If you're like the vast majority of Americans, your wallet took a serious beating in 2020. For reasons well documented it was not only a rough year on our mental health and physical well-being, but also on our financial stability.
But, with the New Year now less than two weeks away it's time to start planning for your pivot. Here are a few tried and true strategies for getting your financial house in order for 2021.
Track Your Credit Spending
Credit cards can be great tools in a family’s financial arsenal. However, it is also very easy to overspend with credit cards, says Christie Whitney, a certified financial planner with the investment firm Rebalance. "Make sure that you are not only tracking how much you are putting on your credit cards but being realistic regarding your timeframe for paying off your credit card balance once the holiday season is over," she says. If you can’t pay the bill once the statement comes due, be sure you can within 2 to 3 months. You don’t want to spend half of the next year (plus interest!) paying for one holiday.
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Make an Emergency Fund for Real Emergencies
You've heard of saving for a rainy day. Well, for many, 2020 was the monsoon that refused to end. While it was a difficult year for nearly everyone, those who had an emergency fund in place at least had a temporary cushion to see them through their bleakest moments. Based on your income, try to save enough to cover at least one month of expenses in liquid savings.
And to be clear, getting your kid the latest PS5 or taking that long-delayed vacation doesn't qualify as an emergency.
“This should only be used for real emergencies such as issues with your house, medical bills or other true emergency situations," Brian Walsh, CFP and Manager of Financial Planning at SoFi, told NBC News.
It's Not Too Late to Start Your Retirement Fund
You may think depending on your age you've already missed your opportunity to start saving for retirement, but you haven't. So, if you're not already contributing to your company's 401K program what are you waiting for? And if you're already kicking in, it's time to up the percentage. Will you really notice an extra one or two percent coming out of your paycheck each week? Probably not. But over time that extra percentage point you're contributing will help fatten out your nest egg.
Tackle Debt Using the ‘Avalanche Method’
Paying down your debt is the first key step toward financial stability. But where do you start? One method recommended by financial strategists is the "avalanche" or "snowball" method.
The avalanche method of debt payoff is focused on paying down debt with the highest interest rate first. You’ll save money in the long run by keeping interest charges under control on your highest-APR accounts. First pay the minimum payment on all of your debts. Then put any additional money toward the account with the highest interest rate. Then continue to do this until the high-interest account is paid off. Then, take the minimum payment you were paying on the first debt, as well as any additional cash, and put that toward the account with the next-highest interest.
Finally Create That Budget... Really
For many, the idea of creating a budget is one of the many fairytale plans you say you're going to do... know you should do... but never actually do. You know... things like eating better and exercising more. But, if you're really serious about your financial health, the foundation is creating a family budget and sticking to it. Allot a set amount of funds for groceries, leisure activities and other weekly essentials and don't venture off the path.