Now that you are out of college, it’s time to start thinking about your financial goals. Whether you’d like to save more or get on top of your debt, we’ll help you change the ‘bad habits’ that held you back last year and give you a fresh perspective for the future. Read on for 6 financial resolutions you can (and will want to) follow through with.
RESOLUTION No. 1: Learn to live within your means.
It’s estimated that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February. To make matters worse, it’s a hard transition from college to the real world. After spending the past few years as a broke college kid, a regular paycheck probably feels like a golden ticket to a new lifestyle. However, proceed carefully. Life after college is expensive too and it pays off in the long run to stay fiscally responsible as you start your career. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’, or the Kardashians, which brings us to our next point...
RESOLUTION No. 2: Make a budget you don’t hate.
Each year, we aim to save more and spend less. However, the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that most of us set the bar way too high. Saving twice as much? Quitting fast food? Let’s be realistic. Your budget should allow for a few splurges while still helping you prioritize what’s really important.
To start, track your expenses from the last three months to determine your typical spending. From there, see where you can make cuts. The easiest ways to buffer your budget are choosing more affordable housing, eating meals at home and buying generic over name brand. It also helps to have a goal in mind, so be sure to make a plan for what you’re hoping to accomplish. If your mission is to pay off your debt or save for a home, that motivation will help keep you going when you inevitably run low on ambition. Need a slick tool to ensure you've accounted for all expenses and your budget balances? We've got you covered.
RESOLUTION No. 3: Use credit cards wisely.
Note that we aren’t saying not to use credit cards. They’re convenient, they can be a credit-building tool and some can even earn you money back just for using them. However, they require some self-control not to overspend. Here’s how to use them mindfully:
- Treat it like a debit card. Credit card interest rates can be lofty so never spend more than you have in your bank account. Also avoid interest fees by setting your bill to auto-pay when you first get the card.
- Pay it off every month. On-time monthly payments help to build your credit score and you don’t need to carry a balance to do so. Plus you won’t have to pay any interest when you pay the balance in full.
- Stay under the credit limit. To keep a healthy score, it’s best to use about 30% of your credit limit. For example, if your limit is $1,000, you should keep the balance under $300.
- Use a rewards card. If you qualify for one, get a card that offers cash back or other rewards. When managed correctly, they can earn you hundreds of dollars a year off of things you need to buy anyways. Avoid the rewards cards with high annual fees or rewards that are super complicated.
Credit cards can help or hurt your score, so it’s important to borrow responsibly. Know the best practices for preventing fraud and check on your score once a year. For a free annual copy of your credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
Resolution No. 4: Prepare for the unexpected.
Job loss, car repairs, health expenses, surgery for your dog - a lot can go wrong and that’s why you need an emergency fund. Experts say you should have between 3-6 months salary in the fund, minimum. That probably feels impossible starting out, so start small and contribute what you can. Even $100 can make a big difference in a time of need so make it your priority to get some sort of safety net in place.
It can be tempting to spend spare money in your checking or savings account, so it’s best to stash your nest egg away. (Out of sight, out of mind!) A money market fund is a good place for an emergency fund because they’re safe, yet accessible.
RESOLUTION No. 5: Get on top of your debt.
Consider consolidating your student loans, if you haven’t done so already. Consolidation can help you get a more manageable monthly payment, fewer monthly bills and sometimes even a lower interest rate. We offer flexible repayment options as well as the option to release your cosigner, if you have one, after 24 months of timely payments, provided you meet the credit requirements on your own at that time.
RESOLUTION No. 6: Learn what a 401(k) is, and start using it.
Once your emergency fund is filled, that portion of income should go toward investing for the future. If your employer offers a 401(k) program, that’s the best place to start. Contributions are made automatically so you’re not tempted to skip it for a few months. Plus, your investment grows without tax burdens until you take it out, ideally in retirement. Your employer may also match your contributions up to a certain amount, so we recommend at least meeting that minimum.
Investing is a great way to get ahead but be sure you’ve checked off some other financial boxes first. You’ll want to get a handle on credit card debt, student loans and setting up an emergency fund before allocating any cash elsewhere.
So this year on your journey toward self-improvement, remember to keep your financial resolutions in mind and focus on getting to where you want to be. Best wishes for a successful, happy New Year!