So you want to make 2020 the year you get better with money? We’ve got 20 ideas to get you saving more, paying off debt, and getting into tip-top financial shape. Whether you’re a new budgeter ready to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle for the first time, or a seasoned YNABer ready for the next financial challenge, we’ve got a grab bag of options for budgeters of all shapes and sizes.
1. No-Spend January
This might be more aptly named “Low-Spend January” (gotta eat, right?). So, how low can you go? Define which categories are specifically part of this “low-spend” month: groceries obviously get a free pass, clothing might be on hold. Lay out the rules before you begin.
Helpful tip: start a list of all the things you would buy had it not been a no-spend January. When February hits, you can look at the list with fresh eyes and decide which ones are actually needed. Listen to this Young House Love podcast episode on their month without superfluous shopping.
2. Pay off your credit card debt.
Debt isn’t free, and you’ve had enough of the expensive credit card variety. Do a full roundhouse kick on that debt balance for 2020. Get some accountability by joining our free debt bootcamp this January.
3. Break a vice.
We’ve got a great recipe for this one: pick that vice (for some, Starbucks iced chai, for others smoking). Break it out as a category in your YNAB budget and assign zero dollars to it. That means every time you want your vice, you’ve got to take money from things that might matter more. We’re not saying don’t buy it: we’re saying de-fund it. There’s an important mental clarity dance that will help you break the vice for good.
4. Pay off your car loan.
Get one step closer to that debt-free life with a paid-off car. The average used car payment costs $381/month (and new cars cost $530/month). Imagine all the other things that money could buy instead. Need some inspiration? Success stories abound for paying off double-digit debt in a short period of time (see here, here, and here).
5. Break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
This could be the year you finally break the paycheck to paycheck cycle! You can, you really can. Come budget with us, Age Your Money to 30 days and you’ll be sitting pretty. See how Dana Kay turned her story around, and how you can too.
6. Use a budget.
You’ve been winging it for years and this is the year for an official Budgety McBudget. Yay! We think you’ll like it here. It’s a lot more freeing than you think and we’ll support you every step of the way. Start your free 34-day trial of YNAB today.
7. Fund a new computer/phone before your old one dies.
Just picture the feeling when your phone does a triple backflip into the toilet (not even a splash! Perfect 10!) and then realize you already have a pile of money waiting to fund a new one. Just add a Category to your budget for “New Technology” and start funding it. $50-$100 a month will get you ready for a new phone or laptop by the end of the year. Technology will break, and you can be ready for it with cold, hard cash.
8. Pay your 30-year mortgage like it’s a 20- or 15-year mortgage.
If you value living totally debt-free, your ears should perk up on this one. This means your monthly payment would be higher, but if you stick to it, you could save a considerable amount in interest. Find out how much you could save here.
9. Save $1,000 for a rainy day.
Statistics are scary when 60% of Americans can’t pull together $1,000 from savings in case of an emergency. Get on the brighter side of that statistic by pulling together a buffer for when the unexpected hits (because it surely will).
10. Get the full employer match for your 401k.
If you’ve got extra money sitting around, put it to use by upping your retirement contribution. Employers will often match 3-5% of your contributions. If you’re hovering around the low end of that number, bump it up for the full match. For a greater challenge, see if you can push yourself up to a full 15% retirement savings rate. Any additional funds can help! Set it up on auto-deduct and watch the balance grow.
11. Cut your student loan payment term in half.
If you’re on a ten-year repayment plan and have a little extra wiggle room (or extra motivation) in your budget, consider crunching it down to five years. This doesn’t necessarily have to include any refinancing, it just means increasing your monthly payment and a sprint to the finish line.
12. Pay for someone else’s meal in a restaurant.
Spice up your money life with an extra heap of generosity this year. Picture this: you’re out to eat (with that fully-funded Dining Out category of course) and you notice a couple with a new baby, looking a little sleep deprived. Flag down the waiter and see if you can route their check your way, and add two extra cappuccinos to the bill.
13. Don’t eat out for a month.
Are you up for the challenge? The Eating Out category is a perennial thief of budget dollars and can be a good reset after a busy (and treat-filled) December. Try to go without spending any money on food or drink outside the home for one whole month. May the odds be ever in your favor.
