The Miser’s 3 Things:
- Some failed New Year’s resolutions will cost you money. So resolve this year to save money instead by increasing retirement contributions, even by 1 percent.
- Protect your money by checking your statements and requesting free credit reports.
- Research some painless options to make extra income and cuts to your monthly budget, then pursue them.
We can all agree on this: sometimes, we just don’t follow through on those New Year’s resolutions.
So, instead of committing yourself to that expensive gym membership only to use it once a month, how about committing to some resolutions that will actually save you money this year?
Resolution #1: Get your retirement account in shape
If you have a company-sponsored 401(k) plan, resolve to take advantage of it.
If you haven’t already invested in it, it’s time to start. Roll over your old 401(k) account into your company’s plan. It usually requires about an hour on the phone (yes, most of it spent listening to bad hold music).
Are you automatically enrolled in the plan and making the default 3 percent contributions? Find out what your company match is and contribute at least enough to get the full match. (Typically, this is something like a 6 percent contribution on your part.)
Are you feeling like you can stop at 6 percent? Don’t. You won’t save enough money that way! Boost your contributions, and boost them again whenever you get a raise.
For the past three years, I’ve increased my contributions by 1 percent a year. I went from 12 percent in 2015 (plus 4 percent company match) to 13 percent in 2016, 14 percent last year, and plan to bump this up to 15 percent later this year.
This works out to taking roughly half of my yearly raise and putting it towards my retirement.
Resolution #2: Make a budget, then cut it
Football teams spend all week coming up with a gameplan for the team they’ll face on Sunday.
Back in the day, people spent a few minutes looking at a map before they made an out-of-state road trip.
Commit to making a plan for your spending. How much of my paycheck goes to necessities, and how much is left over for incidentals and ‘wants?’ How much do I want to spend on eating out? Entertainment? How much do I want to put toward savings?
Once you come up with your realistic budget, it’s time to cut something out of it that you don’t need. Cut back to one “eating out” trip a week. Better yet, make it biweekly. Eye up those monthly subscriptions, too.
I cut cable last year. (More on how I saved $50 a month here.) Do I miss it? NOPE. Do I miss the giant monthly bill? DOUBLE NOPE.
Resolution #3: Protect your money
With data breaches becoming increasingly common, resolve to protect yourself and your accounts this year by reviewing your statements and requesting your credit reports.
Every week, go online to look at your credit/debit card charges to make sure they’re only purchases you’ve made. If you see fraudulent activity, call your bank or credit card company immediately.
Then, go to annualcreditreport.com and click on “request your credit reports.” Federal law allows you one free credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months.
I try (but don’t always succeed) to space out my requests so I get one every four months. I make a note in my calendar of which bureau’s report I request. Four months later, I go back to the Annual Credit Report website and request the next bureau’s report. Four months later, I get the third bureau’s report. Then, it’s back to the beginning.
The three credit bureaus are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax (yes, the Equifax that suffered a massive data breach in fall 2016. The company already tracks your information anyway, so not requesting a free credit report isn’t doing anything to protect yourself.)
Resolution #4: Make extra income
We’re not talking about second jobs that will suck up all your free time like a vacuum, nor are we talking about anything that will make you an overnight millionaire.
We’re talking about passive income. I’ve already detailed how you can make $15 a month with a cash-back credit card and a couple minutes of your time each week.
Do you have $1,000 or $10,000 in a savings account at the bank? Find a FDIC-insured online bank with a high-yield savings program (some are 1.3 percent or higher) and open an account. Just read the rules first to know how many withdrawals you can make from the online account each month without paying a penalty. Your new 1.3 percent interest rate will probably be 1.29 percent higher than at your current bank.
In short, resolve to take one step this year to improve your financial well-being.
Top photo credit: Pexels.com