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Financial Resolution Ideas

Dec. 30, 2019 CNBC

For many, there are two burdens they want to eliminate in 2020: low savings and high debt.

Putting aside more money and paying down balances are the two top financial resolutions for 2020, according to a new survey from Fidelity Investments. That is followed by spending less.

That comes as the Federal Reserve found earlier this year that many adults could not afford to cover a $400 unexpected expense. Meanwhile, almost half of Americans have no rainy day fund, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

They key to shoring up your safety reserves — and keeping your resolutions — is to map out how you’re going to get there.

Set clear savings goals

Start by setting a tangible goal you can reach in 2020.

That can include adding one month’s pay to your emergency fund. Ideally, your emergency fund should eventually grow to have six months’ or one year’s worth of living expenses saved.

You can schedule money to be directly deposited into a high-yield online savings account. Those accounts provide around 2% annual percentage yields, compared to about 0.2% at traditional brick and mortar banks.

Your goal could also be to boost how much you contribute to your retirement savings in your 401(k) plan or individual retirement account.

In 2020, you can put away as much as $19,500 in a 401(k), or $26,000 if you’re age 50 or over. For IRAs, you can save up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re 50 and up. And thanks to new legislation, you can continue to contribute to your IRA accounts no matter your age, as long as you have earned income.

The key is to identify a specific step, and then keep going.

Have a debt payoff strategy

Also try breaking down your goals to knock off debts into smaller, meaningful steps.

For example, you may strive to pay off 20% of your credit card debts.

Because the average credit card balances are roughly $8,700 per household, the idea would be to pay off $1,740 toward that debt. That would cost $145 per month, provided you transfer your balance to a 0% interest credit card.

A 0% interest credit card can allow you to combine your credit card balances by using a balance transfer. You will need to have good credit to qualify.

Next, identify a strategy for paying down those debts. You may want to start with small balances first to get momentum. Or, you could start with the debts with the highest interest rates first to help reduce the total you ultimately pay.

Identify ways to spend less

One surefire way to reach your financial goals faster is to spend less.

But to do that you need to have a plan. Just 42% of adults have a budget, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Even if you do have a budget, it’s always wise to update your plan and look for more ways to cut corners.

Start by gathering all of your bills from the last three months.

Then, make a list of recurring expenses and rank them in order of importance. Put your necessities — housing, food and health care — at the top of the list.

Next, look for ways to start cutting expenses from the bottom. Ideally, you want to get to a point where your take-home pay is more than what you spend each month.

Be sure to look for ways to pare back your existing expenses. For example, look for ways to get lower rates on your renters, home and car insurance.

Revisit your subscriptions and memberships, such as to streaming TV services or the gym, and reevaluate whether they are necessary. You may also want to find a cheaper alternative — such as joining your local Y instead of a pricier brand-name gym.

Over the year, these small changes could save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

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