Every time a new year rolls around, the Internet explodes with tips, tricks, and rules to help you live a better life with better, healthier habits. If you’re one of those people that makes resolutions, you might find yourself scrolling through tons of those articles a day to figure out how to lose weight, meet your career goals, and accomplish any other dreams you have for the new year.
One goal that always comes back around is to make better financial decisions, and for good reasons!
Financial literacy is one of the most useful things you can implement, making it a great journey for the new year. Unfortunately, many people start too ambitiously and never finish their new year plans (sound familiar?).
If you want to be better off financially by 2022, keep reading to find 8 unique and reasonable tips to help you achieve your money goals and make smart money moves.
8 Smart Money Moves To Make in 2021
1. Manage your debt
If you went to college, bought a house, bought a car, or started a business in the last decade, you probably have some amount of debt (don’t feel bad– 80% of Americans do).
These piles of owed money can seem tough to tackle, but it is possible! If you have lots of debt, start by tackling the smallest one you have, even if it’s $50 on a credit card.
Make a chart of the debts you need to pay off, set an end date, and figure out what you need to pay each month to have it all gone by that date. You may have to cut some unnecessary spending, but it’ll be worth it to have a goose egg as your total debt number. In the meantime, try not to enter into any more debt, either; you’ll have those payments gone in no time.
2. Eliminate bad spending habits
The tip that everyone gives but no one wants to follow: watch your personal spending habits. Do you find yourself buying a $5 coffee from Starbucks three times a week? That adds up to almost $800 a year. Are you prone to monthly shopping sprees? You may very well be spending over $1,000 on clothes every 12 months. Are you buying new, never used textbooks every semester? Do you impulsively shop when stressed or otherwise?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you likely have room to improve your spending habits. There are good, cheaper alternatives to every choice here! Examine your card statements and see where you could cut out some spending. Make coffee at home, only buy Starbucks once a week, set a budget for every clothes shopping trip, and use websites like ThriftBooks for your college materials.
Find what’s eating your cash and work out a doable solution; there’s an alternative to pretty much every bad spending habit, from food to home decor. The big goal is to be intentional about your spending habits and know exactly where your paycheck is going.
3. Cut or find a cheaper alternative to cable
The average American spends anywhere from $51 to $75 a month on cable television or more. If you’re one of those people, you could easily save up to $900 a year by cutting out that bill. Thankfully, 2021 brings along a myriad of cable alternatives.
You can use streaming services like Netflix ($13.99 per month) or Hulu (only $5.99 per month, and $1.99 for students!) for less than half of what your cable bill likely is. HBO Max ($14.99 per month, but more options; click here to sign up) is picking up popularity as well as the new YouTube TV ($64.99 per month), both being much cheaper than $75 a month.
Overall, these services will give you more shows and movies that you actually want to watch while keeping your wallet intact; the best of both worlds!
4. Avoid eating out
Eating out falls under the bad spending habits category of point 2, but it’s such a widespread money-eater that it deserved its own point.
On average, Americans spend about $4,155 a year eating out, an average of about $11 a day. That’s insane! Just think about how much extra money you’d have if you cut down on eating out. While it’s unrealistic to completely stop eating out altogether, and there are ways to save money when eating out, making better choices is possible.
Before you stop for fast food, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Do I need to eat right now? Am I close enough to home that I don’t have to do this?” Obviously, it’s necessary to get something on the go sometimes, but we could all do it a little less.
As for sit-down restaurants, there are smart choices you can make there, too. Maybe don’t get the extra guac every time. Try ordering water instead of overpriced alcohol. Suggest splitting an appetizer with a friend. Look at these tips on dining out for a full-scale guide to eating out on a budget and watch your bank account grow.
5. Prepare more food at home
If you’re following the advice above and eating out less, that means you’ll be eating in more. Luckily for you, preparing your own food is a great way to save money! Besides the obvious fact that you’ll spend less money on McDonald’s and Starbucks, you can always get smarter about your grocery shopping habits.
Your local grocery store probably has weekly sales on certain things (bonus: many stores like Target do, too!); learn those days and figure out how to make the most of them.
If you live somewhere that charges for plastic bags, buy a few dollars’ worth of reusable bags. Once you learn how much food you need to buy per week, the shopping will get easier, and you’ll spend less each time. Be sure you’re not neglecting to make breakfast, coffee, and snacks at home, too; if you forget about those, you may end up spending twice as much out somewhere.
6. Set achievable savings goals
One of the best pieces of advice for any long-term goal is to set achievable short-term goals. If you have $1,000 right now and your long-term goal is to save $10,000, your short-term goals need to be broken down a lot more. Try using a goal tracker on your phone or in a planner and make goals by the month or week.
Specific small goals, like having one “no spend” day per week, will add up quickly, and you’ll see a linear progression throughout the year. Find out what works for you; do you need to hang up a tracker on your fridge? Get an app that shows you all the money you’ve saved? Paste a picture of whatever you’re saving for to your computer?
It’s important to find ways to stay motivated to save money, so you don’t get off track. Be creative and make sure to reward yourself when you hit a goal, too– but preferably with something free or frugal!
7. Start an emergency fund
Making smart money moves doesn’t always mean saving up for the fun things you want to do (although it does a lot of the time!). One smart move you should be making is to start a personal emergency fund. When you think about it, anything could happen; your windshield could crack, you may need to go to the emergency room, your home may spring a water leak.
It’s always nice to have a lump of cash to fall back on if everything goes wrong.
Generally, the rule is to try to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved up. This will take some time to build up, but if you automatically pay yourself first into that fund every month, it’ll stack up fairly quickly. And don’t feel bad if it doesn’t– having a week’s worth of money is better than having a day’s worth!
Once again, make sure you’re setting achievable, realistic goals; that way, you’re much more likely to reach your end money goals.
8. Contribute more to your 401k or another retirement fund
No matter how old you are, putting away money for retirement is always a good idea. The sooner you start saving, the more your account will grow, but being older shouldn’t deter you either! Any age is the right age to save.
You can set up automatic payment plans into your 401k or whatever type of retirement fund you choose. Even in the years you don’t touch it, it’ll feel good to look at that account and know you’re planning for the future. If you don’t have that type of account yet, reach out to your bank and find out how to start one and how much you should be putting into it.
Remember that retirement plans are literally investing directly into your future!
2021 has already brought many changes for everyone; it’s hard to keep up with resolutions when the rest of the world seems like it’s on fire. Your money goals may seem insignificant or unimportant, but trust us when we tell you that they’re not!
Investing in yourself and your future is the smartest move you can make. By implementing a few easy steps, focusing, making some short and long-term goals, and keeping yourself accountable, 2021 can be your best financial year yet.
We’ve brought you 8 smart money moves to make this year to improve your financial life.
What smart money moves will you be making?