Another year has flown by. While there’s still some time left in 2019, we are beginning to make our resolutions for the new year (and decade!).
When building your list of goals for the upcoming year, it’s helpful to look back on last year’s successes and failures, as well as learn from other's mistakes and wins. Need help brainstorming? From small financial improvements to big money moves, here are 50 great pieces of financial advice from 2019. You’ll definitely want to bring these into the new year with you.
1. Goals are nothing without metrics
“Being good with money” is a vague and hard-to-accomplish goal. But what if you broke up your lofty financial mission into easy-to-complete tasks? Setting numerical metrics, like paying off $20,000 in debt or putting $15,000 into a retirement account, can give you the motivation to tackle your 2020 goals.
2. Accomplish your resolutions early
When it comes to achieving your financial goals, it pays to start early. Try out the free Easy Money Resolutions Bootcamp to help you get four financial to-dos checked off your list in the new year. Sign up to get the first of four emails here.
3. Make a budget, even if it’s a simple one
Tracking your finances gives you insights into where you’ve done well and where you might need to make some adjustments. Here’s a free downloadable budgeting sheet to get you started.
4. Try the 50/30/20 rule
If your current budgeting tactics aren’t working, consider trying the 50/30/20 rule, which is a simple breakdown of where to put your money. According to the rule, 50% of your expenses should go to needs — like food and rent — 30% should go toward wants — the nonessentials — and you should save the remaining 20%.
5. Go ahead, buy that morning latte
Some personal finance experts encourage cutting back on small purchases, like your morning coffee, to reach a money goal. The reality? Larger financial decisions, like buying a house or car, will more drastically move the needle in your financial life. If you struggle with debt or saving for retirement, consider focusing on the bigger picture.
6. Money advice can come to you
It’s as easy as signing up for the Policygenius Easy Money newsletter. You’ll get money news and money moves sent right to your inbox every week.
7. Track your subscriptions …
There are subscription services for everything from toothbrushes to TV, and the charges can really add up. (Check out this series on subscription services.) Keep track of all your ongoing subscriptions so you know how much you’re paying in total.
8. … & rethink the ones you don’t need
Do you really need all those streaming services? Consider combing through your services and selecting the services you use the most, and cutting the rest.
9. Negotiate everything
Whether it’s a better deal on a new couch or a bump in salary, negotiating may ultimately help your finances. Here’s a tip sheet on how to negotiate your way to a better budget.
10. Give yourself 24 hours before making a big purchase
Instead of purchasing something immediately, allow yourself 24 hours to decide if you really need it. Chances are the impulse to make the purchase will pass. If you’re still thinking about it a day later, it may be something you really want to spend money on.
11. Don’t forget to budget for charity
Money isn’t just a tool for yourself. It’s also a way to help people. If giving is a priority, let your budget reflect that. That way you have money set aside for charity, along with other priorities like groceries or movie night. It also sets a great example for kids.
12. Read your credit card statement
It’s easy to ignore your regular credit card statement every time it arrives, but it’s important to review it. Your credit card statement includes a lot of important information, like changes to your account or late payment warnings. It also includes your most recent transactions, which helps identify any fraudulent charges. We have a guide to reading a credit card statement here.
13. Carrying a balance on your credit card doesn’t build credit
It’s a common money myth that you have to carry a balance on a credit card to boost your credit score. Pay off monthly purchases in full to avoid incurring interest and a balance you can no longer afford.
14. Don’t be afraid to request a credit limit increase
When your credit limit increases you don’t necessarily have to use it. But if you keep your spending the same with a higher limit, you’ll get a better credit utilization ratio — how much of your total available credit you’ve used at any given time. This can positively affect your credit score.
15. You don’t have to pay for credit monitoring
You should never have to pay for credit or identity theft monitoring. Most banks and credit card companies offer this service for free. If yours doesn’t, the three credit bureaus will allow you to place a fraud alert or a freeze on your credit files for free, in addition to a free credit report every 12 months.
