The start of the year is a classic time for creating new goals, giving you direction for the months to come. With inflation and a possible recession on the horizon, many people are focused on their finances. Fortunately, there are plenty of suitable objectives that can help you get your money in order. Here are the top seven financial resolutions for 2023.
1. Build an Emergency Fund
One of the most critical steps you can take to secure your financial well-being is building an emergency fund. By having some cash set aside for the unexpected, you give yourself a safety net that doesn’t rely on debt.
If you’re just starting out, set your initial savings target at $1,000 or the total cost of your vehicle and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance deductibles, whichever is higher. If you already have that set aside, work to increase your emergency fund to cover three months of living expenses, giving you a cushion in case of sudden unemployment.
Once you have three months of living expenses, six months of expenses is the next target you should go after. Then, work your way up to a year. That way, you’re covered against emergencies big and small.
2. Create a Workable Budget
Having a functional budget gives you a framework for your financial life. The issue is that many people are overly optimistic about how they’ll handle their money. As a result, it’s smart to focus on being realistic.
The easiest way to create a workable budget is to start by writing down information about your debts and recurring expenses, such as utilities and insurance. Next, review your spending over the last three months to see how much you commit to groceries, fuel for vehicles, and other cost areas that typically fluctuate.
By seeing where your money is going now, you can identify areas for adjustments. Start with minor tweaks, making it easier to adapt to stricter spending limits and focus on other financial goals, like saving. Then, if that first month is a success, see if other minor adjustments are viable. That strategy lets you take a slow and steady approach, making it easier to stay realistic while making positive changes.
3. Capture the Entire Employer Match
If you’re employed at a company that offers an employer match on retirement contributions, make sure you’re contributing enough to qualify for the full match offered. The employer match can significantly impact your financial future by giving you more funds for retirement. Plus, it’s essentially free money, so it’s an employee benefit that’s worth maximizing.
Just be aware of any vesting rules in place at your company. Usually, you can only keep the employer match if you remain employed at the organization for a minimum time period. By knowing how long it takes to become vested, you can make sure that you’re fully capturing this financial benefit before leaving for opportunities elsewhere.
4. Pay Down One High-Interest Debt
If you’re carrying any high-interest debt, choose one account and make it your focus for 2023. It’s ideal if you can aim to pay it off during the year. However, if the balance is high, simply work on paying it down as much as possible.
Begin by ensuring that you’re making the minimum payment on it and every other account as required, as well as handling your recurring expenses. Then, send any extra cash to the chosen debt that you can without completely derailing the rest of your budget. Every little bit more helps chip away at the principal faster. As a result, you’ll pay less in interest over time.
If the debt you’re focused on is a credit card or other revolving account where the minimum payment shrinks as the total owed declines, keep your monthly payment the same, using the current payment as the guideline. That creates consistency in your budget and helps you make progress faster. Additionally, don’t add to that debt along the way, as that undoes your work.
5. Adopt the 72-Hour Rule
Using the 72-hour rule can curb unnecessary spending significantly. Essentially, if you see a non-essential item you’d like to purchase, make yourself wait at least 72 hours before actually buying. By using this strategy, you’re delaying splurges that are potentially motivated purely by the emotion of seeing the item in the moment. When you revisit the idea of buying the product in 72 hours, that initial feeling is typically gone, making you less likely to purchase anything you don’t actually need.
If you still feel strongly about purchasing the product after 72 hours, take a moment to reflect on why. By considering your motivations, you can understand more about what’s driving you to get the item. At that point, if you have a legitimate reason and the money in your budget, you can potentially move forward. However, if you still have doubts, wait another 72 hours to see if the picture becomes clearer.
6. Try a No-Spend Challenge
No-spend challenges involve not spending any money on anything aside from bills and certain living expenses you can’t cover in advance – such as refueling a vehicle or fresh foods that won’t last for the entire time – for a specific period. Many people try no-spend February since it’s the shortest month of the year. However, if that idea is intimidating, try a no-spend two weeks as a starting point.
Before your no-spend period, you have to make sure that you plan your groceries for that entire period. Use a frugal approach by taking advantage of bulk items, sales, freezer meals, and similar strategies that can reduce your costs and make the experience less stressful. Just make sure you don’t go on a spending spree to compensate for a no-spend period before or after it happens, as that doesn’t positively impact you financially.
After the no-spend period, you should have some extra cash available. Take that and put it toward a specific goal, such as paying down debt or beefing up your emergency fund. That way, it has a positive impact on your financial picture.
7. Start Investing Outside of Retirement
While many people have company-sponsored retirement plans, investing outside of them can make it easier to ensure your long-term financial security. Whether you have access to a 401(k) or similar program at work, consider opening an IRA – either traditional or Roth, depending on your financial situation – to shore up your retirement savings. If you have children, you may want to explore 529 plans to put money aside for their college education.
However, even if you only have general saving goals, investing is still worth considering. You can open an account at a brokerage and start putting money into the market, potentially letting you capture better gains than if you put the cash into a savings account. Just make sure that you diversify. In many cases, going with index funds or ETFs makes that easy. Do a little research to find funds with solid track records and align with your risk tolerance, creating a personalized portfolio that meets your needs.
Did you decide to have a financial resolution for 2023? If so, what did you pick and why? Do you think resolutions are helpful or not? Why do you feel that way? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.