If you’re like most people you probably don’t think much about your New Year’s resolutions until after the ball drops. (And who can blame you? You just survived the holidays, after all.)
But if you’ve got big financial goals, it wouldn’t hurt to start thinking about them sooner. That’s because getting a jump-start on them now is the best way to accomplish your goals on your timeline.
Below are some tips to set yourself up for success so that, come New Year’s Eve, you can toast to the fact that you’re already on track with your financial resolutions.
RESOLUTION: SAVE MORE MONEY
What You Can Do Now: Review where your money is actually going.
This is a classic New Year’s resolution for a reason. Who doesn’t want to save money and form good financial habits?
Truth is, it takes time to form a new habit, so rather than going cold turkey on spending, check out where your money is actually spent. Look over your bank or credit card statements for the past year. If you’re able to sort your transactions, look at your spending by category. Do the figures surprise you? Drill down even further and track your spending over the next few weeks. Were there things you spent money on that you could have lived without? Would you have felt better if that money had been set aside for, say, a big annual trip or your future home down payment?
This exercise isn’t really about spending less — it’s about making sure your money is going toward the things you value. Once you know where your money goes, you can start with a fresh budget that reflects where you want to pare down, and which savings goals you want to redirect that money toward.
RESOLUTION: PAY DOWN DEBT
What You Can Do Now: Take stock of your debt.
Paying down debt is a challenge, but there is a way to get strategic about it. Before you formulate your plan, know a few important things about your debt. For each debt you have, take note of how much you’re paying in interest, what your remaining balances are and any potential benefits you may get from the debt (for example, student loan interest you may get a tax break on).
Then, prioritize paying down your debt with a plan for which debt you want to focus on first. Chances are you’ll want to start with any credit card debt, as it’s likely to have the highest interest rate. Taking stock of your debt now can also help you determine if you could lower your interest rates by transferring balances to a lower APR card, or refinancing or consolidating your debts, for example. Plus, seeing your debt in one place could help remind you to keep your holiday spending in check.
RESOLUTION: RAMP UP RETIREMENT SAVINGS
What You Can Do Now: Bump up your contribution by 1 percent.
For those of you who already have a retirement savings plan in place, like a 401(k) through your company, consider bumping up your contributions by 1 percent (or to the amount your employer matches, if you’re not already there). It’s unlikely that you’ll feel an impact on your budget at that amount, and the earlier you start saving, the more time you’re giving your money to potentially grow.
If you are starting from scratch with retirement, don’t wait until the new year; consider opening a retirement account now. Take time to review your options carefully. You’ll have to decide whether it makes sense to contribute to a Roth or traditional account, as well as how much you can carve out of your budget to contribute. And remember that with an IRA, you have until the tax filing deadline to make a contribution that counts for this year.
RESOLUTION: GET A RAISE
What You Can Do Now: Gather evidence of your superstar employee status.
New year, new salary, right?
Not so fast. If you were planning to wait until January to ask for a raise, that may be too late — by then, your company’s budget may already be locked down. The best time to put the bug in your manager’s ear is before any decisions are made, so consider working toward your big ask now.
First, ask your manager or your human resources department about the timing of compensation decisions to make sure you haven’t missed the boat. If there’s still time to make your case, let your manager know you’re interested in having that conversation. Then start gathering data about your successes at work, such as how you’ve increased your team’s productivity, how you contributed to a successful campaign, or any other big wins that prove your worth — particularly if they went above and beyond job expectations. Doing this kind of due diligence is important because it’s hard to argue with cold hard facts.
RESOLUTION: LAND A NEW JOB
What You Can Do Now: Start your job search.
It’s fair to assume most companies will wait until after the holidays to start hiring, but there are many who do hire during November and December. Even if the process moves slower than you’d like, you’ll still be ahead of where you planned to be in January — not to mention you’ll have less competition for any jobs you apply to before then. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to get your name and resume in front of hiring managers who’ll have a new budget to work with in January. Don’t be afraid to ask a recruiter for help; they’re not going to want to slow down over the holidays, either.