer to the deadline!
Filing taxes can be complicated. Luckily, there are great tax preparation companies that can help make filing a breeze and answer many of your tax questions.
Here are three of my favorites:
TurboTax is one of the most popular tax software companies in the game. Their easy to use e-filing service is great for those filing basic returns and even those whose taxes are a little more complicated.
If your tax situation calls for help beyond TurboTax’s free edition, you can upgrade your plan to three other editions. These will cost you – but will also give you access to many different tools that can help filers get the best return possible.
TaxAct is one of the least expensive tax software products on the market and could save you a pretty penny this tax season. One of their biggest perks is the ability to file an amended return for free!
TaxAct has a mission to provide 100% accurate tax software that helps filers get the maximum refund possible. They will even give you $100k, plus refund the price of the software, and any differences in your return or liability if you find their software to be inaccurate.
H&R Block is a tax preparation company that goes beyond just software, allowing you to file online or in person. With over 12,000 locations all over the country, you probably already know where your local H&R Block is!
H&R Block offers various different plans to help you navigate the filing of your taxes. These range in price based on their features, but basic returns can be filed for free. If you would rather someone else handle your taxes altogether, you can even drop yours off for a tax expert to file for you.
The end of 2020 is fast approaching and it’s time to start thinking about the resolutions that you’ll make for 2021. While many of us – myself included – typically resolve to follow a healthier lifestyle, we sometimes forget to think about our financial health.
As 2020 comes to a close, start thinking about what you can do to make your finances stronger, because we never know when a financially challenging year, like 2020, will hit again.