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Making a New Year’s resolution? Keep your finances in mind

Ted O'Neil | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – About 97 million Americans say they plan to make a New Year’s resolution for 2021 that involves their financial situation, compared to 66 million who said they’ve done so in the past, according to a new survey by WalletHub.

Of those who responded to the survey, more than a third say their top financial resolution will be to save more money. With that in mind, WalletHub came up with suggestions that can help you save more and spend less.

The top priority is to make a realistic budget and stick to it. Americans will end 2020 with a cumulative $900 billion in credit card debt, which the National Foundation for Credit Counseling says is because only five in 10 adults have a budget.

“A budget is not a way of punishing yourself,” Michael Kinsman, an accounting professor at Pepperdine University, said. “It is, instead, a plan, and the plan can be changed if there is a reason. Having that plan in hand, however, assures that you will think about the reasons for a budget change seriously.”

WalletHub suggests that the best way to make a budget is to gather your bills from the past several months and make a list of recurring expenses, then rank them in order of importance with necessities such as housing, food and health care at the top.

From there, you can cut spending starting at the bottom of the list until your take-home pay exceeds what you plan to spend.

Another suggestion is to look for a better job. WalletHub says too many people get caught up in spending less and saving more that they forget to think about earnings. With many jobs going remote due to the coronavirus, this can save money on commuting and provide more options on where to live.

Focusing on your physical health can also help improve your financial health.

“If you begin to make small healthy changes to your diet, increase exercise in small increments, and practice yoga and meditation, you will feel better,” said Deborah Bauer, a professor of finance at the University of Oregon. “Feeling better will lead to wiser financial decisions that focus on the long term.”

Using different credit cards for everyday purchases and debt can also help, such as using a rewards card for things like groceries and gasoline and a card with no interest on balance transfers for large purchases you plan to carry forward.

WalletHub also recommends paying off 20 percent of your credit card debt over the course of 2021. The average household has about $7,900 in credit card debt, which amounts to $1,570 or an extra payment of $131 per month.

The average household also only has about $8,800 in savings, and about half do not have a rainy-day fund. WalletHub says financial advisers generally recommend people should have a reserve set aside of 12 to 18 months of take-home pay and suggests aiming to increase any rainy-day fund you do have by one month’s pay during the coming year.