16. Sign up for credit card notifications
The benefit of getting an email or text message every time your credit card is swiped is two-fold — it holds you accountable for each purchase you make in real-time and you’ll be immediately notified of any fraudulent charges.
17. Use the snowball method to pay off debt
If you have multiple loans weighing down your finances, pay off the higher-interest loans first, starting with the one with the lowest balance. Not only will it give you a sense of completion, you’ll also save on the interest those loans would have cost you in the future. But don’t forget to make the minimum payment on the other loans to avoid going into default, which will hurt your credit.
18. Know your rights
There are plenty of scams out there — staying informed can save you a ton of money in the long run. For example: Regardless of what aggressive debt collectors may tell you, you’re not responsible for the debt of a deceased loved one if you never co-signed the loan. Knowledge is power, and it can protect your finances.
19. Start (or fully fund) an emergency fund
A rainy day fund is a savings account, with about 3-6 months’ worth of expenses, that you treat as emergency money only. You shouldn’t tap into it unless it’s an emergency, like you lost your job, have an unexpected medical expense or need the money to pay your mortgage.
20. Set it & forget it
Be intentional about setting up a savings plan in the beginning of the year for specific goals. Automate your savings transfers to save you time and so you don’t get tempted to use the funds for something else.
21. Don’t be scared by savings goals
Most advisors recommend saving about 20% of your income. If that seems high, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to give up altogether. Try saving 1% of every paycheck, then increase that to 2% the next month and so on. Stick to that plan and you’ll be more than halfway to saving 20% at the end of a year.
22. Up your 401(k) contribution
For most W-2 workers, 401(k) contributions are automatically taken from your paycheck. It’s good to periodically check and adjust the amount accordingly. Even a 1% increase can make a big difference for the future. At the very least, try and match your employers contribution, if they offer one.
23. Diversify your portfolio
That’ll help minimize your exposure if there is a recession next year — or beyond. But the key with investing is to …
24. … revisit your strategy over time
For example, if you’re saving for retirement, it’s a good idea to move your investments into lower-risk options as you get older to minimize the risk of losing the funds when you need them. We have a beginner’s guide to investing here.
25. Consider a low-cost index fund
An index fund is a mutual fund that’s pegged to a market index, like the S&P 500. The fees tend to be much lower than they are for actively managed funds.
26. Wait out flashy IPOs
Often companies going public will price their shares higher than what they’re worth, and, most times (ahem, Lyft and WeWork), it’s best to wait it out.
27. Watch your net worth
Tracking your cash flow is a great habit. But to get a broader view of your financial health, you need to know your net worth, which is the sum of your debts and your assets. We made a free downloadable spreadsheet to help you get a handle on it.
28. Start a FIRE plan
The Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement caught on in 2019, as more people aim to establish financial security earlier in life, quit their day jobs and spend time pursuing their passions. Learn if FIRE is right for you.
29. Talk about money with your partner
No matter how you decide to manage your money (together or separate), it’s important for couples to discuss their finances with each other as it builds trust. The Policygenius second annual Couples & Money survey revealed those in a relationship who consider their partner financially irresponsible are 10 times more likely to break up and are less prepared for financial emergencies.
30. Pay attention to the small fees
31. Use a password manager
This isn’t strictly financial advice, but reusing one password for multiple sites can leave your accounts vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves. This is especially true if you’re using the same login information for multiple financial websites.
32. Adjust tax withholding on your W-4
Many were surprised to receive a lower tax refund or that they owed money on their 2018 taxes. This was mostly because people didn’t adjust the information on their W-4 forms after the 2017 tax reform. Claiming the right number of exemptions on your W-4 ensures you don’t underpay in taxes through the year (and end up with a bill). It also helps ensure you don’t overpay.
33. Spend your pre-tax money on health care, if you can
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) allow you to save pre-tax money and use it for health care expenses. This means less of your pay is subject to federal, state and local income tax.
