There is something about the dawn of a new year that brings out our willingness to kick old habits to the curb and start afresh. If you’re ready to create impactful and effective financial resolutions that best serve you and your goals, it’s time to lean in. With a few tweaks, a little planning and some disciplined effort, 2023 can be the year you start to make your money goals come to life. We’re here to help you launch a successful plan by going through the vital first steps of achieving your financial resolutions, with insight from our friends at Filene. Ready?
Write It Down
First up, writing down — or typing out — goals makes them feel more real. So set aside at least 30 minutes to give the list the attention it deserves. Remember to make your goals personal so they become more meaningful (and hence doable) for you. That means if you want to save $10,000 this year, write down not just the amount, but what it’s for — and be specific…it’s not just a down payment, it’s the down payment on that cute cape on a cul-du-sac. And it’s not just a vacation, it’s 10 days in Hawaii. The milestones you want to reach should also be reasonable and attainable.
Pro-tip: If your list is longer than five items you may be spreading yourself a bit too thin to achieve meaningful gains. Instead of a scattered approach, financial experts say to prioritize your top goals, then devote time and energy as appropriate. Need inspiration? Here are five suggestions for New Year’s money resolutions to help grow your financial future.
Grow Your Emergency Savings
Living through a pandemic has been a keen reminder that unexpected expenses (and life events) happen more than we might have realized. That means maintaining an emergency fund is now pretty much non-negotiable. A great way to build or rebuild this type of fund is by setting up automatic deposits to move money from your paycheck (or wherever it lands) into a separate savings account on a regular basis. This works well because when we don’t see the money, and we don’t have easy access to it, we rarely miss it. Your Credit Union makes this easy and profitable. Set up automatic deductions to our Online Savings account to earn a highly respectable 3.25% with no minimum balance required.
Prioritize Retirement Accounts
If your company offers a match and you aren’t signed up, send an email to the HR department and find out how you can start making contributions (to earn the match) pronto. Not diverting the funds necessary to earn the match is like leaving free money on the table. As for those funds you are diverting, many people find they don’t even miss them.
Pay Down Credit Card Debt
Most people never plan to accrue a mountain of credit card debt. Unfortunately, we know it happens, because the average card holder carries a balance of $5,769 — an all-time high. And the longer we leave our balances to grow, the higher the price we’ll pay. Because not only are we paying the base price of the item we already bought, we’re paying our credit card companies around 19% APR for the privilege of paying it down over time. But it’s very possible to create an achievable resolution for what may feel like an insurmountable task right now.
One of the best approaches to pay down your debt is the “debt avalanche” payoff method. It allows you to tackle the debt with the highest-interest rate first. To do it, you’ll start by making at least the minimum payment on every debt you owe. At the same time, you’ll put any additional funds you have each month towards your debt with the highest interest rate. (For example, some debt may only cost you 7% interest, while others, like credit cards, could be closer to 20%. You’ll pay down the 20% debt first.) You’ll continue putting all your spare change into that highest-interest debt until it’s paid off in full. Once achieved, pat yourself on the back then begin applying the extra money in your budget to the next highest interest debt. It may take a few years, but you can eventually whittle down all your high interest rate debt this way until it’s completely gone. (For other lower-rate debts, like mortgages and student loans, paying them off on the schedule you’ve been given is the smarter move. Why? It leaves you enough money to save and invest for your other goals.)
While you are chipping away at your debt, consider a couple more tactics. Consolidate your high-interest card debt in a lower-cost loan or line of credit. Your Credit Union offers exceptional loans with rates substantially below the average card interest rate. Or you could transfer your card balance to one of our low-interest Credit Cards with rates as low as half those for bank and retailer cards.
Save For A Home
Real estate can be a good investment for those who know they plan to stay in the same place for several years. And because a home is typically the largest purchase most people make during their lifetime, it usually takes a while to save up for a down payment. If 2023 is the year this goal will be within reach, now is your chance to make yourself an even stronger candidate for a mortgage so you can score the lowest interest rate possible. Financial experts say a good first step is to know your credit score and, if needed, begin working to improve it in the first few months of the year. A credit score (which ranges from 300 to 850) is like a report card that stays with us throughout our adult lives, reflecting how we handle money. Throughout the pandemic you’ve been entitled to a free credit report every week from each of the three major credit reporting companies, which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can request these from AnnualCreditReport.com. Your Credit Union also provides free credit scores with monthly statements.
Prepay For A Vacay
The ability to spend money minus the stress is one of the reasons we work so diligently to save in the first place. Since most of us don’t have an unlimited travel budget, building up a “fun fund” means you’ll need to come up with a savings plan for your trip, just as you would for all other financial goals. (Granted, it may be a smaller goal, but it still requires saving for, nonetheless.) So, if you need to amass $5,000 for a family vacation, you’ll need to sock away roughly $417 a month for 12 months to meet that goal. If you aren’t quite sure how to save that much with your current spending plan, then take a look at your expenses to see where you could make adjustments. For example, would eating out less often help bring your vacation dreams to life? If so, plan more meals at home and move the extra money to your fun fund each week. Your Credit Union has a purpose-made account for this, our “My Account” savings account. Name the account anything you like (within reason) like “Maui Here I Come.” We set up automatic deductions through the year that grow with good interest so when the vacay comes around your expenses are covered.