You’ve finished off the leftover turkey and dressing and have shifted gears into holiday shopping mode. As another year comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back on how you managed your money this past year.

After an assessment, you can begin to find ways to improve your financial well-being in the upcoming year. In order to be prepared for a bright financial future in the New Year, it’s important to set your budget, contribute to your savings, and pay down any high interest debt.

Now is the Time to Set Your Budget

Do you know how much you spent this year on utilities, groceries, housing, or entertainment? Once you have an idea of how much you’re spending on certain categories, you can estimate your projected expenses each month and find places to cut expenses, if needed.

There are a number of apps that can assist you with tracking and categorizing your spending, but you can also do it on your own by entering your expenses into a spreadsheet. If you use your debit card for most purchases, you can use your online bank statement to help you identify your expenses. Don’t forget to account for the cash you spend if you want a true picture of all your expenses.

When setting your budget, you’ll likely have fixed and recurring expenses for housing, transportation, student loans, utilities, and other similar areas. Then, you’ll need to set an amount for variable expenses like groceries, clothing, and entertainment.

Knowing your income each month will help you set goals. If you have a steady job, you probably have a consistent weekly or monthly income and can use that to start your budget. Your monthly expenses should be less than your available income each month.

If this is not the case, you can review your expenses to identify areas to trim back and reduce your spending each month. Once you’ve created a budget, try to stick to it as best you can each month. That way, you’ll stay on track and not get into a position of having to use credit cards or possibly getting behind on some of your bills.

Save, Save, Save—The Sooner You Start the Better

Even if you’re in your 20’s, it’s never too early to start planning for retirement. If you start with small contributions, you can make it a habit and priority. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan and matches your contributions, take full advantage of the opportunity for free money.

It’s also important to set aside funds for unexpected expenses or emergencies. A good rule of thumb is to have three to six months of income in a savings account that you can access for those unplanned events. Not only will this give you peace of mind knowing that you have your own safety net, but it will help you avoid putting large charges on a credit card that will likely incur high interest fees.

Pay Down High Interest Rate Debt

Whether you’re paying off a student loan, a car, or a credit card balance, it’s always an accomplishment to know you have extra income to go toward something else (like saving).

If you can allocate some extra resources to pay down your debt, it’s generally best to start by tackling the account with the highest interest rate. That might be a credit card balance that seems like it never gets smaller because of the interest that keeps adding up each month.

Another goal you might have is to simply pay something off with a smaller balance just to get that sense of accomplishment and then move that money toward paying down other debt. It might make sense to look at debt consolidation or refinancing where you may benefit from paying off higher rate loans or debt with a lower interest rate personal loan. This is especially helpful with high rate credit cards. See our article on using personal loans to cure those post-holiday credit card blues. You can find other helpful articles and resources at U-fi.com. All of us at U-fi wish you a successful and prosperous new year!

Ron Hancock
Written By:

Ron Hancock is the Regional Director for U‑fi Student Loans and is an expert in many aspects of financial aid, student loans, and debt management. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Ron has worked in a number of areas of higher education finance, including positions in a college financial aid office, training and development for a state agency, and most recently as National Manager for Nelnet’s Partner Solutions team. Ron has spoken at numerous financial aid conferences all across the United States.

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