More than 97 million people plan to set financial goals for themselves. But without a solid plan in place and the right habits to back it up, it can be challenging to reach those goals.
In this article, you’ll learn 14 financial habits you can adopt in 2021 to help you reach your financial goals this year and beyond.
14 Financial Habits to Adopt in 2021
Track your spending
To change anything in your finances, you need to know where you are now, including where your money is going.
I never used to track my spending, yet I’d be confused as to how I ran out of money each month. When I finally sat down and tracked my spending, I was shocked.
Tracking your spending can open your eyes to where your money is going. It shows you where you’re overspending and can help you set a budget for the future.
Set financial goals
I talk to so many people who tell me that they know they should be spending money, but they don’t know how much to save or how to do it. And even if they did know, they don’t really have the motivation to do so.
This is what happens when you don’t have specific financial goals. It’s much harder to save when you really don’t know why you’re saving.
But when you set financial goals, you know exactly why you’re saving and how much you need to save. Plus, the thought of meeting your goal will provide all the motivation you need.
Schedule a weekly money date
Checking in on your finances is so important. I sit down once per week and update my budget, record all of my expenses, and adjust anything I need to. I also sit down monthly to close out my budget for the month and plan the following month’s budget.
Having a regular money date with yourself is a great way to stay on top of your finances. Put it on the calendar so you never forget.
And if you share finances with someone else, you can have a regular money date to talk about your family finances.
Pay yourself first
For years I would tell myself that I would save all the money I had left at the end of each month. But the end of every month would roll around, and I’d somehow never have anything left.
I finally learned the solution to this problem: paying myself first.
When you pay yourself first, you decide ahead of time how much you want to save each month, whether it be in your emergency fund, retirement account, or toward a financial goal.
Then, you transfer that money over to savings as soon as you get paid, before you have a chance to spend the money.
I’ve found the best way to do this is to automate my savings so that I never have to remember to do it.
Budget one month ahead
One of my favorite budgeting hacks is to be one month ahead with my budget.
Most people budget with the current month’s income. In other words, they use their January paycheck to pay their January bills.
But when you’re one month ahead on your budget, you use your January paycheck to pay February’s bills.
This type of budgeting has tons of benefits. First, this one-month buffer serves as a small emergency fund. It also helps you to avoid timing your bills to your paychecks, as many people have to do.
If you want to give it a shot, I have an entire guide on how to get one month ahead on your budget.
Use your credit cards responsibly
I love credit cards. I put just about everything on a credit card. The problem is that most people are using credit cards incorrectly.
First, many people put their expenses on a credit card then pay it off with next month’s income. This means they’re spending money they haven’t even earned yet.
Another habit people have is to charge things to their credit card, but then not pay off the full balance.
Here are a few rules of thumb for using credit cards responsibly:
- Only spend money you already have in your checking account
- Keep your credit card utilization below 30%
- Pay your balance off in full every month
Make more than your minimum debt payments
When you have debt, it can be tempting to simply pay the minimum monthly payment the lender requires of you. That way, you have more money each month to spend on other things.
The problem is that you end up spending way more money in the long run. Depending on the amount of debt you have, paying your debt off faster could save you hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars in interest.
The sooner you pay your debt off, the sooner you have that money available each month to put somewhere else in your budget.
And remember there are other downsides to having debt. Suppose you wanted to buy a house. If you have too much debt, a lender is unlikely to approve you for a mortgage.
Avoid monthly payments
Stores try to convince you to spend money by looking at a purchase as a monthly payment rather than as the full purchase price. New financial services allow you to use a monthly payment for just about everything these days, whether it’s a $1,000 computer or a $25 top.
But remember that payment plans force you to spend more money in the long-run. And you normalize the habit of having monthly payments.
It’s better to pay for everything you can in full.
Certainly, there are exceptions. When it comes to buying a house, you’ll almost certainly borrow money and have a monthly payment. But for smaller purchases, avoid monthly payments as much as possible.
Continue to learn about money
Even if you feel like you’ve got your financial shit down, there’s always room to learn more. Even though I have a lot of experience in personal finance and help coach others, I still regularly read personal finance books and listen to personal finance podcasts.
As you reach certain goals, there’s likely more to learn for the next one. Let’s say you finally paid off all your debt and have learned to stick to your budget. Now it might be time to pick up a book on investing.
Learn your spending triggers
Everyone has their own spending triggers. For some people, a sales email in their inbox is a trigger. For others, it’s walking into Target. For others, it might be having a really bad day.
One of the best ways to save money is to identify your spending triggers and find ways to combat them.
Let’s say your spending trigger is sales emails from your favorite store. An easy way to combat this would be to unsubscribe from that store’s emails.
I used to struggle with emotional shopping, especially as my first marriage was ending. When I was particularly upset, I’d spend money. I overcame that by dealing with my emotions head-on rather than looking for a different outlet.
Maintain an emergency fund
I think 2020 taught everyone the importance of having an emergency fund. Millions of people lost jobs this year, Congress dragged its feet in getting aid to the people who really needed it, and the pandemic resulted in huge medical bills for many families.
Even if your finances weren’t affected by the pandemic, chances are you’ve had a financial emergency in the past that you struggled to pay.
If you’re just getting started and have high-interest debt like credit cards to pay off, I recommend saving at least one month’s worth of expenses in your emergency fund. Eventually, you can work your way up to 3-6 months.
The important piece is replenishing your emergency fund when you use it. Let’s say you’ve got an emergency fund of $5,000 and end up with $1,000 worth of car repairs. Your emergency fund is down to $4,000. Your next financial priority should be replenishing that $1,000 before you start saving for something else.
Meal planning has been the single most effective way for me to cut down on grocery spending.
If I go into the grocery store without a list, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to overspend. But if I make a meal plan and grocery list ahead of time, I’m good about sticking with it.
Not only does meal planning help me to only buy the things I really need, but it also allows me to price meals out ahead of time so I know roughly how much I’ll spend.
Give to causes you’re passionate about
For many people, 2020 really showed the importance of financially supporting causes that are important to you.
Charitable giving in 2020 increased from the previous year, despite the financial struggles many faced. And a special provision in the tax law has allowed everyone to deduct up to $300 for donations, even if they don’t itemize their deductions.
Chances are you already know which causes are most important to you, whether it’s combating climate change, protecting animals, promoting diversity, etc.
Whatever it is, take a look at your budget and see if you can swing a small monthly donation to your favorite causes.
Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses
Everyone has probably heard the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” And most people probably brush it off, thinking it doesn’t apply to them.
But you might be surprised.
As we earn more money, we tend to subconsciously increase our spending to go with it — aka lifestyle inflation.
We upgrade apartments or homes. We buy nicer cars. We eat at nicer restaurants than we did when we had our first jobs. We spend more on clothing, home decor, etc.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. In fact, I tell my coaching clients they should identify areas of their lives where they spend guilt-free — for Brandon and I, it’s live music and eating out.
But it becomes a problem when you spend more in every category.
A good way to combat this problem is to decide ahead of time how you’ll upgrade your lifestyle. If you get a raise, decide ahead of time which spending categories you’ll increase and which will stay the same. That way they don’t all increase without you noticing.
2021 can be the year you finally turn your finances around and reach all of your goals. By implementing just a few of the financial habits on this list (or more than a few), you’ll be amazing at the progress you see.