How do you establish good financial habits?
Like anything else in life, forming good financial habits starts with a plan. Read on to discover 30 things you can do to kick-off healthy money habits in 2019.
1. Commit to a budget
Before you can save for your dream vacation or strategize a way to pay off your credit card debt — you’ll need to create and commit to a budget. And don’t worry. If you aren’t a spreadsheet, number-crunching-inclined person, there are plenty of free online tools and resources that can help you form this good financial habit. Conquer your personal budgeting woes and spend the new year financially confident — not afraid — of whatever life has in store.
2. Make more than you spend
This tip may sound as tired as the “calories in, calories out” weight-loss mantra — but it’s essential to forming good financial habits in 2019. Your newfound love of budgeting will help you get in the right headspace for this one as you plot out your income and spending plans for the next 12 months. If you plan to spend less than what you bring in, you’ll be in great shape for not only staying out of debt, but padding your bank account for future adventures, shopping-sprees, home renovations, and unexpected emergency expenses.
3. Pay your bills ahead of time
Before skipping over this one with an eye-roll and exaggerated sigh, consider the benefits of staying in front of your monthly bills. If you’re in the routine of paying bills late to stretch your paycheck, this financial habit will take a special kind of discipline to master. But the reward is well worth the effort. When you pay your bills ahead of time, as opposed to barely on time or late, you’ll have more control over your finances. More control, in the long-run, equates to better habits and less money-related stress.
4. Leave the credit cards at home
One of the best financial habits you can establish in 2019 is shopping without your credit cards. When you opt to take out cash instead of carrying plastic, you’ll only spend money on what you intended to buy in the first place. Plus — a bit of a reality check takes place when you have to hand over your hard-earned cash in-person, instead of swiping your card on a reader.
If you prefer to shop online, check out these tips from The Balance blogger, LaToya Irby, on how to get it done without using your credit card.
5. Pay more than the minimum amount on your credit cards
Part of becoming financially stable, and one of the best financial habits you can form, is paying off your credit card balances each month. If this isn’t an option for you at the moment, aim to pay more than the minimum payment amount and commit to slowly increasing it each month. Even a few extra dollars can help chip away at your debt and curb the amount you pay in interest.
6. Eliminate credit card debt
Even better than paying slightly above the minimum required amount on your credit card bill? Paying it off completely. Sound impossible? Unfathomable? Crazy? Before dismissing the idea as out of your reach, consider the benefits of debt consolidation. Taking out a personal installment loan or applying for a zero-interest credit card to pay off your current balances might be an option for you.
7. Save your money
This can be a tricky one — especially if you’ve never “paid” yourself in the past. Consider setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account each pay period. The amount can be as little as $5 or as high as you can manage. Whether it’s a set percentage or a flat number, make sure your savings account is getting a consistent diet of green each month. It will be an adjustment at first, but before you know it, the money will transfer seamlessly without you giving it a second thought.
8. Give yourself a raise, while you’re at it
You work hard year-round. At home, at the office, and now — forming these new financial habits. Keep up the good work and stay motivated by giving yourself a consistent raise. Increase your savings payroll deduction or retirement account deduction by one percent each year. If you plan to retire on-time (or at all), you’ll need to be socking away at least 20% of your income. Rather than let that number overwhelm you, start at a realistic percentage and increase it by at least 1% each year.
9. Check your credit report regularly
Thanks to sites like CreditKarma.com and our free credit monitoring service — there’s no reason not to check your credit score on the regular. Everyone from lenders to potential landlords to the guy at Verizon will be digging into your credit report before offering you a line of credit or their services. Track your score and look for inaccuracies in your report. Make this an ongoing financial habit in 2019 and aim to check it at least once a month.
10. Improve your credit score
Whether your current score is considered excellent or sub-par, there’s always room for improvement. If you hope to borrow money, secure a home mortgage or buy a new car in the future — improving your credit score now will only serve to increase your approval odds down the road. There are plenty of steps you can take in the new year to give your credit the boost it needs so you can continue creating good financial habits.
11. Don’t cheap out on important items
As my grandma always said, “Buying expensive furniture is for the poor.” She wasn’t the most eloquently spoken lady, but her point was this: When you have to make a major purchase (like furniture), buying the higher-quality, more expensive option will save you money in the long-run, because you won’t have to replace it in a year or two. As someone who still uses the couch she bought in the 80s, I have to agree with grandma’s logic on this one.
12. Click off the TV — at least sometimes
Even if you’re a cable-cutting, show-streaming, commercial-free TV-watching guru — spending too much time in front of the tube can result in more spending. Just because you aren’t forced to sit through scripted commercials doesn’t mean you aren’t being advertised to. Sponsors pay for product placement in television shows and movies, a practice that’s become increasingly popular as more consumers switch from cable to streaming services.
Aim to watch a little less TV in 2019 to help curb spending. Who knows? Maybe you’ll pick up a new hobby with your newfound free time.
13. Pick up a financial book — and read it
There are dozens of financial experts out there who have documented their path to success on the pages of books. Set a goal to read at least one in 2019 — and don’t forget to take notes.
14. Learn to tell yourself “NO”
Between your desire to make an unnecessary purchase and the internal dialogue justifying you to do so, you’re going to need to set up some spending boundaries for yourself. Learning to say no to that $5 latte, expensive dinner out, or the designer bag you’ve had your eye on, is a financial habit you should form in 2019.
Just think of how much you’d save if every time you wanted to go to Starbucks, you set that money aside for the future instead.
