One of the most exciting things about 2020 is that it heralds the start of a new decade, not just a new year—which makes planning ahead feel more significant than usual. While “right now” is always the best time to make meaningful changes in our financial lives, if you’re someone who thrives on symbolic beginnings, you can use the first quarter of the next year to refresh your financial outlook or blast forward with the plans you’ve already been considering. We’ve got some ideas to get you started.
BREAK UP WITH YOUR LINKED SAVINGS AND CHECKING ACCOUNT
The label savings account can often be a misnomer. After all, national interest rates for standard savings accounts average around 0.09 percent—barely anything at all. But you can bolster your own attempts to build a nest egg by opening an online savings account that’s not linked to your checking. “If your savings account is connected to your checking account, the first thing I would say you should do is to close it,” says Ashley M. Fox, founder and financial-education specialist at Empify. “Instead, open an online savings account that’s detached from your checking account.”
This can help you save more because you won’t have quick and easy access to it. Online savings banks don’t have brick-and-mortar locations and the accounts typically take a few days for deposits to post—meaning there’s more time for you to reconsider a nonemergency withdrawal. Plus, the interest rates for online savings accounts are higher: At the moment, Ally Bank has an annual percentage yield (APY) of 1.80 percent, while at Barclays it’s 1.90 percent. Visit sites such as NerdWallet, Bankrate or ValuePenguin to research which online bank might be your best fit.
LET TECHNOLOGY WORK FOR YOU
Financial apps are great for several reasons. For one thing, if you have several accounts—credit cards, checking and savings, retirement—synchronizing everything into an app can be an excellent way to observe your day-to-day cash-flow patterns and overall financial outlook. These applications can also make saving for specific goals more structured. Both Credit Karma (creditkarma.com) and Albert (albert.com) allow users to check their credit scores as frequently as needed and offer practical tips to help you make wise choices when it comes to your financial health. Capital One has a CreditWise app that’s available for free for anyone over 18 with a social security number, not just its customers.
CreditWise includes such features as free weekly credit-score tracking, information about how your score is being calculated and a look at how much available credit you have. Mobile banking apps offered by various institutions are also very popular, and you should make sure you’re using every benefit they provide.
Every time you spend money on conveniences like Seamless or Uber Eats, save and invest an additional amount that is half of what you just paid out.—ASHLEY M. FOX, FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST
In choosing how to spend your money, don’t feel obligated to be a loyal customer. “There’s no such thing as a one-stop-shop for me,” says Mickheila Jasmin- Beamon, an attorney based in Elmont, New York, who is passionate about big savings. “I will switch stores the second another company offers a better price, gives me more perks or allows me to capitalize on an existing reward.”
Cross-checking prices is key. At the beginning of the year, sit down with your billing statements from the previous three to six months and examine your spending habits. Be sure to include months that aren’t holidays and didn’t have special occasions, as that will provide a good indication of your spending habits. Once you learn what your regular, necessary purchases are, you can cross-check their price points more easily.
CREATE RULES AND INVEST IN YOURSELF
Paying for conveniences like Seamless and Uber Eats can make day-to-day budgeting a struggle. If you’re in that boat, Fox suggests establishing a rule for yourself. “Every time you spend money on such conveniences, save and invest an additional amount that is half of what you just paid out,” she says. “If you go to Starbucks today and spend $5, that means you need to take an additional $2.50 and save it. Or if you go out and buy lunch today and it costs $10, you need to set aside $5 in your investment account.” Moving forward, she says, you’ll either save and invest a lot of money or you’ll stop spending so much on food.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TURN TO THE EXPERTS
While talking to your friends about money is a great way to get tips and hacks, seek out affordable experts who can help you get your bearings and make a plan. Some local financial advisers, like The Financial Gym in New York City, offer complimentary initial consultations. Several states also have a Department of Consumer Affairs that can provide free financial counseling on debt reduction, student loans, business versus personal accounts and more.
Additionally, some public libraries host free financial workshops, which may include referrals for one-on-one financial counseling through local organizations. Many libraries also offer free career services, from résumé reviews to counseling on how to navigate unemployment or transition into a new field. Spaces fill up quickly, so check out the calendar at the beginning of the year and start planning now.