Quick and Easy Financial Resolutions for 2021


Illustration for article titled Quick and Easy Financial Resolutions for 2021
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New Year’s resolutions typically fail when they’re sweepingly ambitious—which can really hurt you when you’re focused on managing your money. Instead, focus on quick, easy-to-manage personal finance tasks that will put you in good shape for 2021—like the ones you’ll find below.

Top up your emergency fund 

Nearly a third of Americans don’t have an emergency fund, though most personal finance experts recommend setting money aside for unexpected expenses like medical emergencies, loss of income, or vehicle repairs as one of the most important things you can do. If your finances aren’t in bad shape but you still don’t have an emergency fund that can cover your expenses for 3-6 months, consider topping yours up with your impending $600 COVID relief check (creating a mid-January calendar reminder might help you remember to do so).

Increase your 401(k) contributions

With compound interest, a dollar saved in your twenties can be worth $10 saved in your fifties. With that in mind, take the opportunity to increase your 401(k) payments (if you can), especially if your employer offers matching contributions.

Sign up for automatic bill payments 

Set up automatic payments in your checking account for all of your regular bills, including the minimum payments on your credit card. Otherwise, it’s too easy to miss payments, which can unnecessarily hurt your credit score and trigger late fees. Likewise, automatic payments to your savings account can help you build a financial reserve, too (say, $100 set aside from every pay check). Check with your bank on how to set up these payments—the option might be buried in your bank’s website or app, but it’s a common checking account feature.

Ditch banks that charge monthly fees 

Speaking of banks, consider switching if you’re paying monthly bank fees for your checking account, as there are plenty of them that won’t charge you anything for basic services (though your bank might also waive such fees, so it can’t hurt to ask before closing your account). Some fees are as high as $15 a month, which equals $180 a year in unnecessary spending. Read more about how to switch banks or get monthly fees waived in this Lifehacker post.

Make a few calls to lower your rates

One of the most underrated personal finance moves you can make is to simply ask your service providers for a discounted rate from what you currently pay—whether that’s your mortgage provider, your insurers, credit card companies, utilities, or cable/internet service providers. Take a few minutes to shop around and compare the fees or interest rates you’re on the hook for with others on offer. Interest rates are currently quite low, which will give you some leverage when contacting your providers.

Update your beneficiaries

It’s easy to forget about marking changes to your beneficiaries, but you should review and update them for life insurance policies, IRAs, and 401(k)s at least once a year. If you’ve been through a major life change like getting married, getting divorced, or having kids, then your beneficiaries will have changed (e.g., I had my brother as a beneficiary until I got married).

Check your credit report

Your credit score determines how much interest you pay on loans, so it’s important to monitor it for discrepancies and unexpected surprises. Make sure your credit report has no errors or charges relating to identity theft—which is more common than you’d expect. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get free credit reports from all three credit bureaus. For more on how to read and understand your credit report, check out this Lifehacker post.

Change your passwords 

This can be a pain, but it’s necessary if you want to avoid identity theft. Typically, experts recommend changing passwords every three months, but at the very least, do it once every year. This also might be a good time to sign up for a password manager like LastPass or 1Password.

Subscription Audit

The average American spends $237 a month on subscriptions, either for streaming TV services, apps, or paywalled news providers. But how many are actually used? Are you getting your money’s worth, or could you pare down your list to save money? This Lifehacker post will guide you through the process of conducting a subscription audit.

Change your credit card

The pandemic has impacted the credit card market considerably, and if you’re still clinging to a travel rewards card, maybe this is the time to trade it for a cash-back card, if you don’t have one already. Don’t settle for a high APY rate or overly fancy perks that come with hefty annual fees, especially if your financial situation changed in 2020.

Tweak your budget for the new year

Setting a budget can be intimidating, but it’s more manageable if you view it merely a tabulation of your known, recurring expenses as judged against your income. You don’t need spreadsheets or fancy budgeting apps to do this (although they can be convenient). The goal, of course, is to move beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck, and to put money aside for you emergency fund, investments, and other savings goals. This Lifehacker post has an overview of different budget types based on different savings goals, and it’s a good place to start.