The First Thing to Do to Get Your Finances in Order in the New Year, According to Money Experts
Even if you don’t buy into New Year’s resolutions or “new year, new you” messaging, there’s something about the beginning of the year that encourages fresh starts — setting goals and looking forward, not backward. It’s a time to reestablish habits and practices that work for you and let go of those that don’t.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to reexamine your finances, consider your money goals or set new ones, and take the necessary steps toward financial health. It may not be easy, but it’ll be worth it. Below, financial experts offer some of their best advice on the first thing to do to get your finances in order on Jan. 1, 2023. You’ve got this!
Lay it all on the table.
Before you do anything else, sit down and review everything money-related in your life: credit card balances, car payments, savings, and more.
“One of the most important things to do right now is to take stock of where you are,” says Katie Burke, founder of Method Financial Planning. “Every year, small details will change. A little pay raise can make a big difference, as can an increase in the cost of your bills or monthly subscriptions, or a slight change in your benefits package.”
Even though the market is currently more volatile than stable, don’t be afraid to check in on your investments. “Investments are meant to be a source of security; they shouldn’t be a source of worry and panic,” says Burke. “That’s why the best thing to do when dealing with investments, especially during the bumpy ride of a recession, is stay calm. One of the wisest investment strategies is to stay in the market rather than bail out when things get rough, and it never pays to act on emotion rather than rational thinking.”
Set goals, then tweak your budget accordingly.
Got all that? “Once you have the full picture of your finances, you can set realistic goals for yourself, whether it be paying off high-interest-rate debts, building an emergency fund, or increasing your retirement savings,” says Kendall Clayborne, certified financial planner at SoFi. “The key to setting realistic goals is to break big goals down into smaller ones. If it is anything that will take longer than a couple of months to accomplish, break it down further so you can focus on accomplishing something for the next 30, 60, or 90 days.”
To help with that, Burke recommends creating a fresh budget based on what you now know about your financial situation and your financial goals.
Additionally, Burke says the new year is a great time to reconsider asset allocation. “If you normally allocate 20 percent of your savings to cash, for example, you could consider reducing this by 5 percent, and investing that 5 percent in stocks this year. You may also choose to diversify your investments in different ways, too, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the market. You can always review all of this when you come to rebalance,” she explains. “And just as with your budget, when you’re reviewing your investments, don’t forget to keep your financial goals front and center.”
Consider calling in a financial planner or advisor if you need help with any of this.
Map out the coming year’s major purchases or big events.
If you know you’ll have to replace an appliance, buy a car, or update your couch in 2023, plan for it.
“While unexpected expenses and impulse buys may still occur, do your best to plan your purchases in advance,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashBack.com. “If you’re planning to buy something at a specific store, keep track of their ‘sales cycle’ to determine when you may find the best deals. Once you’re ready to shop, layer any applicable coupons and promotions to your total. And if possible, use a rewards credit card to get cash back, points, or miles when you shop, depending on your card’s program.”
Going on a vacation? Attending a few weddings? Splurging on a big gift for your partner’s milestone birthday? Plan it! “One of the best things you can do is look at a calendar while you’re planning out your finances for the year,” says Kevin Matthews II, money expert at Public.com. “Make sure you account for weddings, birthdays, and holidays so that they don’t sneak up and throw your budget off course. Doing this can also help you break down some of your goals to a week-to-week or month-to-month level, making it easier to manage your cash flow.”
Automate, automate, automate.
Many experts brought up automating your savings — setting up an automatic deduction from your checking account to savings so you’re constantly funneling cash without noticing it.
“Suppose you want to build an emergency fund or save more toward retirement. Instead of trying to remember every month to save money, set up automated transfers from your checking account to your savings or brokerage account every payroll period,” says certified financial planner Andrew Latham. “Ideally, you should set up the automated transfers as part of your employer’s direct deposit, as this will make it a little more difficult to turn them off. This added friction will make it harder to stop saving when you’re tempted to use the money for non-essential purchases.” Latham recommends trying to save 20 percent off your after-tax income, but adds that even $20 per pay period is great if that’s what you can contribute.
And speaking of automating, if one of your goals is to beef up your credit score, Latham also recommends setting up automated payments for things like the electric or cable bill. “Setting up automatic payments for your bills is one of the best things you can do to build your credit (or protect your credit if it’s already excellent),” he explains. “One single late payment on your credit report can lower your credit score by as much as 180 points. A drop of 180 in your credit score could mean being denied a mortgage or a lease. It will also increase the interest rate you pay on loans or credit cards, and your insurance quotes will probably have higher premiums.”
The big takeaway here? This year, strategically save money and boost your credit score — and do so without even thinking about it.