It’s the first full week of a new year, which serves as an ideal time to take stock of our financial health and, in many cases, make a plan for how to save more money.
Last year, NBC News BETTER consulted experts to learn what steps one could take in 2019 to get on the right track and improve one’s finances. For 2020, we took a similar, big-picture glance, and though you’ll notice some expert advice hasn’t changed (investing in retirement plans, paying down debt and building an emergency fund will likely always make the list of top ways to create financial security), we also highlighted how to reflect on and talk about money in a way that can benefit both your budget and your confidence.
1. Take stock of your 2019 goals and strategies. How’d you do?
“How did you do with your money in 2019? Take some time as one year ends, and the next begins, to reflect on how you’re doing, particularly right after the holiday season, when many of us tend to overspend,” says Leslie H. Tayne, Esq., a financial attorney and author of “Life & Debt: A Fresh Approach to Achieving Financial Wellness”. “Assess where you stand now and if you’re carrying holiday debt (or debt in general) into the New Year. If you had financial New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of 2019, ask yourself if you stuck to them. Think about what went well and what you can improve on. Being honest with yourself can help you figure out what to keep doing and what areas you can make adjustments going forward.”
2. Treat your accounts like a good friend (by visiting them often)
“Start the year by building a relationship with your money the way you would with a friend,” says Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., a wealth relationship expert. “Visit your bank and credit accounts on a regular basis, making sure you know how much money you have, how much you owe, and how much you spend. At this point you are not making choices of plans, you are just treating your money with respect. This might sound silly, but psychologically we know that when we act respectful with our money, we are less judgmental about our situation, and this helps us make different choices. When we are willing to balance our checking account and keep track of our debt we are able to ask for guidance and to plan for the future. Building this type of relationship helps us leave regret and guilt behind us so that we can build a life of financial security.”
3. Check your credit
“If you haven’t been checking your credit report regularly, start this year,” says Tayne. “Each of the three credit bureaus offers a free credit report annually, meaning you can space them out and check your credit for free three times a year. Doing so can help you identify any errors or possible fraud, as well as just to give yourself a good check-in on your finances. If you spot an error, file a dispute with the creditor.”
4. Make an emergency fund (aim for at least one month’s expenses)
“Based on your income, try to save for one month of expenses (in liquid savings),” says Brian Walsh, CFP and Manager of Financial Planning at SoFi. “This should only be used for real emergencies such as issues with your house, medical bills or other true emergency situations. With speculation around a recession, keeping enough cash on hand for those emergencies will help you avoid leaning on credit cards and, ultimately, help you avoid financial disparity. Consider parking this liquid savings in a high yield cash management account that earns higher interest than a typical checking account. This allows the money you’ve saved up to earn even more money over time.”