Create a Budget
A budget is the best way to create breathing room in your financial life. By tracking your expenses and identifying areas where you can make changes, you start to take control of your money. And you’ll be surprised how much that can reduce your anxiety.
Team Clark created the CLARK Method to help you start a budget in five easy steps:
- Calculate your income
- List your expenses
- Analyze your spending and set goals
- Record everything
- Knock out debt and build your savings
Read the full guide and download the free budget worksheet to get started.
Saving money is an essential goal in nearly every step of our lives. Whether you’re applying to colleges, looking for a car, buying a home or planning for retirement, an established savings account can help you achieve goals, pay for big purchases without going into debt and prepare for the “oops” in life.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Reduce your expenses
- Set goals for yourself
- Build an emergency fund
Learn more in Team Clark’s guide to saving money in five steps.
Tip: Try a Savings Challenge
Savings challenges can help make saving money more fun. Here are a few to consider:
Start Investing for Retirement
Most of us don’t want to work forever. But the longer we put off saving for retirement, the longer we’ll likely have to keep working, maybe in a job we don’t enjoy.
For many people, the easiest way to start saving for retirement is by signing up for your employer’s 401(k) retirement plan. And if your company offers a match, do your best to contribute the minimum necessary to pick up the full company match.
Use this guide to start investing and saving for retirement today.
Max Out a Retirement Account
If you have already started investing in a retirement account, try to contribute the maximum this year (if you can afford it). Here are the retirement contribution limits for three different investment accounts in 2021:
- 401(k) = $19,500 (If you’re age 50 or older, you can contribute up to $6,500 more for a total of $26,000.)
- Traditional IRA = $6,000 (The limit is $7,000 for people 50 and older.)
- Roth IRA = $6,000 (The limit is $7,000 for those 50 and older.)
Check Your Credit Report
Your credit impacts your ability to get a credit card, auto loan, mortgage — and sometimes even a job!
Reviewing your credit report is a free way to ensure everything is accurate and that your identity has not been stolen. By law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus each year. You can get free access to all three at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Here are additional ways to access free credit reports.
Improve Your Credit Score
Credit scores range from 300-850, but money expert Clark Howard says not to obsess about reaching 850. In fact, Clark recommends 760 as a reasonable goal: He says you’ll get similar offers and rates as people whose scores are over 800.
If your credit score is below 760, try these tips to raise your credit score in 2021.
Freeze Your Credit
The most important thing you can do to protect your identity is to freeze your credit with each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). It’s free to freeze your credit. And if you decide to apply for a new credit card or loan, you can easily thaw your credit with each bureau. When you’re done, make sure you freeze your credit again to keep your information safe.
You can check off this resolution today! Follow the steps in Team Clark’s Credit Freeze Guide.
Pay Down Debt
Is there more month than money in your life?
A WalletHub survey revealed that the average American household’s credit card debt in October 2020 was $7,849. The total credit card debt in America is now more than $926 billion.
Debt can feel like a weight. But there is hope when you make an action plan:
- Add up all of your debts
- Try to negotiate with creditors
- Look into refinancing debt to a lower rate
- Add debt payoff as a line in your budget
- Set a debt payoff goal
- Use the “avalanche method” to start paying down your debt
Read Team Clark’s full guide to paying down debt.
Tip: Find a Support System
Being in debt can bring horrible feelings of shame, regret and even loneliness. But you’re not alone! Establishing a support system in your journey to paying down debt is key to reaching your goal. Team Clark’s Ditch Your Debt Facebook Group is a safe community of people who are sharing their struggles, successes and tips to getting rid of debt.
Cut the Cord
The average cable package is $217.42 a month which adds up to $2,609.04 a year. Do you really need all of those channels?
By ditching traditional cable for a live TV streaming service such as Sling TV, you can reduce your bill to about $45 a month. That’s $540 a year, which means you would save more than $2,000 in 2021 by cutting the cord.
If you’re not sure where to start, use this guide to cutting the cord forever.
Tip: Try a Free Trial Before You Switch
Many of the major live TV streaming services such as YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV offer free trials so you can test the service before you pay a dime. Remember to make a note to cancel before the trial period ends so you aren’t charged any money if you don’t like the service.
