The Right Small Steps in the New Year Can Make a Big Impact

Have you ever noticed how a lot of financial blog headlines read like they’re introducing the latest diet trend?

“Ditch the Starbucks and Retire Ten Years Earlier!”

The premise of this kind of financial advice always boils down to the same basic principle: in order to grow your money, you need to spend the money you already have more wisely. Makes sense, right? Especially around this time of year, it may even sound like a pretty good New Year’s resolution. And yet,somehow, it is simultaneously unattainable.

“Abandon your morning latte fix and you’ll become rich”, they say.

“That’s easy! I can do that!”, we say. But for a lot of us, we can’t seem to make it work.

Starting in February, there might be an attainable way to save more without sacrificing anything. Some people will see their take home pay increase due to the new tax code. This could be money you can invest into your retirement and still keep drinking those lattes guilt-free.

Sidenote: Want to know how the tax rate will affect your paycheck? There are many options, but this is one we found that’s easy to use.

The problem with saving money, whether it’s on ditching lattes or getting a little more in your paycheck, is that unless you’re taking the money and putting it directly into your piggy bank, you’re likely just spending it on other things throughout your day or rest of your week, so none of it ever actually makes it back into your savings or retirement account. It’s all of the sacrifice with none of the reward.

How I learned to stop worrying and love automation

So what’s the solution? In today’s technologically-driven world, the trick may lie in automation. The old adage to ‘pay yourself first’ becomes surprisingly easy if you can set it up once and then forget it. There are a growing number of tools to help you do just that.

Many banks have round up programs to automatically save your change – i.e if you buy that latte for $3.81, your account rounds up to $4.00 and automatically saves $0.19 into your account. Or if you’d rather route your money to the market instead of bank account, you can sign up for a penny stock provider like Acorns. It may not seem like a lot, but think of how many purchases you make in a day, in a week, in a month. It adds up!

Let your paycheck do the work

Additionally, you might be surprised by the programs offered through your workplace. If you’re not already contributing to your employer-sponsored retirement plan (401k, 403b, or similar), start contributing a percentage of your paycheck. Most employers will match your contributions with some of their own. Some employers also offer other types of savings plans, or will allow you to split your paycheck among multiple accounts, so that a portion could be directly deposited into your savings account.

But maybe the most powerful automation you can make is the annual contribution increase in your retirement plan. The chart below illustrates the difference between steadily saving 5% of income, and starting at 5% but increasing contributions by 1% annually until the recommended goal of 15% of income. As you can see, the amount saved with small incremental savings is more than 2× that with no increase. While you may initially notice the difference in your wallet for the first couple of months (or if you’re lucky you won’t, depending on how the new tax code affects you), after that, it will just become the new normal.

So if your New Year’s resolution is for better financial health in the coming year, make sure you’re doing the things that will really make a difference. That way, you can buy your morning latte with a clear conscience (and maybe a little extra whipped cream), knowing you’ve already taken care of your savings goals.

 

Please note: Blooom does not provide tax advice. Consult a tax expert for tax-specific questions.

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