8 Smart Money Moves to Make in the New Year


Maybe your New Year's resolution is to budget more consistently, save more, or spend less. Maybe it's investing a portion of your disposable income wisely. Whatever your financial objectives are, setting money-minded goals is important to ensure a more prosperous 2017 and beyond. Here are a few ways to build and improve upon the foundation you've already laid.

1. Enlist Professional Help

Guess what? Everybody gets themselves into a financial pickle every now and then — myself included — and it's not the end of the world. Don't beat yourself up about it. You can fix this.

If you overdid it during the holidays (or even all of last year), identify your missteps so you don't repeat them in the future, and you can formulate a plan of resolve. If finances aren't your forte (though you should make them your forte ASAP), consider consulting an expert.

2. Learn to Cook

I know a staggering number of people who can't cook. Like, if they tried to sauté a few shrimp, you'd probably walk away from the dinner table with hepatitis. I don't understand it — which is why I harp on those who avoid the kitchen to get in there and learn. Refusing to prepare yourself fresh, delicious meals is just plain lazy.

The other problem with not being able to cook is that the alternative is expensive and very unhealthy. For starters, you're at the mercy of the microwave or what's already prepared at takeouts and restaurants — and more times than not, that food is loaded with fats and sodium. Second, you're paying about three-to-one for ready-to-eat dishes (unless you're buying the worst of the worst from the freezer section) versus what you could make in your own home using store-bought ingredients.

Cooking shows on the Food Network and recipes off the Internet taught me a lot of kitchen basics (like how to make sure a chicken breast is thoroughly cooked so I don't poison myself). A friend of mine recently hired a cook from Craigslist to come into his home once a week to help him learn how to prepare standard meals, like pork chops, veggies, and rice. There are plenty of resources available to help you learn how to cook, too. Find them, graduate to adulthood by making your own dinner, and then count all the cash you're saving. Your mama will be so proud.

3. Cut the Fat From Your Expenses

Along with cutting the fat from your diet, you also should look for ways to trim it from your budget. End memberships and subscriptions you don't use, and call your service providers to renegotiate your deals. I shaved $15 per month off my mobile phone bill last year by calling to update my 12-year-old plan. Also, investigate your bank accounts for erroneous fees; you may be paying for something on a recurring basis that you totally forgot about. Commit to shopping less, and saving more when you do need or want to spend. I don't buy anything without a coupon or discount code. Positive personal finance is a way of life.

4. Increase Your Retirement Savings

If there's extra money in your budget at the end of the month, spend it on your future by increasing your retirement savings. If your employer matches 401K contributions, you should at least be maxing them out. If you don't have an employer-sponsored plan, look into a Roth IRA as an alternative.

5. Consider a Balance Transfer

If you're underwater on your credit cards, consolidating that debt onto a card that allows balance transfers could save you a decent chunk of change. Just make sure you check the fees and pay it off during the promotional period, otherwise interest can revert much higher, making repayment even more expensive. (See also: Which Balance Transfer Credit Card Is Best for You?)

6. Lower Your Investment Fees

If your finances are already fairly on track, there are still ways you can put more money back into your bank account — like lowering your investment fees if you play the stock market.

Take a closer look at your portfolio, and re-evaluate to see how you can restructure so fees aren't costing you significant amounts in the long run. Now might also be a good time to consider investing in index funds, the benefits of which include broader market exposure, low operating expenses, and low portfolio turnover.

7. Research How the Trump Administration Will Affect Your Finances

Things are going to change, perhaps significantly, once Trump takes office. The new tax code overhaul alone could affect your finances one way or another. But there are other effects to consider, like rising interest rates, which may reduce the pool of potential buyers of a home sale if you're planning to sell in the near future. The repeal of Obamacare may also alter your budget, depending on what health care alternatives you have. Nonetheless, I recommend researching how the new administration's fiscal plans will trickle down to your own pocket. Hopefully you'll come out ahead, but you should prepare yourself, either way.

8. Just Say No

Make 2017 the year that less is more. Buy fewer retail items, dine out less frequently, limit your alcohol consumption, and learn how to say no to recreational activities that aren't in your budget. You don't have to do or have it all to feel satisfied. Rather, you'll start to experience satisfaction in other ways, like not living paycheck to paycheck because of frivolous spending. You deserve better; give it to yourself.

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