How to get your financial life in order in 2019

It’s okay if you can’t do everything. If you do even one or two of the items on this list, you’ll be better off in 2019 than you were in 2018.

A few weeks ago, in the Money Circle group, someone mentioned that they want to get their financial shit together in 2019. They asked what steps they should be taking in order to do that with their money. This is going to look different for everyone, depending on your situation, but there are certain steps that are always good to take.

Decide What You Want to Achieve

What is the number one financial goal you want to reach in 2019? This might seem obvious, but you have to actually decide which money goals you want to reach in order to reach them. For the new year, sit down and decide what you want to achieve in 2019. That way, you can start taking the right steps to get there.

Do you want to create a budget that you’ll actually stick to? Do you want to get a higher paying job? Do you want to pay off your debt? Whatever your goal is, get clear on it so you can get started. Remember to be realistic when setting goals, so you don’t end up frustrated and demoralized when you don’t reach them.

Get Clear on Your Numbers

This is essential if you ever want to be financially healthy. You have to know how much money you’re actually working with. Sit down with a notebook or whip up an Excel spreadsheet, however you prefer to do it. Write out exactly how much money you earn each month, and then list out all of your bills. Whatever is leftover should be used for your flex spending, savings, and additional debt payments. To learn more about how to get clear on your numbers to create your budget, check out my past posts.

Schedule Weekly Check-Ins

Setting a budget is great, but it’s not very useful if you only look at it once a month or less. That’s why you need to check in with your budget at least weekly. I call it a Money Minute, you can call it whatever you want. The most important thing is that you do it. Schedule at least one time each week to check in with your money. It can literally be 10 minutes where you see how much you’ve spent that week and compare it to what’s available to you for the month. It doesn’t have to be terribly complicated or painful. In fact, the more you do it, the less painful and more helpful it will actually be.

Choose One Monthly Expense to Eliminate

We all know there’s at least one thing we don’t really need to pay for anymore. It could be a small subscription that you don’t take full advantage of anymore, or it could be a bigger payment, like the gym membership you never actually use. Once you get clear on your numbers, you’ll be able to identify one unnecessary recurring expense that you can get rid of. It might not account for a lot of money, but every little bit counts, especially over the course of a year.

Open a High-Yield Savings Account

I’m a huge fan of high-yield savings accounts (check me out on NerdWallet!). These accounts provide an interest rate that actually means something. Unlike traditional brick and mortar banks, high-yield savings accounts have interest rates of about 2% right now! That’s over 100% more than a regular bank can offer. If you want your liquid savings to grow in a meaningful way, you should open a high-yield savings account. This is especially important when it comes to your emergency savings account, because it will be a bigger amount of money that you (hopefully) don’t have to touch for a while. Let your money work for you!

I personally use Ally Bank for this type of account, but there are lots out there now, like: SynchronyAmerican Express, and Barclays. They all typically have similar interest rates and fees (or lack thereof), but look into each of them and decide which one will be best for you.

Automate Your Savings

Once you’ve chosen the bank for your high-yield savings account and opened the account, it’s time to set up automated savings! Automation is key when it comes to almost any financial decision. That’s because it takes your emotions out of the equation and makes sure it gets done without you even having to think about it. This is especially true when it comes to saving. Because really, who actually saves the money that they have leftover at the end of the month? Figure out how much you can realistically afford to save each month, and set up direct deposit through work. It can be a tiny amount, or it can be bigger. The point is: automating will make sure that you actually do save, and you’ll be proud of yourself in a few months when you see how much it’s grown.

Make a Plan to Eliminate Consumer Debt

Consumer debt is basically any debt accrued by spending money on things that don’t gain value. This would not include a mortgage or student loans. Consumer debt is considered “bad” debt because of its high interest rates and low value of return. Conversely, something like student debt typically has low interest rates and the return is that you will (hopefully) succeed in your career as a result. Consumer debt can easily get out of control and the interest rates can make it grow faster than you can keep up with it. If you have debt like this, meaning credit cards or personal loans, you should prioritize paying it off. Of course, this kind of debt payoff can take a long time, so the important thing is to put a plan in place for getting it paid off.

Figure out exactly how much you owe. Gather all of the information and put it in a spreadsheet where you can see it in one place. Make sure you include the interest rates of each card. From there, decide if you want to take the snowball or avalanche method to paying down debt. You should also look into your consolidation options. Then figure out if you can afford to make larger or additional payments on your debt each month or throughout the year. Using a debt calculator can help you get a good idea of how much you need to pay to get your debt paid off by a certain date. Good luck!

Increase (Or Begin) Your Retirement Contribution

Saving for retirement is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. We can no longer rely on things like pensions to get us through our old-age. It’s up to us, as individuals, to support ourselves. So if you haven’t already started saving for retirement, make that a priority in 2019. If your employer offers a retirement plan, enroll in it, and invest at least the percentage that your employer will match. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, or if you are self-employed, open an IRA. You can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA each calendar year.

If you have been saving for retirement, it’s time to revisit your contribution. If you haven’t increased the percentage that you’re putting in, you should do that, especially if you’ve received a cost of living increase or raise. Even an increase of 1% will make a difference in the long run. A good rule of thumb is to increase your retirement contribution 1% each year, especially as your salary starts going up.

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If you do even one or two of the items on this list, you’ll be better off in 2019 than you were in 2018. It’s okay if you can’t do everything, because you’re a human and you have a limited amount of time and money. Be kind to yourself while you’re putting new systems in place, but keep moving forward!

This article first appeared on MaggieGermano.com.