Financial Fitness in the New Year
The new year is approaching! Make a resolution to pay yourself first and help set yourself up for a comfortable financial future. Here are some best practices to get your savings up to par:
Start an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is an essential part of any personal financial strategy. How is yours looking? If you only have a few hundred dollars set aside, you need to strengthen that safety net. A good emergency fund should cover your essential living costs for three to six months. If you’re not sure how much that is, it’s time to start keeping track of what you spend.
Remember, once your emergency fund is built up, resist the temptation to spend it on a non-emergency purchase. Even if you see a really good deal on a lifestyle upgrade — a new car, for example — keep your hands off the emergency money. When Murphy’s Law inevitably strikes, you’ll be glad you did.
Find Extra Cash
Here’s a trick to get that emergency fund started: spend a weekend or two going through all your possessions. Set aside things you don’t need anymore in two piles: items to sell and items to donate. The money you make from the sales can be put toward your emergency fund or savings.
Take Care of Your Debts
Make sure you’re current on all debt payments and consider paying off some of the principal for any high-rate loans like student debt. You’ll need to weigh your options carefully. Paying off high-interest credit card debt is often better than contributing to savings. On the other hand, paying off lower-interest debt isn’t always the most beneficial move you can make for your financial position. In some cases, like a mortgage, you can deduct interest payments from your income tax — in which case you might be better off investing your money.
Put Your Money to Work
If you’ve got your emergency fund built up and your debt is properly managed, you can start really putting your money to work with investments. Check if your employer has a retirement savings matching program. If so, you should contribute enough for the highest possible match. It might not seem exciting, because you don’t “get” the money now, but an employer match is basically free money. This is one of the best financial moves you can make.
Investing is a complex subject, so make sure you get some reliable advice. Your employer may offer an advisor, but otherwise, look for an expert who upholds a fiduciary standard. This means that the advice they give you is in your best interest, rather than advice that can help them earn a higher commission. You may also benefit from speaking with a financial counselor at your local credit union.
If you can, set up an automatic deposit so that a fraction of every paycheck automatically ends up in your savings. Even the most diligent savers are susceptible to accidentally missing a savings deposit once in a while, so opting into auto deposit is a great guarantee that you’ll reach your goals.