There’s no need to wait for a new year to make a resolution to improve your finances. Sure, most of 2016 is now behind us, but in the time between now and New Year’s Day you can make a lot of progress toward your goals.
Here are a few things you can tackle in a matter of months.
1. Make a Budget
If you’re not keeping track of where your money goes and you’re also having a hard time doing things like getting out of debt or saving money, it’s probably time to get serious about budgeting. It can be as simple or as detailed as you like, but tracking your spending, figuring out your fixed expenses and planning what to do with any leftover money can make it a lot easier to make day-to-day financial decisions.
2. Build Credit
Whether you’re starting with no credit history or you’re trying to bounce back from past credit problems, building credit takes at least 6 months to get going. (Six months of recent credit history is the minimum amount of activity needed to generate a credit score, in most cases.) One of the easiest ways to build credit is to get and use a secured credit card, which requires a cash deposit that serves as the card’s credit limit. (We’ve put together an expert guide to secured credit cards here.)
You could also look into getting a credit-builder loan or work with an alternative credit program that helps you demonstrate creditworthiness with non-credit payment history, like rent or utility bills.
3. Cut Your Expenses
If spending less money were easy, a lot of people wouldn’t be in debt. We know it’s not easy. But as difficult as it can be to reduce how much money you spend, it really helps to re-evaluate your habits from time to time as your needs change. For example, if you got a gym membership two years ago but have since shifted your exercise preferences to things you can do outside or at home, cutting it off could be an easy way to put more wiggle room in your budget. The same goes for subscriptions.
You may also want to shop around for cheaper alternatives to fixed expenses, like a better rate on car insurance or consolidating credit card debt with a balance transfer credit card or personal loan with a lower interest rate. If you’re not looking to change insurers or service providers, it doesn’t hurt to ask them about ways to lower your bills.
4. Make a Will
A lot of people put off writing a will, but if you’re looking to accomplish something important in the next few months, you could make this a priority. If you already have a will, review it to see if it needs updating. Don’t know where to start? We’ve put together this simple guide to estate planning to help you out.
5. Improve Your Credit Score
Credit scores change all the time, and it can sometimes take years for your credit score to recover from a negative event. But there are things you can do in the short term to help. You can start by looking at your credit card limits and your credit card balances. Using as little of your available credit as possible — ideally less than 30% — is a smart way to build a good credit score. While you do that, make sure you’re also making loan and credit card payments on time and not applying for new credit, unless necessary. You can keep track of how your habits are affecting your credit — and track your progress toward building a better score — by getting a free credit score every 30 days on Credit.com.
6. Save More
You could fill a small library with the number of studies out there on how bad Americans are at saving money. A recent one from the Federal Reserve drew a lot of attention, mainly for this statistic: 46% of Americans surveyed do not have enough money saved to cover a $400 emergency.
If you set aside about $67 a month for the rest of the year, you’d be able to cover a $400 emergency without borrowing money or having to sell something. Setting up (and regularly contributing to) an emergency fund is crucial to staying out of debt, because most people end up saddled with unexpected bills from time to time. A good rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved up in such a fund. Don’t let that recommendation intimidate you; you have to start somewhere.
7. Clean Up Your Credit Report
Credit reports often contain errors, so when you get your free annual credit reports, it’s important to look for anything that might be inaccurate. Some errors could be hurting your credit score, which in turn could cost you money, so it’s in your best interest to get rid of those problems as soon as possible. You can dispute errors on your credit reports, and credit reporting agencies are required to respond to your dispute within 30 days, with a few exceptions. Fixing your credit can take a few months, depending on the severity of the issues, so the sooner you start sorting it out, the better. Here’s a guide on how to dispute credit report errors.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report