One of the things that sets the human race apart from other species is our ability to learn by looking back at the past. But by this logic, New Year’s resolutions should have long ceased to exist. After all, most people make enthusiastic New Year’s resolutions time and time again, only to let them go mere days later.
Then again, maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising, as unearned optimism is another human trait.
Or maybe there is something to New Year’s resolutions. Even if we don’t meet our goals, we at least evaluate what matters to us. And there are surely people who successfully stick to their resolutions and make real changes.
This year, let’s try making financial New Year’s resolutions that are actually sustainable. By choosing resolutions that are ambitious while remaining realistic, this might be the year we see real change in our financial fortunes.
Use a budgeting app
Budgeting alone is not a good New Year’s resolution, because it is something that is always in our plans. The reason we don’t do it is because it brings up a lot of feelings. Looking back on your bank statements and seeing just how much you need to spend every month can be intimidating. Even worse is seeing all the money you spent on things you did not need.
This is why modern budgeting apps are so useful. They connect to your accounts and use complex algorithms to categorize each and every transaction. If they get something wrong, it is easy to correct them. Then you are left with handy charts setting out exactly where you are spending your money and where you could be saving.
Evaluate your retirement fund
In theory, we are all saving towards retirement. If you’re working for a company, you probably have a 401(k) which receives contributions every month. For many people, the knowledge that this plan is in place is enough to ease their minds. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be.
This is not just because saving for retirement requires more input than what goes into most retirement plans. You also may not be using the best possible retirement plan. The 401(k) is not your only option. If you want your future retirement withdrawal to be tax free, a Roth IRA is a better option. And if you want to put more money away for retirement than most plans allow, mega backdoor Roth contribution limits are significantly higher.
You don’t need to have a working knowledge of every retirement plan to evaluate your savings. This year, resolve to assess your fund, simply to determine whether or not it needs work.
Plan for your death
Death is not something we like to talk about, but especially after almost two years of a deadly pandemic, it is something we can’t afford to avoid. Millions of Americans have not planned for what happens after they die, even if they have families dependent on their income.
Resolve this year to do the most basic planning for your death. Write a will, even if you don’t have many assets, as this will save your family a huge amount of stress at an incredibly difficult time. If you don’t have a life insurance policy, you need to get one. Even if you’re not the primary breadwinner, you still need to provide for your dependents when you are gone.
If you do have a life insurance policy in place, re-evaluate it and update it if necessary. Your life may have changed drastically over the last few years, and what seemed like a big amount then may no longer come close to being enough now.
Demystify your credit card rewards
Credit card reward plans offer really great savings as well as some impactful rewards. However, many people procrastinate in figuring out how to make the most of those rewards. They earn by virtue of using the credit card, but only a fraction of what they could be making.
This year, resolve to go through the terms of your credit card reward plans. Note any behaviors that you can change immediately that will increase the value of your rewards. Note the aspirational changes. Then find a target to work towards; that way, your credit card rewards plan is something you actively pursue.
Making New Year’s resolutions can feel like an overly optimistic activity. However, if you choose goals that are sustainable, you just might be able to improve your finances in 2022.