You may have already made some New Year’s resolutions and if you’re typical they were to get a better job, diet, and make a difference in other people’s lives or to travel more. These are among the top New Year’s resolutions made by most Americans. But there are some financial resolutions you should make that would help with your financial health in 2016 – beyond the usual get out of debt or save more money although those are, of course, very good resolutions. Here are eight others you should consider taking on before the year gets any older.
1. Quit using the wrong ATMs
When you use one of those out-of-network ATMs it’s probably costing you at least two dollars a pop. When you use the wrong one just once a week that’s $104 a year. We understand that it’s only a couple of bucks, which could be considered a small price to pay for the convenience of going to an ATM near you instead of one of your bank’s ATMs that’s five miles away. But wouldn’t it be better to have the money in your wallet instead in your bank’s pocket?
2. Take a hard look at your relationship with credit cards
You might remember the old song about “breaking up is hard to do.” That’s not only true of personal relationships it can be tough to break up with a credit card. However, if you haven’t found the right one the chances are you’re paying high-interest rates without receiving any net benefits. If you haven’t checked out the interest rates you’re paying on your credit cards recently you need to do this. They could be as high as 19% or even 20%. If you were to have a balance of $1000 on a card at 20% and make just the minimum payment every month it would take you 117 months to get rid of the debt and cost you$1056.70 in interest — or more than your initial balance. You shouldn’t close a credit card account but you should either shred that card or put it away somewhere where it would be hard to reach. Then look into debt consolidation to help simplify your monthly payments.
3. Consider refinancing your mortgage
Have you checked out the interest rate on your mortgage recently? You might have forgotten that it has an interest rate of 5% or even higher. If this is the case you should think seriously about refinancing before interest rates go up substantially. As of this writing, it’s possible to refi to a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.83% or a 15-year fixed at 2.96%. If you don’t think you’ll be in that house long-term you might opt for a 5/1 ARM at 3.14%. One percent or two percent may not seem like that big a deal but if you have a $300,000 loan and switch to a new one at 3.83% this would be like getting a raise of several hundred dollars a month.
4. Make your savings work harder
If you received a bonus at the end of last year or just have some cash lying around after Christmas the big question is where should you put it. If you’ve checked savings account interest rates recently you know they’re at an all-time low of less than 1%. This means that putting the money in even a “high-interest savings account” isn’t going to earn you very much. A good financial resolution would be to put that extra money towards paying down your mortgage or paying off a credit card. If you’re a little bit gutsy you could invest in an index fund or a mutual fund where your money would be relatively safe and would certainly earn a better return.
We know that sticking to a household budget can be a very boring exercise. However, you could make it a bit more fun by making it competitive. Establish a savings target for everyone in your family and put them up on a board in a central area such as the kitchen. Then whoever saves the most each month would be awarded a gift card to their favorite store or, better yet, whoever saves the least could be required to clean up after dinner for the next month.
6. Create an emergency fund
Practically every article or book you read about personal finance will advise you to create an emergency fund. And there’s a good reason for this. It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen to you financially in the future. However, it’s certain that you will have some unexpected financial crisis whether it’s a big automobile repair bill, serious illness or your furnace dies. The only real way to prepare for these unexpected events is to have an emergency fund. A CNBC.com article revealed that 6 out of 10 consumers cannot cover an unexpected expense. Make a financial resolution to create a separate savings account and then deposit money into it every month that’s not to be touched except for, of course, emergencies. This would keep you from having to take out a payday loan or put the money on a credit card when you do have an unanticipated financial emergency
7. Buy life or disability insurance
While we know you don’t want to spend much time thinking about worst-case scenarios. However, life insurance and disability insurance both will come in handy if something unexpectedly dire happens – particularly if you have a family that relies on your income. According to the data published by Limra.com, 1 in 4 20-year-olds will suffer a disability before retiring. Term life insurance is very inexpensive and if you have a young family is almost a must-have investment.
8. Remember to treat yourself occasionally
Here’s the fun financial resolution — you need to throw yourself a few financial treats this year, And the best way to do this is to set some goals and then save for each one – whether it’s a cruise, a weekend at the shore or a new smartphone. If you have to make some financial sacrifices along the way in order to save enough money to reach your goals that’s okay because when you reach one, you’ll enjoy it even more.