At the website MyLifeList.org, where people share their goals, some of the most popular, life-changing goals include becoming financially independent, buying a first home, and starting a business. All of those dreams take money, which is why we rounded up the best advice from financial experts on how to double your savings rate in the New Year. Here are their top ten suggestions:
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1) Create a personal net worth statement. You don’t have to be a millionaire to calculate your “net worth,” says Tami Peter of Bottomless Closet NYC, which helps disadvantaged women with their money and careers. Simply make a list of everything you own, including bank accounts, investments, cars and real estate. Then, subtract any debt, including a mortgage and credit card debt. The number you come up with is your personal net worth. Knowing what it is can help motivate you to slowly increase it and give you insight into your overall financial health.
2) Print out your monthly checking account and credit card statements. Peter says that there’s something about seeing spending in black and white that opens our eyes to our habits. “It’s easy to see the money spent on frivolous items and things we don’t use,” she says. Many banks now offer free software through customers’ online accounts that can automatically track spending and categorize where money is going.
3) Make a plan to change your habits. Justin Sinnott, a financial consultant in Charles Schwab’s Seattle branch, says that after reviewing your finances, it’s time to decide what you want to shift. For example, if you don’t already have enough money saved to fund a three to six month emergency fund, that’s a top priority. The Schwab website offers a free monthly budgeting tool that helps classify spending into necessities such as loans and housing and luxuries such as entertainment and restaurant meals.
4) Live well below your means. This simple concept is really the key to saving significant amounts of money. It might mean living in a smaller home, waiting to upgrade your cell phone, and cooking at home every day of the week, but as long as you live a lifestyle that’s cheaper than the one you can actually afford, you can build financial security.
5) Write down how much you want to save by the end of the year. The simple act of writing down your savings goal helps keep it at the forefront of your mind. You can write it on a kitchen calendar, a daily planner pad, or on a website such as MyLifeList.org or 43things.com. You can even share it on Facebook and Twitter. The more people know about it, the more they can cheer you on.
6) Ramp up your savings into tax-advantaged accounts. Retirement accounts such as 401(k)s allow you not only to save more money that grows in a tax-advantaged account, but also to take advantage of any matching benefits offered by your employer. The website PaycheckCity.com, run by Symmetry Software, allows users to calculate their net pay after making changes to their pre-tax retirement savings.
7) Review your long-term investments and consider rebalancing. Long-term investments usually do best in low-fee, diversified portfolios that match your age and desired risk level. If you don’t know what fees you are currently paying on your retirement accounts, ask your human resources office to help you find out. Since advisors recommend shifting into more conservative investments as we get closer to retirement, now is a good time to check in to see if it’s time to rebalance your investments.
[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]
8) Stick with your investing plan, despite day-to-day market dips. Sinnott says that after you come up with a plan for your long-term savings and investments, it’s important to avoid changing up those plans because of breaking news and other events. “Don’t be de-railed by recent news without revisiting the big picture,” he says.
9) Reduce your debt payments. Given the current low-interest rates, some people might benefit from refinancing, says Sinnott. You can also reduce your monthly bills by using some of your savings to pay off any high-interest rate debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans. Evaluate how much you are paying each month in interest payments to decide whether you should pay off loans early.
10) Pay less for medical expenses. The Real Cost of Living author Carmen Wong Ulrich points out that you can deduct medical expenses from your taxes if they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. That means you might be able to save more money if you group medical expenses in a single year rather than spreading them out over several years. (Of course, you want to consider your health insurance coverage, as well, since you can also save money by staying below any spending limits.) In addition, be sure to take advantage of flexible spending accounts by keeping receipts and filing them before the due date.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.