As the calendar turns over a new year, it’s a good time to take stock of your finances. Evaluating what missteps you made with your money in the past year, determining how you can correct those errors and setting a realistic budget will put you on your way to better financial health in 2016.
A top New Year’s resolution is putting money into a savings account each month, according to a recent survey of working adults by the Principal Financial Group. Leading money management priorities include paying down debt (28 percent), saving for retirement (25 percent) and building a savings account for emergencies (15 percent).
Achieving those goals starts with setting a budget that you can reasonably follow, said Kevin Morris, vice president of retirement and income solutions at The Principal. However, the group’s recent survey shows many Americans have plenty of room for improvement.
In 2015, workers reported that they blew their budget on dining out (24 percent), food/groceries (19 percent), entertainment (15 percent) and other consumer goods (15 percent), among other things. On top of that, employees’ top financial blunders included not saving enough (20 percent), accumulating credit card debt (11 percent) and spending outside their means (9 percent).
“It’s not surprising to see that American workers continue to blow their budget dining out,” Morris said. “It’s easy to spend $30 here and $40 there on a meal and not think twice about it. But what if they put that money toward something more long-term, like retirement? Or building up their savings? Over time, those pizza deliveries and nights on the town add up and can make a huge difference in your budget.”
Getting your financial house in order doesn’t have to be a burden. Follow these tips to establish a budget and begin building healthier money habits:
Account for incidentals. When listing all the people and places you owe money, it can be easy to overlook other expenses that really add up. Things like a work wardrobe, toiletries and personal hygiene items are necessary purchases that should be reflected in your budget.
Expect the unexpected. Even the best planned budget can fall apart when unexpected expenses arise. Ensure that you’re not only directing a sum of money to your savings account each month, but that you’re earmarking some of that money for emergency car repairs, an unplanned visit to the veterinarian or a critical home repair.
Don’t treat your budget like a bad diet. Like a crash diet, being too restrictive with your budget will leave you discouraged and exhausted. And maybe hungry. The key is to be honest with yourself about your spending. Look at your spending history – you might be surprised to see where your money goes. Be sure to set a reasonable budget each month that allows you manage your finances without falling off the wagon.
Leverage rewards. It may seem counter-intuitive to use a credit card for expenses you don’t need to buy on credit. But if you use a cash back rewards credit card for your regular essential purchases and even bills, you’ll have some extra income each month. Deposit those rewards in a savings plan or allocate them to help pay down debt each month. Just remember that this approach only works to your advantage if you pay the balance each month.
Research all your money management options. A solid budget is the foundation of a good money management plan, but the type of accounts you use can also influence your financial situation. A financial advisor can help you understand the benefits and limitations of various types of checking, saving and investment accounts, as well as other products to help maximize your savings and minimize debt.
Find more information to help guide your budget planning as well as the full Principal Financial Well-Being Index: American Workers study at principal.com.