Switch to a Cheaper Cell Phone Service Provider
One line of unlimited talk, text and data with Verizon costs about $70 a month. But did you know that you can get Verizon’s service at a much cheaper price? In fact, Verizon-owned Visible offers service starting at only $40 a month. And Xfinity internet customers have access to Xfinity Mobile which costs only $15 a month. That’s real money back in your pocket without sacrificing service.
You can find cheaper options for AT&T and T-Mobile networks too.
Use Team Clark’s comprehensive cell phone plan guide to see the latest deals, tips and reviews.
Delete Unused Subscription Services
From delivery services to gym memberships to magazine subscriptions, recurring expenses can hide in the background of your financial life. But even if you’re not using those products and services, the payments still leave your bank account.
Think about this: A $5 payment for a service you never use adds up to $60 every year. While it may not seem like much, $60 could actually cover four months of a subscription to Netflix.
Have you ever taken the time to review your credit card statement line-by-line? Here are four steps that Clark wants you to take so you can regain control of your subscriptions.
Spend Less on Food
The coronavirus pandemic forced many of us to stay home, which has meant eating out less and cooking at home more. Food delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats have made it easy to access food from our favorite restaurants without leaving the house, but those services cost money.
Whether you want to pledge to cook at home more or pinch more pennies at the grocery store in 2021, there are several ways to save money on food. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Make a shopping list (and stick to it)
- Buy store brands
- Try curbside pickup to avoid impulse purchases
Read the full list of 20+ ways to save money at the grocery store.
Get Healthy for Cheap
In addition to a healthy diet, exercise is one of the most important things that you can do for your overall well-being. There is nothing wrong with paying for a gym membership to start your fitness journey — if you actually use it. However, your local gym may be closed due to the pandemic or you just might not feel comfortable working out in public.
In that case, you can start working out at home for free. You may want to establish a walking routine, start running, try yoga or get fit some other way. Technology can help: Team Clark’s Dallas Cox researched the best free fitness apps for 2021.
Tip: Track Your Progress With an App
If you’re committed to improving your health this year, it’s important to track your progress so you can celebrate when you achieve your goal. Check out this list of free weight loss apps to see which service has the features you need to succeed.
Make More Money
Your wage at work might feel stuck, but it is possible to earn extra cash outside of your regular job. From online surveys to focus groups to food delivery, there are a variety of ways to make money at any time of day.
Team Clark — and even Clark Howard himself — tested 20+ ways to make extra cash.
None of the tips in the guide will get you rich quick, but a few extra bucks can help you reach your financial goals faster.
Maximize Credit Card Rewards
Clark rarely uses a debit card because it does not offer the same protections as a credit card. If you can follow Clark’s credit card rules and pay your balance in full every month, you may want to consider using a credit card for your purchases and get rewarded for spending money.
The Citi Double Cash Card is one of Clark’s favorite credit cards because it’s simple: You earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase and earn an additional 1% cash back when you pay your bill.
Whether you want rotating categories, simple cash back, travel points, or other perks, read the full guide to pick the best rewards credit card for your wallet.
Tips to Sticking With a New Year’s Resolution
Ready to make an official New Year’s resolution? It can be daunting to stick with it through the full year. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated so you can accomplish your money goals in 2021:
Choosing a goal like “Max Out a Retirement Account” is ambitious and it may take the full year to complete. Other goals like “Check Your Credit Report” are free and can be done in one afternoon. A small win could be just the motivation you need to tackle a big goal this year.
Post Your Goal Where You Can See It
Writing down your goals is a great way to visualize what you want to accomplish. You can use a piece of paper to list your resolutions. Put the list on your refrigerator, or place a post-it note on your car’s dashboard.
Team Clark’s Chelsea Glass has a creative tip to keep your goal in the forefront: “When I was starting my post-baby weight loss, I would type out my daily meal plan in the notes app on my phone, then screenshot it and save it as my phone wallpaper.”
Check Your Progress Regularly
A lot can happen between January 1 and December 31, so it’s important to track your progress. A simple way is to set calendar invites periodically (you could try weekly, monthly or quarterly). You can set aside that time to analyze your current situation and, if needed, make changes that will help you achieve your goals.
Talk to Friends and Family
A support system can rally behind you and inspire you when you’re feeling discouraged. Enlisting your family to participate in a money-saving challenge or joining a community on social media can help you stay motivated to achieve your resolution.
Do you have any other money goals for 2021? Tell us in the comments below!
ExploreThis article was originally published on Clark.com
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