Once the holiday lights are taken down and the sugar rush of all those delicious treats wears off, what many of us are left with are depleted bank accounts and hefty credit card charges. In fact, the average American spends several months recovering from the financial costs of the holiday season. No wonder a rising number of New Year’s resolutions now include better financial planning.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, then it may be time to consider how to begin improving your financial outlook. But building healthy money habits doesn’t have to be painful. Kick off the year with a few easy, creative ways to maximize your income, and who knows, you may just have some fun along the way!
Cost-Saving Strategies to Start 2024 Strong
Put Those Gifts to Good Use
For those of us who received gift cards during the holidays, it’s easy to enjoy blowing through the stack right away. However, consider tucking them away for those times between paychecks when you could use a little extra on hand. You’ll appreciate the splurge of a meal out or a full gas tank even more when your budget is tight.
If you were lucky enough to receive cash from Santa, resist the temptation to spend it all and instead put as much as you can directly into savings. It may provide you peace of mind as well as earn you a bit of interest.
Skip the Gym Membership
Along with money-stretching resolutions, many of us add weight loss or workout regimens to our new year to-do list. While there’s nothing wrong with joining a local gym or signing up for group classes in order to hold ourselves accountable to these goals, there are plenty of inexpensive or free alternatives to utilize as well.
First, think about the services you already pay for, like audio or video streaming platforms, most of which offer more and more wellness or workout programs all the time. If your apartment complex includes access to a gym or pool, it may not offer all of the same perks as a larger fitness chain, but it will help you establish workout practices that will meet your needs and goals.
Next, think about how to maintain healthy habits in other parts of your life. For instance, choose to take the stairs rather than elevator when possible and take longer walks with your dog. The next time you’re meeting up with friends, consider whether you can safely walk or bicycle to your destination rather than drive or request a ride share. You’ll get in extra steps and save a few dollars while you’re at it!
Think Twice About Takeout
In January alone, an average American household will spend about $300 on dining out. That’s a good portion of anyone’s paycheck, with perhaps only a takeout box to show for it.
Eating in is a favorite way to cut back on spending, and nowadays there are endless resources to help you find fresh recipes and watch dietary restrictions. Identifying meals for the week and making a shopping list before heading to the grocery store will also help you eliminate unnecessary spending or food waste. As you do so, think about what will make for great work lunches, travel-friendly meals, or next-day leftovers. Take a page from another popular resolution among friend groups and incorporate potluck or “family dinners” into the weekly rotation, so that the time and cost is shared along with a meal.
Monitor Your Energy Usage
Utility bills can soar during the cold, winter months, so be proactive about ways to minimize the strain on your wallet. Think before adjusting the thermostat, choose the most efficient light bulbs, and choose to do your laundry on cold whenever possible. For homeowners, monitor older doors or windows that may need better insulation.
Tip: Look back at the trends in your energy usage over the past year in order to get a better understanding of where to focus your attention!
Enjoy What Your Community Has to Offer
Don’t overlook the free features available in your own backyard. For instance, the Putnam County Library in Cookeville has a robust calendar of events and classes for all ages, from creative writing and movie screenings to chess and yoga. The city of Knoxville hosts or partners with a number of sports leagues and clubs that are easy to join, so you’re sure to pick up new skills or find new friends that enjoy the same pastime. What does your local community offer that you can enjoy?
Now is a great time to listen to what businesses and organizations in your community are up to and get involved. Volunteering with a cause you appreciate is a great way to give back with your time rather than money. Support local musicians by going to a music night at your nearby restaurant or bar. As the weather warms up, there will be more and more music and food festivals to visit too!
Stick to a Budget
At the end of the day, you’ll give yourself the best chance of building healthy money habits by establishing and sticking to a budget. Review your monthly bills, as well as expenses that you can predict based on the season or annual renewal. Then, look forward to what you have planned in the new year and set goals for how you’ll prepare to pay for them. From there, you can realistically budget your income against needs and wants.
The good news is that many digital banking services offer helpful tools to help you track your spending. Let your mobile banking app do some of the hard work for you so that you can focus on following through on your goals.
It’s okay, too, if your budget changes over time. Regularly reflect on how your budget is working for you and make updates as needs change or your income grows.
Spending Less Doesn’t Have to Mean Living Less
We might be tightening our belts and our budgets, but that doesn’t mean we have to cut back on fun. Look at the new year as an opportunity to establish healthy habits that will serve you all year round, starting with a balanced budget with creative breaks.
Financial wellbeing is an ongoing priority that takes dedication, learning, and refreshing. Try some of these cost-saving strategies and run with what works for you.