The New Year inspires fitness resolutions, spiritual renewal and all sorts of self-actualization. But for one-third of Americans interested in better spending and saving habits, the idea of financial planning can be daunting.
“Managing your finances is a long-term, year-round practice,” says Amy Lipton, CFA, Ph.D., associate professor of finance at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “But — like compound interest — little decisions add up.”
Lipton offers three easy strategies for anyone interested in saving smarter in the New Year.
1. Pay off your credit card debt.
Most credit cards have a high interest rate that compounds daily. “Even if you’re also saving,” says Lipton, “it’s unlikely you’re earning enough to cover your interest.”
According to industry data, the average credit card interest rate is about 16 percent, compounded daily. On a balance of $2000, for example, your first month’s interest is about $26.47. “If you stick to the minimum payment of, say, $25 per month, you will never pay it off,” she continues. “But if you pay $30 — just $5 more per month — you can pay off that debt in 13 years.”
Lipton encourages paying off credit card debt before trying other savings strategies, saying, “With compounding interest, the numbers get big. It’s a lot of money up front, but eliminating credit card debt sets you up for other strong savings practices.”
2. Saving small is still saving.
Lipton uses the example of weekly spending on coffee: let’s say a person spends $5 on caffeinated beverages every day. If that person skips one day, they save $5 per week — and $260 in a year.
“Now, let’s say you invest that $5 weekly in a money market mutual fund with a low fee that earns 2 percent annually,” says Lipton. “In two years, that’s $530. In five years, it’s almost $1,400.”
Though it’s hard to save in the day-to-day, looking at the long-term results can be a strong incentive. “In 13 years,” Lipton continues, “that’s nearly $3,000 — about the same amount as the interest you just paid on that credit card debt.”
3. Take a look at your automatic spending.
Automatic withdrawal for your bills, your gym membership and your Netflix subscription take away the pressure of remembering to pay each month. But that’s only useful in paying for services you actually use. Lipton recommends combing through your checking account and credit card bills for automatic charges that you don’t use.
“We tend to overlook these small monthly charges,” she says, “thinking, ‘Hey, it’s only $10 a month.’ But if you don’t use your Birchbox or Dollar Shave Club, think about what you could do with that money.”
That $10 per month — even uninvested — saves $120 per year. In five years, that could grow to $630 with interest. “No matter how you look at it,” says Lipton, “that’s money in the bank.”