14. Pay for your dream vacation in cash.
Wine-tasting in Italy, whale-watching in Alaska, the Great American Roadtrip—whatever hits your fancy, make this the year it starts coming together. In cash. Name it, set up a category, and fund it. Happy travels!
15. Open a Roth IRA.
If you’ve been doing the 401k thing and have heard of this Roth IRA jazz, maybe it’s the year you check it out. Some financial advisors recommend both types of savings (especially if you’re an avocado-toast-eating millennial with compound interest on your side). This gives you greater flexibility in your golden years (having both lets you choose from a taxed or tax-free pot of money). Read more about the benefits of a Roth IRA .
16. Give more away.
To quote a country song, “never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.” You just can’t take it with you! Maybe this is the year you start siphoning money off to that animal shelter, that literacy program, that community garden. Find a cause worth spreading and support them. Dollars can be a remarkable (and rewarding) support structure.
17. Rollover your 401k.
Take that old 401k from a prior job and consolidate. This will involve some phone calls or emails with the holding institution and new one, but you’ll feel great once it’s done. The biggest benefit: simplicity. Read more about how to do a rollover here.
18. Do a debt sprint.
You don’t have an amount in mind, you just know you want to start crushing it. Check out this framework of how to pay off $26,000 in debt on a $35,000 per year income. Plus, don’t miss our debt bootcamp to get all the support and resources you need to race to the finish line.
19. Grant some of your wishes.
Maybe you’ve been wanting a dutch oven for a long time, or a new pair of Wicked Good slippers. This is your year. Set up a category group for all these wishes, and whenever you are assigning dollars jobs, see if any are up for the task. Learn more about setting up a Wish List in YNAB here.
20. Pay off zero percent interest loans.
Just because they’re zero percent doesn’t mean they won’t mess with your money mind. If you’ve got an impending end to your 0% APR perk this year, hustle to pay it off before that date hits. Read this story of a nightmare year of zero percent interest for further inspiration.
How to Make Your Resolutions Stick
If you’ve done this song and dance before you know the feeling come January 31—or January 3—when the wind goes out of your sails. Whoooooosh.
Here’s how to make this New Year’s resolution stick. It’s all about tricking yourself.
Do it with a friend.
Yep, talking about money goals can be squirmy but sometimes you’ve gotta tell another living soul the very thing you want to do, in hopes that their iron with sharpen your own. We’ve got a great path for you in our Debt Bootcamp (just one more shameless plug, it’s going to be so good!) where you can join other like-minded debt payoff hustlers. It’s just the motivation the budget doctor ordered.
Take yourself out of the equation.
One of the greatest technological advancements of the century in the world of personal finance: automatic transfers and payments. If you’re trying to up your student loan payment, your mortgage payment, your retirement contribution, your savings rate, success is just a few clicks away with an automatic transfer from one account to another.
This one is quick: it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do, then the hard work of saving is already done for you!
Make your goal into a separate budget category and fund (or de-fund) it.
We mentioned it working as a great tool for habits you want to break, but it works both ways to build or break. If you’re trying to pay debt off faster, give it a category! When it comes time to assign dollars jobs, you decide if money should go there, or at the end of the month if you have extra money in other categories, what money can move there. Making it a category will help with intentionality all around and keep it top of mind all year round.
Shorten it. Sometimes, by a lot.
Maybe you wanted to pay off $800 a month on your student loans for the whole year. We love the tenacity. But by now maybe you know you’ll get to the end of the month, miss your goal by $200, and throw in the towel. It was too exhausting.
Instead, what if you just did $400 by January 15?
Here’s what we love about this approach: you’re going to get to Jan 15 and hot dang, you’ve paid off $450! Then January 16 comes and you say—you know what, I can do that again. And you pay off another $400. Shortening your goals might be the wind in your sails you need to keep going, and you might get to the very same spot with more of your mental energy intact.
Write it down.
Ugh, I know this one feels so lame. But it’s SO TRUE. Printed, written, block letters, curly letters. WRITE IT DOWN. We’ll even accept an email or a note in your phone on this one. You’ll be more prone to keep that promise you made to yourself when it’s clear and you can see it with written proof.
There you have it—20 money ideas for the year and how to make them stick. We can’t wait to hear your success stories. Send ’em over here when you’re ready or do some reading for your own inspiration of what’s possible.