New Year’s resolutions can take a lot of effort to put into action.
We’ve got a much easier approach.
Just stop doing these five financial things and you’ll have more savings, smarter spending habits and a secure identity in the next year.
1. Stop saving your leftovers
Saving shouldn’t be an afterthought. Instead, adopt a “pay yourself first” model, which is a battle tested way to increase your savings.
Rather than waiting to see what’s left at the end of the month (which tends to be, at best, paltry and arbitrary and, at worst, a guilty gut-punch of nothing) and putting that toward savings, set up an automatic transfer that will move the same amount of money out of your checking account to your savings account as soon as it lands each pay period.
How much should you set aside? ICYMI: you should be saving 10% to 20% of your take-home pay a year. But your first task is to get $1,000 into that savings account for your emergency fund.
Action plan: Decide on an amount you want to set aside each pay period. Go to your bank’s website to set up an automatic transfer to happen on pay day.
2. Stop using painless payments
Every day retailers and payment systems are streamlining processes so you can pay faster and easier.
But the farther away you get from the act of paying (which is painful) the more money you’re likely to spend, says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and co-author of “Dollars and Sense.”
“If it is an automatic deduction you don’t experience the annoyance in the same way and you’re less aware of the costs,” Ariely said.
Forcing yourself to pay in cash, or at least forcing yourself to re-enter your credit card number each time you purchase something online, keeps you in touch with the pain of paying and helps you remember that buying something now means not saving for later.
Action plan: Pay by cash or check, when possible. Do not save your credit card number on your computer, retailer’s websites or virtual wallets. Avoid one-click payment systems.
3. Stop being silent about money
Research shows that not only are we bad at dealing with money, we’re also bad at talking about money.
But, the good news: research also shows that the more we talk about it, the more confident we are and the more information we have to make better money decisions.
Also: young people are better at sharing and comparing their financial wins and fails than other groups.
Talking with people about money makes us more aware of the invisible saving that people are doing in comparison to their more visible spending. It also helps us make more informed and less stressful financial decisions, when we take time to ask friends about their money strategies.
Action plan: Discuss your retirement savings with your inner circle. Next, ask your besties about their salary. Maybe also share and compare using apps that mask your personal details.
4. Stop your wholesale club shopping
Wholesale club shopping makes you spend and eat more, according to a recent study.
People who shop at warehouse club stores like Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club, spend more on packaged food, make more shopping trips, and take in more packaged food calories than if they didn’t shop at a club store.
Researchers found that not only are you not saving, you are increasing your spending on packaged food by $3.50 per person, per month at a wholesale club.
It may not seem like that will break your budget, “but if you’re looking at this to save money, it is going in the opposite direction,” said Dartmouth professor Kusum Ailawadi, the study’s lead author.
Action plan: Shop at supermarkets weekly so you don’t overspend. If you already have a membership, make a list and stick to it.
5. Stop allowing your credit to be available to anyone
The news about the Equifax data breach — in which the personal information of 145 million people’s personal and financial data were accessed — has moved off your news feed, but your risk of identity theft remains.
If you didn’t check to see if you were affected in September when the hack was announced, get after it now.
Whether or not your information was hacked, you should put a credit freeze on your three credit reports. A freeze allows you to continue to use your existing credit. Your current creditors can access your files, but no one else can see your credit report and — most importantly — no new lines of credit can be established.
If you want to open a new line of credit you’ll need to to unfreeze your credit.
Unfortunately, credit freezes are not free for all, but the small fee you might pay will pale in comparison with the money you stand to lose and the headaches you’ll endure should your identity be taken.
Action plan: To establish a credit freeze, go to the freeze page at each credit agency’s website individually: Equifax, TransUnion, Experian.