2023 can be the year you take big strides towards financial success. How so, you ask? After all, the economy’s on shaky ground, credit card interest rates are higher than ever, and who even knows what’s happening in the stock market.
Yes, those are big challenges. But they don’t have to hold you back. You can still make solid progress towards financial independence with the right mindset. Commit now to better finances ahead. Then make a plan and do the work.
You won’t be alone, either. Some 85% of Survey Junkie members plan to change their lifestyle in 2023 to prepare for a potential recession. And 35% expect those lifestyle changes to be “significant.”
If you’re ready to get started, here are eight money moves for the coming year that’ll put you on track for long-term financial success. These moves align with the top financial priorities for Survey Junkie members, which include raising income (28%), trimming spending (24%), and increasing savings (21%).
1. Stick to a strict budget.
The best thing you can do for your finances is learn how to create a budget and stick to it. Master these skills and you can accomplish nearly any financial goal, big or small.
If you’ve never created a budget, expect some trial-and-error as you define a process that works for you. You can start with a budgeting app, a spreadsheet, or the old-fashioned spiral notebook.
Document where your money goes
Whatever form your budget takes, the first step is the same: identify where you’re spending money now. Comb through your bank statements and categorize your expenditures into buckets, like groceries, hair cuts, gas, rent, utilities, insurance, etc.
It’ll help, too, to note which categories are required expenses and which are discretionary. Also have line items for debt paydown, emergency fund deposits, and long-term savings.
Compare your spending to your income
Step two is to compare what you spend to your income. Your outbound cash might be higher than your income, or vice versa. Either way, if you want to improve your finances in 2023, you commit to spending less than you do today. The spending-to-income comparison mostly tells you how much less you should plan on spending in the year ahead.
Set lower spending limits
Now for the fun part. Review where your money is going today and identify areas where you can spend less. These tips will help:
- Look for savings in your required expenditures first. Insurance premiums, utility costs, and grocery bills are good places to start. Shop for cheaper insurance, turn down your thermostat, and start planning meals around your store’s sale flyer.
- Trim your discretionary spending, but don’t zero it out. You could probably force your budget to balance if you never dined out again. The problem is, that strategy isn’t sustainable. Keep a budget for discretionary spending, even if it’s small.
- Be prepared to adjust. You might set limits that later turn out to be unworkable. Don’t throw in the towel. Just go back to your numbers and adjust.
Track your progress
With budget limits in place, start tracking your expenses against those limits. This works best if you can set aside a few minutes daily to jot down expenditures. That way, your running totals are always up to date. This is important, because then you’ll be able to adjust if you’re close to overspending in a certain category.
2. Start a new side hustle for an additional income stream.
You can only get so far by cutting your expenses. To speed up your financial progress, you have to raise your income too. You can do that by getting a promotion or a second job, but you might prefer a more flexible side hustle instead.
As an example, you could join the Survey Junkie community and share feedback on brands you know and use every day. This is a popular choice – 60% of Survey Junkie members would consider using survey-taking apps and services to increase their financial strength in 2023.
Once you start collecting on your new side hustle, direct that income to your most pressing financial goal. This might be debt paydown, shoring up the emergency fund balance, or starting an investing program.
3. Leverage credit card and cashback rewards.
If you have good credit, you can secure a no-fee credit card that pays you 2% or 2.5% on every purchase. That saves you $0.02 or more for every dollar you spend.
Note that some cards advertise cashback rates as high as 5%. Usually these high rates are for only one category, such as dining out. Most people will make more by earning a lower percentage on every purchase.
You can apply those accumulated cash balances to your card balance. Alternatively, some cards will also deposit your cashback rewards into a linked savings account.
Whichever option you pick, don’t let the rewards balance sit there for too long. It can be tempting to “save up” your rewards, but you’re better off cashing out frequently — especially if you put the funds in a savings account. Your savings account earns interest, while your cashback balance does not.
4. Take advantage of a high-yield savings account.
Speaking of earning interest, have you checked the APY on your savings account lately? Thanks to historically high inflation, the best savings account yields are higher than 3%. Even so, the FDIC reports that the national average savings yield is only one-tenth of that, or 0.30%.
If you’re still earning less than 1% in a traditional cash account, it’s time to make a change. On a $5,000 balance, increasing your yield from 0.03% to 3.50% raises your annual interest income by $160. Even better, this is passive income — once you move your money, there’s no action from you required.
5. Prioritize your debts amid rising interest rates.
Unfortunately, higher cash yields go hand-in-hand with higher interest rates on your credit cards. And since there’s no telling when interest rates will dip back down, it makes sense to ramp up the payoff of your credit cards and other liabilities.
If you’re following your budget, you shouldn’t be racking up new charges. That’s good: No new debt makes it easier to whittle those balances down to zero. There are two primary approaches you can take:
- Start with the highest-interest account. Budget a high monthly payment on your most expensive account. Make minimum payments on everything else. This approach makes the most sense on paper, since it limits your total interest expense.
- Start with the lowest-balance account. Budget a high monthly payment on your lowest balance account and make minimum payments on everything else. This approach can be more motivating, if it allows you to pay off an entire account faster. That eliminates a monthly payment and frees up more cash to pay down other accounts.
Choose the option that’ll work best for you and stick with it.
6. Raise your emergency fund savings balance.
A lot of people try to skim buy without an emergency fund. You can get away with this temporarily — right up until something bad happens. Big, unexpected expenses are hard to manage without any cash on reserve. You may have to pull out the credit card or, worse, take a hardship withdrawal from your 401(k).
The usual guideline is to have enough cash on hand to cover six months of your living expenses. But the right emergency fund balance for you might be more or less than that. Some factors to consider when planning your ideal cash fund balance are:
- Your job security. If you work in an industry that’s subject to layoffs in an economic downturn, more cash is better.
- Your insurance deductibles. Your emergency fund should always be at least enough to cover the deductibles on your car and homeowners insurance.
- The difference between what you make and what you earn. If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, a big emergency fund balance is critical. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to save much in this scenario. Consider a side hustle, at least temporarily, to remedy that problem.
7. Cut back on big expenditures.
While you’re transitioning to a better financial future, hold off on buying a new car, remodeling your home, or taking a bucket-list trip to Europe. You can revisit these big expenditures once the economy is on surer ground.
8. Start investing.
If you aren’t investing today, it’s time to start. This could be as easy as contributing to your workplace 401(k). If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, open a low-fee IRA and make tax-deductible contributions there.
401(k)s are effective savings vehicles because they collect regular contributions straight from your paycheck. You can mimic this system outside of work. Simply open a low-fee brokerage account that accepts automatic deposits and investments. Even if you start with a small investment of $50 monthly, this is a habit that will repay you well over time.
A richer 2023
With dedication and discipline, you can make 2023 the year you break out of a financial rut. Lay the groundwork by creating and sticking to a budget — one that doesn’t include any big, voluntary expenditures. Then raise your income with a side hustle, credit card rewards, and higher yield on your cash savings. Use the extra cash to pay down those credit cards, plump up your emergency fund balance, and fund an investment account.
You can do this. Just think about how thrilled you’ll be in 12 months, when you can embark on another new year from a much stronger financial base.