Time to get your finances back on track.
Any new year is a prime opportunity to take stock of your money and career, and a recent survey by Numerator found that more than half (53%) of Americans are making financial resolutions for 2023, with “save more money” and “track spending more carefully” as the top two financial moves prioritized by many for the year ahead.
That’s not surprising, considering a lot of economists and analysts have been predicting a recession for some time now, with Moody’s going so far as to suggest that the U.S. is heading for a “slowcession” that could last all year. What’s more, eight in 10 Americans think 2023 will be full of economic difficulty, according to a new Gallup poll. It also found that 65% think the overall prices of goods and services will keep climbing (thanks, inflation), and 81% think taxes will increase this year. Plus, it doesn’t help that tech companies like Amazon, Salesforce and Facebook parent Meta have laid off workers by the thousands — and sometimes tens of thousands.
So what can you do?
Five money movies for 2023 to get on the right foot with your finances.
These five steps are a great way to set yourself up for success — or put you on stronger footing in the event of an economic downturn, or if you lose your job.
Create — or refill — your emergency fund
If you’ve dipped into your savings of late, or perhaps stopped saving at all, you’re certainly not alone. After all, the personal saving rate — aka the percentage of disposable income that people save — dropped to 2.4% in the third quarter from 3.4% in the previous quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But one silver lining of the Federal Reserve recently raising its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point to 4.25%-4.5% — the highest level in 15 years — is that savings accounts are now earning more interest than they have in over a decade. Interest-bearing savings tools like high-yield savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs) and the U.S. Treasury’s Series I bonds can reap higher yields for cash savers.
So it’s a great time to re-stuff that financial cushion. Automate savings so that you pay yourself first, before you start spending your income. This should still include prioritizing your retirement savings, such as bumping up your 401(k) contributions by one percentage point, which likely won’t hurt your net income as much as you might think, since that money is usually deposited pretax. And cut back on spending — more tips on that below.
Start “career cushioning,” just in case
As the old saying goes, it’s often easier to find a job when you already have one. And despite the job market still looking relatively strong, recession fears and reports of mass layoffs at tech companies have plenty of workers spooked. So “career cushioning” has emerged as a way for people to protect their livelihoods; it’s basically another term for “career planning,” such as continuing to network, update your resume and learn new skills so that you’re in a better position to find work and land on your feet if you happen to lose your job. (Cutting back on spending, and padding your emergency fund, are also part of this equation.)
Career experts say that no matter what the future holds, it’s always a smart move to practice career cushioning. So what moves should you make? Get coffee or lunch with people who are in roles that you think you would want to be in, and pick their brains. Update your job profile skills on platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed and Monster.com, or speak with recruiters about what they’re looking for right now.
Trim subscriptions and recurring charges that you don’t use or need
The average American underestimates their monthly subscription costs by $133, shelling out $219 a month on average while they think they’re just dropping $86 or so. The key culprit: most people set their recurring monthly charges to auto-pay each month, and then forget about them.
So now is the time to pull up your bank and credit card statements, and look for the recurring charges from streaming services, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, memberships for fitness and wellness centers, apps and more. Make note of them, add them up — and also check to see whether their prices have gone up — and tally up the total cost.
Now it’s time to decide where you can trim the financial fat. And be merciless; do you really use these services month after month, or — to quote Marie Kondo — do they bring you joy? If so, and you can afford them, then keep them! But you might be surprised at how many subscriptions and memberships you’ve been paying for that you forgot you had. Or maybe the price of a few went up to where you’re paying more than you think they’re worth. The money you free up from canceling these unwanted or unnecessary services can be used to cover expenses or pad your emergency savings.
Make a will — or reassess your current estate plan
Millionaires aren’t the only ones who should make wills. Everyone should get their affairs in order, yet less than half of American adults have a will that outlines how they want their estate to be handled after their death, according to Gallup polling. And if someone dies without a will, then a local probate court has to decide how to distribute your property — and that can take months or even years to sort out, meaning the people that you would like to take control of your assets, like your money or your property, might not be able to do so for some time, if ever. It can be “a disaster,” one wealth manager told MarketWatch.
Plus, there’s a lot more that goes into estate planning than just who gets what and how much. There’s spelling out a durable power of attorney (who can make financial decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated), a healthcare power of attorney (who can make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated) and guardianship designations for your children, to name a few.
And even if you have a will, it’s a great time to review your documents and beneficiaries and see if you need to make any changes, like if you have had a major life event such as getting married, buying a home or having children.
Pay off credit card debt and pay down larger debt
More than one in three Americans (35%) took on holiday debt over the past few months, according to a recent LendingTree survey, with the average debt hitting $1,549 — which is the highest it’s been since the online lending marketplace began tracking seasonal debt in 2015. And 37% of those saddled with holiday debt expect to be paying it off for the next five months, meaning they expect to be making those payments through Memorial Day.
Keep in mind, too, that the Fed raising interest rates means that you’re paying higher annual percentage rates on your credit card debt, which can mean even higher bills each month.
So what can you do? Try calling your credit card company and asking if you’re eligible for a lower interest rate. Look into balance transfer credit cards, which can let you move debt onto a new card charging 0% interest for up to nearly two years.
And come up with a payment strategy. This can include the “snowball method” of paying off smaller debts first, and then rolling your payments up to the bigger balances. Or there’s also the “avalanche approach” of paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Certainly, work to pay more than the minimum payment each month, so that you pay off the cards faster. And you might want to consider working with a financial advisor.
And there are plenty of more guides to starting 2023 off on the right financial foot available on MarketWatch: