As 2016 approaches, so does the urge to upgrade your 2015 self. Vowing to try new workouts, brush up on your Portuguese, or buy all your produce from a farmers’ market are worthy goals, but before you commit to these self-improvement endeavors, there’s one area of your life you should reboot first: your financial health.
Even if your resolutions don’t involve high end bikram yoga classes or expensive heirloom radishes, it’s much easier to focus on personal growth when you’re not stressing about paying off loans or the state of your 401(k). Here are a few financial resolutions that will get your money on track for 2016.
A lot happens in a year, and it can be hard to keep up. If your address, job, marital status, or even email changed over the past 12 months, January is a great time to make sure your accounts reflect your current information. This way, if your bank suspects any suspicious activity on your account, they can easily contact you.
You’ll also want to take stock of things like checks and credit card expiration dates. It can take a day or two to update account information or get new checks or cards delivered, so it’s best to take care of housekeeping duties preemptively, before you realize that the rent is due tomorrow and you’re out of checks. While you’re at it, take the time to check your credit score, evaluate the status of your debts, and make sure you’re on top of all your bills. You may even find a subscription charge or a premium membership fee that you completely forgot about and can finally cancel.
It’s great to have fond memories of a beloved childhood pet or have your grandmother’s birthday memorized. What’s not so great, is using MrKibbles12234 as your password for everything from your bank accounts to your Instagram login. This year, resolve to protect your finances and personal information from fraudsters by changing your passwords regularly. Set up quarterly calendar alerts reminding you to swap in new, strong, and different passwords across your accounts. Using the same password for everything makes you significantly more vulnerable to disastrous attacks.
After you bid a tearful goodbye to MrKibbles12234, it’s time to start fresh. Your new passwords should steer clear of the usual suspects: addresses, important dates, loved ones’ names (both human and animal), or anything else a hacker could easily find out. It’s safest to avoid any dictionary word, and aim for a seemingly random combination of letters and numbers — the longer the better. Be sure to mix up capitalization, spelling, numbers, and punctuation. You can even check your passwords’ strength with online checkers.
While they should appear random, you don’t want passwords you can’t remember. There are a few methods for creating and memorizing strong passwords using tools like mnemonic devices, phonetics, and muscle memory. If you’re still afraid you’ll forget these complex combinations, an online password manager could ease your worries.
Mobile and online offerings from banks like Chase make it incredibly easy to stay on top of your finances throughout the year — and Jan. 1 (or, let’s be real, Jan. 2) is a great time to set up online and mobile access to credit cards, investments, and bank accounts. Mobile apps offer 24/7 access to your transactions which makes tracking your finances more convenient. With automated account alerts sent to your phone or email, you’ll know about certain unauthorized transactions or activity as soon as they occur. Some financial institutions — including Chase — are very understanding when it comes to unauthorized charges and cover you with zero liability protection, but the sooner you tell them about the issue, the better chance they have of stopping the perpetrator.
In addition to automated alerts, schedule your own calendar events reminding you to review your accounts on a regular basis. Taking a few minutes every week to review your balances and transactions will help you spot inconsistencies and improve your understanding of personal spending and saving habits. The more you learn about your financial needs and behaviors, the better equipped you’ll be to create accurate budgets and make informed plans for the future.
Whether you’re a year into your first job or 30 years into your career, saving for retirement should always be part of your saving strategy. It may be difficult to put your hard-earned money towards something 40 years away instead of spending it on dinner and drinks tonight, but with smart financial planning, you can cover all your bases. Online calculators can help you estimate your retirement needs, and determine the amount of money you’ll need to set aside each year in order to reach your goal. If you’ve been saving for a while, the calculators also can assess your progress to make sure you’re taking full advantage of your company’s 401(k) offerings.
The new year is usually filled with hope and optimism, but it’s important to be realistic. Unexpected events happen, and preparing for the unpredictable is a critical aspect of financial security. That’s where an emergency fund comes into play. This is a portion of your savings set aside to pay for home or car repairs, or to cover living expenses in the event of a physical, professional, or personal emergency. But these security nets don’t weave themselves overnight. Building them takes time and commitment.
How big should your emergency fund be? Well it varies from person to person. Three to six months of living expenses is a common goal, but it’s also an intimidating one. Instead of diving in head first, start with smaller goals of around $500, and break this down further into monthly or weekly targets. Once you start hitting these milestones, up the ante and aim for $1,000 or even a month’s expenses. It may take time, but you’ll have a nice healthy emergency fund before you know it.
As you do all of the above tips, you’ll probably be learning a lot about what you need, what you don’t, and how you can improve your approach to money. Use these insights to make your personal budget smarter and more comprehensive. Make sure to include altered recurring expenses, like rent increases, daycare costs, or personal training fees. Once you get a better handle on where your money is and what it should be going towards, you’ll be able to build a better savings method that capitalizes on the money you don’t need to spend. And if you don’t have a budget? Take a good hard look at your finances and build one for 2016.
These resolutions will help get your financial health in peak condition, so that you can start focusing on other goals, like getting your physical health up to speed. And, just like training for your first marathon or committing to a daily creative-writing routine, improving your financial outlook is easier when you have support. Lucky for you, Chase is ready to help.
Lily Butler is an editor at Studio@Gawker.