You’ve heard it before: Resolutions are for quitters. So don’t burden yourself with a list of useless declarations about not spending money in 2014.
You’re not likely to keep them anyway, according to the University of Scranton, which has found that of the 45% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, a mere 8% actually achieve them.Shutterstock.com
Instead, embrace tiny habits that may not necessarily help you lose weight, learn Mandarin or get organized but, with little to no effort, will fatten your bank account.
Track your spending. It’s easy if somewhat arduous to jot notes on a smartphone or tablet every time you put gas in the car or stop for a coffee, but if you do, you will be amazed at how quickly money can slip through your hands. There are sites you can turn to for help, like Mint.com, Quicken or Geezeo, that will do the math for you. Most banks offer tracking and budgeting services through sites like these too.
Once you really see where the cash — and credit card transactions — are going, it will be easier for you to identify and cut wasteful spending.
Balance cash in, cash out. Now that you’re seeing where the money is going, chart it against your other expenses. We’re talking about everything from housing, food and clothing to movie-going, dining out and getting manicures and pedicures. It’s pretty simple to calculate if you’re spending more than you’re bringing in. Now you can see just how, where and why you’re doing it. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it.
Be realistic. If you absolutely don’t see yourself brewing your own coffee every day — despite the estimated $2,400 in annual savings — limit the java stop to once a day, rather than twice, or to a less-expensive coffee shop.
Do the same with savings and paying off debt. Socking away $50 a week is psychologically easier than $200 a month, though the result is the same. Paying off a $2,500 credit-card bill can be done in $500 increments.
Automate it all. Raise your hand if you promised yourself that you’d transfer money from one account to a savings account and, oops, just forgot. Or planned on paying that bill by the due date but that too slipped your mind. Automate those duties so you don’t end up making excuses when you don’t get to it yourself.
Aim to be fee-less. Interest fees, late fees, ATM withdrawal fees, checking-account fees — heck, any banking fees can be avoided by choosing the right financial institution and products, and automating bill payments. And if you’re lousy at balancing your accounts and don’t have a cushion account to cover you, make sure you have overdraft protection on your accounts.
Cut the cord. Cable TV can be a costly proposition and there are a number of ways you can cut the cord without missing out on “Homeland” or replays of “Breaking Bad,” though live sports can be an issue. But you don’t even have to give up the cable to cut the bills. Cable companies, which are losing customers to the likes of Hulu and Roku, are willing to negotiate to retain customers. Just take the time to call them, or send them a tweet.
ALSO SEE: Here’s how much you’ll save by ditching cable
Negotiate other bills. Follow the cable lead and make some calls to rework other monthly tabs like credit-card interest rates, auto and home insurance costs, even cell phone bills.
“Carve out an hour or two at the beginning of this year to check the rates you are paying on all your bills,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. “That time can pay off handsomely all year long.”
Chances are there are untapped discounts or new offers available. And if they can’t slash some of your costs, you might get more bells and whistles, which makes the dollars spent a better value. Check out competitor’s promotions too and ask your provider to match the prices.
And an extra bonus, if you can cut the interest rates on your credit-card bills, you can get out of debt that much quicker. That’s assuming, of course, you aren’t running the bills up as you pay them off.
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Rethink 2013 offers. There’s probably a few “free trial” or “0% one-year interest-rate” offers you grabbed in 2012 and 2013 that have now lost their luster. You can find another credit-card promotion like that and transfer your balance or make sure that you never carry a balance month to month since that 0% is probably now about 15% or higher.
Improve your health. Every year, losing weight takes the top spot on most American’s New Year’s list, followed closely by vows to quit smoking or drinking too much. It’s no wonder, considering that not only can it improve your disposition and physical well-being, it will make an impression on your wallet.
“Studies show that being overweight or smoking translates to thousands of dollars in additional medical costs over the course of your lifetime,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, chief executive of CardHub.com. “And that doesn’t even speak to lost productivity due to a lack of energy, the added insurance burden, or money wasted on quick-fix health-improvement schemes.”
Nor does it speak to that big chunk of money, estimated at upwards of $3,600 a year for a one-pack-a-day smoker, that you’ll keep in your pocket.
Find ways to stay motivated. Making a plan to cut spending and save money is easier said than done, so it’s important to make yourself accountable. Start by telling your family and friends what your goals are and ask them to help you keep it up. Heck, announce it to the masses on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for crowd-sourcing encouragement. There’s nothing like a thumbs up or smiley face to keep you going.
ALSO SEE: Here’s what the big money is betting on in 2014
Jennifer Waters is a MarketWatch columnist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @JenWatersMKW.
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