Once the New Year begins, it’s all about the ghost of credit card bills to come. And they’ll be showing up in your mailbox in the next couple of weeks.
It feels so good to give, but after the holidays are over, it’s time to rein in your spending and set some new financial goals. I always make some New Year’s financial resolutions, and then at the end of the year I look back to make sure I’m on track with my spending, saving, and charitable giving.
Here are the two financial resolutions I make every year: save more and spend less.
1. Save more.
I always try to save at least 10 percent of my gross annual income, though that doesn’t always happen. What my husband and I are able to do is save a lot more in some years, so that balances out the odd year when we’re not able to save as much.
I’m often asked by people how much they should save. The answer is easy: as much as you can. A new study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) shows that couples might need as much as $650,000 to pay for health benefits through retirement. That’s quite a chunk of change. Saving more now will help offset that expense down the line.
But if you’re looking for something manageable, start by figuring out how much you saved last year in every possible bucket: 401(k), 403(b), 457, IRA, or other qualified retirement plan; Roth IRA or Roth 401(k); checking or savings account; non-retirement brokerage account; 529 college savings plan; and other savings vehicles, such as CDs, money market accounts, and HSA accounts.
Let’s say you saved 5 percent of your gross annual income ($2,500 for every $50,000 earned) in one of these vehicles. Try to double that. If you’re getting a salary increase this year, try to salt it away in your 401(k) or other savings accounts. Ask if you can have part of your check direct deposited into these accounts, because if you don’t see it, you probably won’t spend it. If you’re getting a bonus along with or instead of a raise, try to bank it.
If you’re getting a check back from the IRS for overpayment of taxes, try to bank that when you get it instead of spending it.
This year, we’re hoping to put away 15 percent of our gross annual income in a variety of savings vehicles. I’ll let you know next year if we get there.
2. Spend less.
If you’re having trouble finding ways to save more money, you should take on my second New Year’s resolution and try to find ways to spend less every day.
It’s amazing how spending less really translates into significant savings before too long, and without that much effort.
You start by trading down from a big expense to a smaller expense, and then eliminate that expense altogether.
Let’s say you go to the movies once a week. In my neighborhood theater, it’s $10 per ticket, or $40 every time my husband and I take the kids to the movies. If we buy popcorn and candy, it’s another $20. If we eat dinner out, it’s a $100 night out. That’s pretty expensive.
What we’ve done is trade down to making movie night out something we save for very special events. We go out to the movies only a few times a year, usually when there’s a movie that we can’t wait to see, like the new Harry Potter film. We have cable at home, so we leverage the savings of movie night against the expense of cable.
If you use a service like Netflix, where you’re paying around $10 for one rental per month plus unlimited movie streaming online, the savings can add up fairly quickly.
I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey and never see another movie or eat out in another restaurant. But trading down from eating out every week to eating out once a month can help you find additional ways to accumulate savings.
Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate atThinkGlink.com and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.
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