Goals are extremely hard to keep if we don’t have some kind of accountability. That’s why it’s often recommended you write down everything you eat if you’re on a diet, or workout with a friend if you’re attempting to follow an exercise schedule.
It’s the same story with finance. We all have good intentions of building up our savings and sticking to a budget, but without a clear plan in mind, it’s tough to make our money saving aspirations come to fruition.
Following is a list of ways you can significantly improve your financial situation a year from now. I strongly suggest you write down the ones you’d like to follow and display them where you will see them (the refrigerator? bathroom mirror?), as it will serve as a constant reminder for you to take action.
1. Save the money you would normally spend on a vacation
While this doesn’t sound very enjoyable, you’ll feel much better a year from now knowing how much you saved. If you can commit to skipping vacation for just one year, that’s potentially an extra couple thousand or more in your pocket, depending on where you normally travel. Don’t just let those savings sit around in your checking account, however. Talk to a financial professional about opening a mutual fund, IRA, or other investment account so that money can continue growing.
And remember: just because you’re not taking a vacation this year doesn’t mean you can’t still relax and enjoy life. Look into low-cost or free activities available in your own city or a nearby location and be intentional about trying new things. Hiking, attending street festivals, or planning a special picnic are inexpensive ways to have a “stay-catation” and can create just as many positive memories as an extravagant getaway.
2. Increase your insurance policy deductibles
Many people don’t realize how this simple act can save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars each year, which means more money you can earmark for emergency savings and investments. If you are already increasing your savings by using other strategies, you’ll be able to afford a higher deductible if you need to make a claim. Check into the savings you would receive from increasing the deductible on your home, auto, life, or medical insurance, and reap the benefits a year from now.
3. Take an inventory of clothing and other items you don’t use and sell or donate.
Host a garage sale or post your items on Craigslist or Ebay and save your profits. You may be surprised at how much you’ll receive for things that have just been collecting dust in your home. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of selling your items, consider donating them to a charity. Make a note of how much each item is worth since their value is tax-deductible and can work in your favor when you file your taxes.
4. Remove credit cards from your wallet
If you get rid of the temptation to spend money you don’t have, you’re likely to end up with more back in your pocket. Keep your credit cards in a safe place at home so you can focus on paying them off rather than racking up more debt.
Paying with cash or a debit card forces you to stay within a certain spending window, whereas credit cards are dangerous in that they have a seemingly neverending limit that you can pay off later.
5. Get rid of two or three monthly expenses
This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but if it can significantly improve your financial situation in the long-term, isn’t it worth it?
Think about monthly expenses that aren’t essential, such as your cable TV package, gym membership, or premium data package for your cell phone. You might even consider something as drastic as selling one car if you’re a two-car family–even if it’s just for a year. The elimination of a car payment, plus gas for a vehicle can equal significant savings.
6. Ramp up your 401(k) or other investment contributions
Look at your bank account and figure out if you can contribute an extra 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent or more toward your retirement account(s). This simple, yet powerful action will help you increase your wealth the quickest out of all of the above strategies. Also, since it’s an automatic deduction, you probably won’t even notice it’s gone. Even better is the fact it’s tax-deductible, so at least a portion of the amount will essentially be paid by the government.
If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan, you can start your own plan via an investment account of your choice. Just like a 401(k), you can arrange for the money to be automatically transferred into an investment account each month. Talk to a financial professional about which type of account is the best choice for you.
Bottom line: While following through with these strategies may seem like a daunting task, think about how much better you’ll feel a year from now when your finances are in significantly better shape.