15. Tell your kids “NO,” too
Saying no to kids is hard. Especially when it happens in the toy aisle at Target. But setting spending boundaries with your kids now will help them establish their own good financial habits in the future — not to mention help you stay within your budget.
16. Establish an emergency fund
If you don’t already have one, set up an emergency fund — STAT! You should have the equivalent of three to six months of living expenses saved in case of emergency. Whether your spouse loses their job, your sump pump malfunctions and floods your basement, or your car needs to be replaced — having the finances to support your family in times of crisis is essential.
17. Reassess your emergency fund
For those of you who already have an established emergency fund, when was the last time you refreshed it? If it’s been more than a few years, chances are your cost-of-living has increased along with your expense level. Assess your emergency fund early on in 2019 and refresh it if necessary. This small financial habit may end up saving you big time if the unexpected does happen.
18. Save for retirement
A solid retirement strategy is critical to your long-term financial outlook and wellbeing. If you don’t have a retirement savings plan in place, 2019 is the year to make it happen. Many employers offer sponsored plan options — but if yours doesn’t, or you work for yourself, set up a self-directed IRA and start saving.
19. Start investing now
It doesn’t matter if you’re just launching your career or are a seasoned veteran. Now is the time to start investing. If you fall on the barely getting-by side of the financial spectrum, don’t count yourself out. Getting in the financial habit of regularly investing a small amount of money can reap great rewards, thanks to the power of compound interest. If you aren’t sure where you start, consider scheduling a complimentary meeting with an independent financial advisor to see where you stand.
20. Set up a weekly budget meeting
Whether with your spouse or solo, set aside at last 30 minutes each week to review your budget. Analyze receipts from the past seven days and reflect on your spending patterns. While it might be uncomfortable at times, this financial habit can help you determine gaps in your savings and areas where you might be overspending. If you can’t commit to weekly budget meetings, aim for monthly.
21. Find a blog and follow it
Staying educated on investment trends, news and related topics is a great financial habit to start in the new year. There are hundreds of individual financial bloggers to choose from, or you can follow an institution like The Wall Street Journal. Find one that resonates with you and try to catch up on their posts at least once a week.
22. Set savings goals
Maybe saving simply for the sake of saving isn’t enough to motivate you to follow through. Consider writing out goals you want to accomplish in the next five years and the money you’ll need to achieve them. If you want to buy a new car, for example, aim to set aside enough to cover the cost without having to take out a loan. By aligning these goals with your budget, you’ll be able to see how much you need to save each month. You’ll also have a general timeline of when you can walk into the dealership with your checkbook, ready to buy your next car with cash.
23. Know what you’re actually paying
From investment fees, to the interest on your credit cards, to the service charges on your phone bill — you should know where every penny is going and why. Review your statements regularly to understand how you’re being charged and for what. Also keep an eye out for inaccuracies on utility bills and other recurring statements. Even an extra $2 charge each month adds up, especially if it’s for a service you aren’t even using.
24. Manage your subscriptions
Speaking of recurring payments, how many subscriptions are you currently signed up for? How many do you actually use? With so many companies offering free trials on everything from audio books to razors to streaming services, it’s easy to sign up in the moment and forget to cancel later. Sift through your credit card bill with a highlighter and mark every charge that occurs monthly. Even if it’s a service you sometimes use, like your gym membership, consider whether you actually need it. If you don’t, cancel it.
25. Negotiate your bills
While you can’t talk your way into paying less for your water or electricity bill — you might have a chance with the cable guy. Cell phone, cable and internet companies are constantly changing their fee structures and offering new promotions. Make it one of your financial habits in 2019 to call these companies and ask for a discount. They aren’t obligated to lower your rate, but remember — if you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.”
26. Meal plan
Whether you’re feeding yourself or a family of five, meal planning is a good financial habit to form in the new year. Write out a list of meals you want to make, shop only for those items, and follow your plan for the week. Having meals planned each night will prevent you from spending money dining at restaurants or on last-minute takeout.
27. Stay where you are
For some people, staying put in the same place can be a challenge. When faced with a promotion or a new job, upgrading to a bigger, better house can be tempting.
Instead of jumping in feet first, consider the value of learning to live beneath your means. Keep paying the mortgage or rent on your current home and direct additional funds into your savings or investment accounts. By staying where you are and saving excess money, you’ll improve your entire financial outlook much faster than if you were to buy a larger, more expensive home.
28. Drive it until you can’t
Next to upgrading a home, one of the greatest financial temptations is buying a new car. Thanks to the ever-evolving technological advancements in the auto industry, even a relatively new car can seem old compared to the latest models. Instead of trading in your perfectly functional car, commit to driving it until you can’t. Or at the very least, for another year or two. If your current set of wheels is at the point of no return, remember that reliable transportation does not have to be brand new. Check out used options and make it your goal to purchase most — if not all — of your new-to-you car in cash.
29. Give what you can, when you can
A great financial habit to get into this year is giving. However much you can manage, create a line in your budget to donate a portion of your income to an individual, family, or non-profit organization that’s meaningful to you. Not only can you write off charitable donations on your year-end taxes, but helping others can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding life.
30. Be accountable
Your financial habits will only become habits if you stick to them. Hold yourself accountable to the goals you set for yourself in 2019. If you already know this will be a challenge, ask someone you trust to help you stay on track. Whether a parent, best friend, neighbor or mentor — having someone else keep you in check can be a great way to continue moving forward.
Kick off the new year with these 30 good financial habits to build in 2019. And don’t get overwhelmed. Start by picking a few financial habits you know you can commit to and commit to them.
What are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose and a lifetime of financial freedom and confidence to gain.