2020 has arrived, and many of us are taking time to reflect on the highs and lows of 2019. There’s never a bad time to learn how you can improve your finances, but there’s something about a new year that can really motivate us to take action.
Thinking about achieving a big financial goal can be intimidating– paying off a credit card or line of credit, saving for a down payment, paying off student loans, maxing out your TFSA. Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. You can make a big difference to your bottom line by making small choices today that will snowball towards tomorrow’s loftier goals. As with most things, our daily habits form the building blocks for our larger successes. Finances are no different.
So, let’s reflect on the little habits that may be contributing to your current financial situation. Do you overindulge in shopping? Do you love eating out? While it can be really challenging to break a habit, especially something as yummy and convenient as restaurant dining, eating out just once a day to the tune of $10-$20 can quickly add up to a monthly car or student loan payment if it becomes a daily ritual.
Sometimes we don’t even know a money habit is a detriment to us until years later, when we don’t have the savings, credit rating or emergency fund to get approved for the mortgage, go on the dream trip or quit the day job to start a business. Now, that’s food for thought.
Below are four straightforward tips anyone can follow to improve their finances in 2020. In addition to these suggestions, there are many more healthy money habits you can implement to improve your financial health. If you’re at the point where you’ve been struggling financially for quite some time now and are still not getting ahead, one of our advisors can help you determine the next steps to tackling your debt once and for all.
1. Stop Comparing Your Worth
We all know we should be setting aside a portion of our paycheque, but it’s easier said than done. Social media doesn’t just have us keeping up with the Jones’s, it has us keeping up with everyone’s and anyone’s highlight reels. A seemingly innocent 10-minute scroll on Instagram can make us feel like we don’t have enough, that we are less attractive, less wealthy, less travelled and less fulfilled than the seemingly perfect sapiens we follow.
When we feel less than, we tend to buy more than we need to compensate.
It’s really hard to not give in to the consumerism that is prominent in popular culture, but if you decide to save that extra $100 instead of buying a new pair of shoes (that will go out of style in a year or two), your future self will thank you.
2. Start saving regularly
When we build a habit of spending all of our extra dollars on something we can enjoy immediately, we miss the opportunity to reap the rewards of a beautiful thing called compound interest.
If you begin the habit of putting a percentage of your paycheque away now, in an account or fund that pays you back with interest, your money will work for you. If you start early, you will save yourself from having to make higher contributions later in life to catch up.
If you’re lucky enough to have an employer that will match your contribution to your retirement fund, start now. Say you earn $30,000 a year and you contribute six percent of your pay each year and your employer matches three percent of that—if you start at 22 you could have over $40,000 saved up by the time you’re 30! The longer you wait to start, the more you will have to contribute and the less compound interest you will earn.
3. Start a rainy day fund
A rainy day fund sounds nice, but how many of us actually have three months of expenses stashed away in case something unexpected comes along (i.e. job loss, illness, or a major house or car repair), so that you don’t have to go into debt to cover it?
According to a 2015 Bank of Montreal survey, 56% of Canadians say they have less than $10,000 in available emergency funds, 44% have less than $5,000, and 21% have less than $1,000. 29% said their savings would only last one month or less, while one-quarter reported that they have enough to last them over a year.
The Rainy Day Survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by Pollara, also revealed that 24% of Canadians say they are living paycheque to paycheque with hardly anything set aside for a financial emergency.
With the rising costs of living and stagnant wages looming over us, it can seem out of reach to have a rainy day fund, but it is extremely important to set aside even a few dollars each month “just in case” your circumstances change and you need funds to see you through for a few months.
If you’ve been lucky in life so far and never had a significant unexpected expense arise, don’t expect that luck to last forever.
Transferring $100 to your rainy day fund every month until you have saved three months of expenses stashed away is a great habit to start now that you will be rewarded for in the future.
4. Reduce the amount of interest you pay
With the rush of dopamine we experience when we make a big purchase, it’s easy to forget that the amount we charged to our credit card is not the total amount we will pay for the purchase if we don’t pay it off right away.
It can be really overwhelming to pay off credit card debt when the interest is working against you, especially if you’re constantly thinking about the total amount you owe. Consider splitting your debt up into chucks. If you have three credit cards with balances, consider each card as its own entity.
If you have a $10,000 balance, a $3000 balance and a $1000 balance, your best bet is to start paying down your credit card debt with the highest interest rate.
Why? The credit card debt with the highest interest rate means you’re paying the most amount of interest relative to the principal balance. With credit card debt, your goal is to reduce principal to limit the interest that accrues.
Therefore, focus on repaying not only the interest payment, but also the principal balance. Once you have paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate, move onto the credit card with the next highest interest rate (and so on). If you have a $10,000 balance on a 15% interest card and a $1000 balance on a 19.99% card, you’re paying more interest on the $10,000 even though the rate is lower.
If your credit is good or excellent and you have a strong history with no late payments, you might qualify for a 0% APR Balance Card or a personal loan.
A 0% APR credit card gives you 0% interest on your credit card debt balance for a certain amount of time. That means you can transfer your existing credit card debt balance to a new credit card. Many 0% APR cards offer no interest on your credit card debt for 6-24 months, for example. At the end of the grace period, you will owe interest at an interest rate based on your credit profile and other factors. Therefore, with 0% APR credit cards, you can get a reprieve on credit card interest and pay off your credit card during the grace period.
With a personal loan, you can consolidate your existing credit card debt into an unsecured personal loan that is typically repayable in 3-7 years. If you plan to repay your credit card debt in this time frame and can obtain a lower interest rate than your current credit card interest rate, a personal loan is a great strategy to save interest costs. For example, let’s use the $10,000 credit card with a 15% interest rate. If you can consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan at a 7% interest rate and 3-year repayment term, you will save $1,361 and pay off your credit card debt earlier.
If you’re struggling to pay down your high interest balances, are barely making minimum payments and fear that you are never going to get out from under your debt, one of our debt solutions might be a good fit for you. Our team can educate you on proper money management, including budgeting techniques, the proper use of credit and debt repayment strategies. Ready? Let’s talk! Contact us today and start 2020 off on the right foot.