Do you feel ready to make some changes in your financial life, but don’t know how or where to start? You’re in luck! This month, I have seven easy ways (no, really!) to improve your financial life so you’re in a better place in January 2020 than you are now.
1. Start saving automatically.
Saving up a significant amount of money is hard, but it can be easier. How? By automating as much as possible. Set up an automatic contribution to a 529 College Savings Account, Taxable Investment Account, Roth IRA, or Traditional IRA. Already have one of these accounts? Boost your savings rate.
2. Beef up your uncertainty fund.
Emergency funds sometimes get a bad rap. After all, emergencies don’t happen to us, they happen to other people, right? That’s fine, but we all know that life is uncertain, and that’s why you need approximately six months of spending in an uncertainty fund.
You may need a little more or a little less, depending on how many people in your household work, where you work (or if you own a business), how much debt you are carrying, etc. This is the least exciting financial advice I give, but it may be the most important. Think of your uncertainty fund as the foundation for your financial house. You can’t keep your financial house in order if your house doesn’t have a solid foundation.
3. Do an (easy) budget detox.
The holidays are often a time of excess, and this applies to our spending, too. I know many people groan at the thought of tracking their spending. I get it, it’s kind of a pain, which is why I wrote a blog post called How I Anti-Budget over on wordsonwealth.com.
So why not start small? Choose one area of your spending you think could use a trim. Need a recommendation? Start with dining out and groceries. Many families don’t turn a critical eye to their grocery bills as food is a necessity. They’re right, food is a necessity, though not all groceries are necessities. Could a meatless meal or two save your family money? Absolutely. How about the financial commitment to wine with dinner?
Try withdrawing a set amount of cash for your dining out or grocery budget at the beginning of the month (or whenever you get paid) and play a game: Try to make it last until the next month! Any cash you save can be squirreled away in a “fun account.”
4. Set up a holiday savings account now.
Did you know most employers will let you split your payroll into multiple accounts? We have a small amount saved each month from my husband’s paycheck into a separate online account for our Christmas presents. Then we try really, really hard to stick to that as our budget for Christmas. Frankly, the first year we were optimistic about our Christmas frugality. We since learned a more realistic amount for our family and increased our savings. Either way, having extra money set aside is helpful!
Now is the perfect time to set up your own Christmas account transfer. You won’t miss $25 or $50 a paycheck, and having that little pot of money saved will feel like a gift when you look at your bank account balance in December.
5. Track your VA 529 contributions and report those on your state tax return.
You won’t get a tax document from VA 529 telling you how much money you saved in your accounts last year. Print off a year-end statement and put it in your tax file. Make sure to provide that information to your CPA or tax preparer. It may not be a huge deduction, but who wants to pay more in taxes than they have to?
6. Consider giving your kids an allowance.
Your teen can’t get a driver’s license without lots of practice, Zantac for you, and driver’s ed. Yet, many teens head to college and are able to get a credit card without any experience handling money. Don’t let that happen to your child.
I don’t view allowance as a reward for chores. My kids have to do chores because they are a part of our family, and we all pitch in. Allowance is for my kids to learn how to handle money and make mistakes now. Sometimes really large, Nerf gun-size mistakes.
You don’t have to give them a lot of money. In fact, it should be a little tight. Otherwise, they won’t learn to budget. Ideally, there would be some expectations around how a portion of the money will be used. For example, my kids have to contribute a few dollars to any birthday present we buy for their friends. When they get older, they’ll get more money and be responsible for purchasing more important items, such as back-to-school clothes or shoes.
7. Talk to your partner about bill-paying, taxes, savings… all of it.
Many households have one adult in charge of all things financial. If that’s your family dynamic, imagine how much better the uninformed partner will feel after learning how things work – from online bill-pay to TurboTax to how much that credit card debt is really costing you. Make a date to explore a new topic a week and you’ll be prepared in the event of an emergency – and feel more confident about finances.
So what do you think? Why not rip this article out and tack it up on your refrigerator? Circle which resolutions you want to achieve and as you achieve them check them off! I don’t know about you, but I love crossing things off a list. The beauty of this to-do list is that when you finish checking it off, your whole family will be in a better place financially.