If you get an FSA, keep in mind that you can carry over a maximum of $500 in your account from one year to the next. Anything more than $500 is lost. You need to have a high-deductible health plan to get an HSA. HDHPs are usually best for health individuals who don’t go to the doctor much outside of preventive care.
34. Learn what your health insurance covers
There’s no denying that health insurance is confusing, but understanding the basics can help you. Our 2019 health insurance literacy survey found that more than one in four people put off receiving care because they didn’t know what their insurance covered.
35. You don’t always have to pay for essentials …
Preventative services are typically covered by your health insurance. This even includes things like getting a flu shot — here’s a list of where you can get a free flu shot.
36. … & you don’t always need to wait for open enrollment to get health insurance
Certain major life changes — like getting married, having a baby or losing your job — qualify you for a special enrollment period, which allows you to sign up for health insurance outside of open enrollment. If your income falls within the federal poverty guidelines, you can also sign up for Medicaid — a health insurance program for low-income individuals — any time during the year.
37. Buy private life insurance …
Because workplace coverage is generally insufficient — and, as evident by Sears this year — can be subject to cancellation.
38. … & private disability insurance
Life is unpredictable. If you’re not able to work, disability insurance essentially replaces your income. Many employers offer disability insurance, but it doesn’t stick with you if you switch jobs, so it’s a good idea to consider private disability insurance.
39. Re-shop your auto insurance
Auto insurance rates aren’t static. It’s a good idea to regularly check if you’re still paying the best price. Even if your rates are inflated by a recent accident, you may start to see lower prices after a few years.
40. Get networking ASAP
Whether it’s learning to talk to people at a conference or asking someone for an informational interview, stretching your networking muscles can mean great things for your career.
41. Learn how to negotiate a job offer
Looking for a new job in 2020? If so, learn how to negotiate your job offer so you can walk through the door on your first day in the best possible position.
42. Keep an eye out for student discounts
Being a student doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the finer things in life. Spotify offers a student discount. The New York Times offers a student discount. Apple offers student discounts. Car insurance companies offer student discounts. You probably see where this is going — when you can, look for a deal that takes advantage of your student status. We have a complete list of student discounts here.
43. … & discounts on your birthday
There’s no shame in using your special day as a way to get free stuff. After all, it only comes around once a year. Here’s 50 free things you can get during your birth month.
44. Use the public library
Did you know you check out from the library on your phone? Check out ebooks, comic books, audio books and even movies from your local branch or online.
45. Delete ride-sharing services from your phone
Calling a ride share from the comfort of your home is convenient, but regular rides can add up. Eliminate the temptation by deleting these services from your phone (no, really) and force yourself to use less expensive options, like public transit or riding a bike.
46. Take advantage of commuter benefits
Many employers offer commuter benefits for things like transportation and parking. These benefits use tax-free dollars, so you keep more of what you earn when you take advantage of them.
47. Use (or learn) cooking skills
Cooking is an invaluable skill that can save you time and money in the long run. If you’ve never cooked for yourself before, start with some simple dishes you already enjoy and invest in some basic kitchen supplies.
48. Create a financial checklist
It helps to record everything. Whether it’s setting a reminder to set aside some extra money this for a money goal or recording a way to tackle your debt, consider making a daily or weekly financial checklist.
49. Perform an annual financial checkup
Are you still getting the best deal on your car insurance? Are your retirement accounts still in line with your goals? Does your life insurance fit your life circumstances? It doesn’t take long for a quick pass at your finances to make sure your money is working for you and your financial safety net is doing what you need it to do. Take a financial health check at the end of every year and set goals to improve.
50. Invest in yourself
While managing your own money can be scary and stressful, don’t forget to invest more in yourself, whether that be learning a new skill or treating yourself to a nice dinner. Investing in yourself may be the key to your financial aspirations and may increase productivity in all areas of your life.
Ready to set your financial resolutions for 2020? Here are some ideas to get you started.
Image: Inti St Clair