By Andrea Woroch
Every year, countless people throughout the country dream up personal finance-related New Year's Resolutions. Most of the goals are centered around saving more money, whether it's by earning more or spending less. Some folks have trips they want to take or projects they need to cross off their to-do list, while others just want the security of bolstering their savings accounts. Regardless of the goal, most people fail because they overlook the most critical step in achieving their objective - a well thought out plan. Below are seven detailed adjustments that will actually help you reach your financial target and lead a more financially responsible 2020.
1. Track your spending.
It's easy to blow your budget when you have no idea where your money is going. Tracking how you spend allows you to identify where you need to cut back — hello, Target! — which makes it easier to limit unnecessary purchases. Remember, you can't change what you can't see and tracking your spending provides a visual of your spending and saving habits.
You can track your spending the old-fashioned way in a Microsoft Excel chart, by checking your credit card and bank accounts, or by using a budget tracking app, such as YNAB, Mint or Pocket Guard. Most of the apps do all the work of categorizing your expenses, providing spending reports and even sending alerts when you're about to go overbudget in a certain category.
2. Create goal-specific accounts.
Instead of setting aside savings for all your goals in one account, you will feel more motivated to keep stashing away cash when you can visualize your progress toward your goal. Create separate savings accounts for each item, whether it's for an upcoming vacation, kitchen renovation or early retirement.
Keep in mind, you can actually earn more on your savings by opening an online savings account. You can find many high-yield savings accounts online that offer nearly 2% back on your savings, compared to the less than 1% offered by a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.
Then, automate your savings. This turns the act of saving to autopilot, so you no longer have to think about actually doing it. It also turns your savings into a regular monthly expense and helps reduce the urge to spend on other purchases that you don't need. By automating your savings directly from your paycheck into a separate account, you won't even be able to miss the money. Begin small at first and slowly increase those contributions.
3. Take on a side hustle.
There is only so much you can do to reduce monthly spending and free up extra funds to put toward your goals. If you want to save faster, taking on a side hustle can be highly effective. You can find many options online that you can do right from home, so the work doesn't have to interfere with your day-to-day life. For instance, you can earn up to $1,000 extra every month by pet sitting via Rover.com. The platform makes it easy to set up a profile and create a schedule that works best for you. You can watch someone's dog or cat right in your own home, too, so you can pretty much go about your regular routine, while earning supplemental income.
4. Lower your energy bill.
Adjust your thermostat by 5 degrees (lower during the winter or higher during the summer) to save 10% on your electricity bill, according to PG&E. Wash large loads of laundry in cold water and take shorter showers to reduce water heating costs.
Make sure to unplug any electronics or small kitchen appliances that aren't in use, such as TVs, cable boxes, chargers, coffee machines and toasters. Otherwise, plug them into a power strip and just turn that off when you aren't using your devices.
5. Prepare coffee and lunch the night before.
Mornings get incredibly busy, especially when you have children to get ready for school and you're trying to make it out of the house before the morning traffic. If you don't prepare the night before, it's easy to get in the habit of stopping by a drive through to get coffee and then running out on your lunch break to grab a salad or sandwich. While spending a few bucks on coffee or less than $10 on a cheap lunch is convenient and may seem harmless, these daily charges add up fast. A little preparation can go a long way to reducing how much you spend on these items.
For instance, use a programmable coffee maker so your cup of joe is ready when your alarm goes off. Even better, you can find one that makes single serve coffee in a to-go tumbler that you just grab on your way out the door. The same goes for your lunch — prep a sandwich, salad or dinner leftovers in a container along with a drink in a bag that you can just grab out of the fridge in the morning. The less you have to do in the morning to make these cost savings possible, the easier it will be. This could easily result in hundreds of dollars in savings every month, giving you the opportunity to reach your goals faster.
6. Dodge shopping temptations.
If you ever found yourself browsing merchandise in store or online for fun, you've probably found yourself buying things you don't need and feeling buyer's remorse afterwards. There are several things you can do to reduce these shopping temptations.
First, find activities to fill your time so you don't browse when bored. Go for a walk or call a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. Next, turn off push-notifications from deal and retail apps on your phone that alert you to new merchandise or current sales that can be incredibly tempting.
Finally, delete prepopulated payment information on any online retail accounts. The time it takes for you to find your credit card and enter the information can sometimes be enough to help you make a smart decision. Sometimes even just filling your online cart and then closing the laptop or exiting the browser will be enough to fulfill that shopping urge!
7. Grocery shop with a plan.
Meal planning is your ticket to saving on groceries, dodging takeout temptations and reducing food waste. Begin by reviewing your upcoming calendar for potential activities that would keep you from having dinner at home, then look for meal inspiration online.
Look for recipes that call for similar ingredients to ensure you use up all the food you purchase and think about what's already in your pantry or refrigerator to lower your overall grocery bill. Planning ahead also allows you to reduce daily grocery shopping trips, which ultimately reduces the various impulse purchases that happen at the supermarket — like the extra bag of chips or Oreo cookies.
Aim to shop just once a week and stock up on essentials. You will also save time, which is priceless!
If you want to reduce your interest payments and lower your debt, join MoneyTips and use our free Debt Optimizer tool.
More about Andrea:
Andrea has been featured on hundreds of regional and national TV shows such as Today, Good Morning America, Dr. Oz, CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News, CBS, FOX & Friends, HLN and many more. In print and online, her articles and tips have appeared in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Money, Reader's Digest, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Redbook, Parenting, Shape, Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, LearnVest and more. She is also a regular monthly contributor to KTLA Morning News, US News & World Report, GOBankingRates.com and Clark.com.