Here are nine ways to set yourself up for financial success in 2020:
1. Check your credit score
Your credit score is a snapshot of your overall financial health, and an easy way to get a general sense of how you’re doing. Knowing your credit score (and the factors underlying that score) can help you take the necessary steps toward improving it. (Or allow you to bask in your exceptional credit-worthiness, daydreaming about all the extremely low-rate mortgages you could qualify for.)
2. Quit your gym
Not what you were expecting, right? January is one of the busiest months at most gyms, with the newly motivated hordes resuscitating long-dormant memberships, and a fresh round of suckers signing up in the hopes of securing the ultimate beach body before June.
Gyms make money because most of us never use our expensive memberships, and because it’s exceptionally difficult to quit. So instead of psyching yourself up to spend 20 minutes on the elliptical a few times this month (before abandoning the habit in favor of takeout and Netflix), use all that New Year’s motivation to go straight to the gym and cancel your membership.
Use your much-needed willpower to resist the flattery of the attractive trainers who will opine on all you’ll be missing out on by finally acknowledging the simple truth that you will never go there on a regular basis. You can do it! We believe in you! Go, go, go!
Once you’ve done that, look into other, less expensive ways to get in shape. Did you know you can do yoga on YouTube? Figure out something active that you actually enjoy doing, and that will probably cost less than one month at your old gym. (I hear old VHS tapes of Richard Simmons are very, very cheap.)
And you can put the money you freed up by quitting to good use by paying down debt or building up your emergency fund or bank account buffer™. (See below.)
3. Automate your savings
Willpower is great, in theory. But, in practice, most of us don’t have that much of it. (And, if you did as we suggested in No. two, you used it all up in quitting the gym.)
To meet your savings goals, take willpower out of the equation, and automate your savings, either via paycheck deduction into a retirement account, or via an automatic transfer into a high-yield savings account at a different bank. With that money gone before you even know it’s there, it’ll be basically impossible for you to spend it.
Don’t have a high interest savings account that’s separate from your everyday checking account? Compare rates and open one online now.
4. Build up a bank account buffer™
Living paycheck to paycheck, always worried that one unexpected bill or automated payment will send you into the red? Then your New Year’s goal should be to set up a bank account buffer™.
A bank account buffer™ is money that stays in your checking account and acts as your new zero. A good bank account buffer™ is about one paycheck’s worth of cash.
It may take a little while to build up a buffer, but once you do, you’ll no longer have to worry about the rent coming due in that weird lull between paychecks, or of a week with higher expenses than normal saddling you with an overdraft fee.
5. Sell your old stuff you don’t need
Following the consumerist orgy that is Christmas, the New Year is a great time to declutter your apartment, your office, and your life. Got a basement full of old stuff you never use anymore? Get an expensive but not-your-style sweater from Great Aunt Edna this year? If, as lifestyle guru Marie Kondo instructs, none of these items “spark joy” for you, then put them on craigslist or eBay and turn that useless stuff into cold, hard cash.
And that cold, hard cash can help you build up your bank account buffer™, pay down credit card debt (which could up your credit score), or save toward something you actually want (and really need).
If you’re like a lot of young people and have put off contributing to a retirement account, it’s time to suck it up and do it.
You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again—next to making a budget, having a retirement account that you contribute to regularly is one of the most important financial decisions you can make.
The reason I specifically mention a Roth IRA, is because it has a specific attraction that many other accounts don’t: Your contributions and interest earnings grow tax-free and, at retirement, withdrawals are 100 percent tax-free.
Of course, any retirement contributions are a good thing—whether that’s to your 401(k) through your employer, or to a traditional IRA.
Check out our list of the best Roth IRA investment accounts here.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Saving For Retirement
7. Stop living above your means
Whether you have a great income or a so-so income, many of us are living well above our means.
How so? Well, every time you spend on something seemingly small and tell yourself it isn’t a whole lot of money, you’re adding to the slow leak that is overspending. All those small purchases add up quickly.
This is why it’s important to budget—if you’re not aware of where your money is going, it’s incredibly easy to just keep spending.
Unexpected home or car repairs can cost a lot if you’re not prepared. In addition to having an emergency fund for these expenses, you can save a lot by teaching yourself basic maintenance skills.
There are plenty of books on fixing simple plumbing problems or building bookshelves with recycled materials. If you don’t want to sit down and read, there’s a Youtube video for everything from changing your car’s oil to carpeting your bedroom.
There are even apps out there that can help you organize your home projects and help you learn to fix basic repair problems.
Buying a couple of books or taking the time to watch a 10-minute video is a lot less expensive than hiring outside help.
9. Make sure your auto insurance is as low as possible
Many people sign up for car insurance and have the payment automatically taken out each month—which usually comes with an extra discount. This makes it easy to forget that there are times in your life where you could substantially lower your monthly payment. Here are just two major life changes that can lower your premiums:
- When you turn 25—This is especially important for men, who have very high insurance rates as teenagers. Of course, it’s important to remember that your premium will only go down if you have a clean driving record.
- When you get married—When you get married someone suddenly becomes more reliant on you, so you’re more likely to drive safer than a young, single person. Even if you’re under 25, if you’re married, you’re likely to have lower rates than someone who is single.
It’s important to contact your car insurance company in these instances, as they won’t automatically lower your rates.
You should also get quotes every once in a while to see if switching car insurance companies will make a significant difference in how much you pay.
With the new year, it’s time to get serious about your finances for the year. The best ideas are the ones that require an initial burst of effort, and then let you profit passively for the rest of the year.
- The 6 + 1 System For Achieving Financial Security
- The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Debt