“New year, new you.” That’s the mentality that leads many people to whip their budgets into shape every time the calendar flips to a new year, and that’s why we’re taking the time to offer up our best personal finance tips for 2024.
But let’s be clear: There’s no wrong time to whip your personal finances into shape.
We all have financial goals swimming around in our brain somewhere, even if we don’t actively think about them. But if you want to, say, retire in style, have a blowout wedding bash, or eventually own your own vacation home … well, whether you realize it or not, those can all be financial goals.
We say “can be” because they’re not actually goals until you start trying to achieve them—until then, they’re just daydreams.
So, how do you go from daydreaming about financial success to actually achieving it? A lot of ways, as it turns out. You can start big, you can start small, but most important is that you start.
Today, we’ll start you on your way with some of the best personal finance tips to put into action as you look to kick off 2024. We’ve talked to the minds at personal finance app Qapital, and we’ve added some of our favorite advice, too. The result: A wide range of suggestions that run the gamut, from small steps to get the ball rolling to big financial leaps.
Table of Contents
1. Understand where you’re spending your money
“First things first: You need to understand where all your money is going!” Qapital says. “We like to say ‘use the sunlight method.'” There’s an old adage that goes, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ Originally, it meant that if you make the public aware of corruption, that corruption will get fixed, but it has expanded to mean that if you want to improve something, shine it in the bright light of day and take a good look at it.
“Research shows that we tend to change our behavior simply by being aware that we’re being observed. That same principle applies to your money,” Qapital says. “Put your spending in the sunlight and observe yourself. Take a look at your bank statement and see what stands out. See where you can cut spending—perhaps that week of deliveries was not all that satisfying, or that new coat wasn’t worth the price tag. Prioritize your needs vs. wants—go over your list and challenge/think about every expense.”
2. Visualize your goals
“Visualization is the practice of imagining what you want in the future and it is a powerful tactic when it comes to saving money. Think of a goal—what are you working toward?” Qapital asks. For some, it’s a smaller, short-term goal like buying an inexpensive laptop for college; for others, it’s a much larger, longer-term goal like achieving financial independence.
“Set short-term, mid-term, and long-term financial goals for yourself, and visualize how you will get there and the trade-offs you’ll need to make along the way. You can try many different options until you find a strategy that works for you, but having a concrete goal in mind will help incentivize you to work every day toward that goal.”
3. Open a high-yield savings account
Bank accounts are the basic building blocks of financial mobility—and on average, we tend not to give them much thought. But we should: The average household bank balance is $41,600.
We open a checking account so we have somewhere to deposit our paycheck and pay bills. And maybe we open a savings account just so we have somewhere to put aside some money for the future. But a savings account can be much more than a hangout spot for your cash—if you have the right kind of account. High-yield savings accounts can actually help you grow your money at a decent clip.
As we write this, the average annual percentage yield (APY) for high-yield savings accounts is 3%, which means if you held $5,000 in one of these accounts for even a year, you’d earn $150 on that money. While the upside isn’t as high as say, investing in stocks, that’s a good return for what is virtually zero risk.
4. Rethink your budget
Says Qapital: “Compare your spending month-to-month, and try dedicating one day a month to go over your finances. Don’t even think about skipping it! Be prepared to rethink your budget. There are many factors that might mean it’s time to reevaluate your budget. Are you running out of money between paychecks? Did you forget about an extra expense? Do you have new priorities? Did you get a raise and want to spend wisely? If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to rethink your budget!”
You can start with our step-by-step guide on how to build a budget in Excel (with a free template included).
5. Automate your personal finance efforts
“Time to let someone else do the heavy lifting,” Qapital says. Specifically, they mean financial and investing apps that pack a number of tools into your computer, smartphone, or tablet.
“[They] make saving and budgeting seamless with gamified, automated tools that help you organize your money, so once you determine your financial goals, you can automate your efforts to reach it. This means you only need to have good behavior for a short period of time, and then after that, it’s on autopilot. You’ll be working towards your financial wellness goals, without even having to think twice about it!”
6. Start your retirement savings
One of the most popular goals, especially as people get older, is building a nest egg for retirement. Once you reach retirement age and stop drawing an income from your job, you still have to pay the bills from somewhere—and a large part of that “somewhere” is the retirement savings you build up in an investment account such as a workplace 401(k). Even if your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), it’s easy to open up a brokerage account, or a tax-advantaged investment account such as an individual retirement account (IRA) or Roth IRA.
And lastly: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Some people can handle financial planning on their own. Some just need a little help, and many financial/investing apps can provide the educational resources and advice they need. But some might not have the time or the patience to run their own financial life, in which case, reach out to a financial advisor, such as a Certified Financial Planner.
7. Understand your debts
Qapital says understanding your debts is a “crucial” stop on your journey to financial wellness. “Nearly every person will deal with debt at some point in their life—whether it’s a student loan, a car loan, a mortgage, or credit card debt. Determining how the debt impacts your life, and understanding where it comes from is the first step to working towards your repayment goals.”
Qapital suggests starting with your loans. “Understanding your interest rates, payment timelines, and balances can help you create a sustainable plan to manage your debt.”
8. Build your credit score
Your credit score is one of the most important pieces of financial data—it can determine whether you’ll be approved (and how much you’ll pay) for big-ticket purchases such as cars and houses. It’s also the basis for the most searched personal finance question: “What is a good credit score?”
The abbreviated version: “Credit scores fall in a range of 300-850, and the higher the score, the better. So what’s ‘good’? Different lenders might view scores differently, but we’ll provide guidance straight from Experian: ‘580 to 669 are considered fair; 670 to 739 are considered good; 740 to 799 are considered very good; and 800 and up are considered excellent.'”
If you have a low credit score, then, you’ll want to build good credit. You can do that by making timely payments on things such as utility bills, student loans, and car loans; opening a starter credit card and making on-time payments; maintaining a low credit utilization ratio (carrying balances that are much lower than your credit limit); and regularly keeping an eye on your credit report to make sure you’re not a victim of identity theft.
9. Have an emergency fund
“Emergencies—and the unexpected bills that come with them—are one life’s unfortunate certainties,” Qapital says. “Although you can’t always prepare for what’s to come, you can prepare to be financially ready. Put small amounts away each paycheck for your emergency fund. Future you will thank you later.”
10. Track the due date of your bills
Ever ask yourself “Where is all my money going?” If so, you’re probably not tracking your bills. “Seeing a large sum of money come out of your account can be jarring if you’re not expecting it, and have negative effects on your short-term or long-term budget,” Qapital says. “Get ahead of this by tracking the due date of your bills each month alongside your income.”
11. Consider an HSA
Health savings accounts (HSAs) are an excellent way to pay for medical bills today, and save for future healthcare costs, while reducing your taxable income. The money that you contribute to an account with an HSA provider can be used tax-free for a variety of qualified medical expenses, including medical bills tied to doctor’s visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs and more.
Additionally, HSAs are portable, meaning that they go with you even if you change jobs or health insurance plans, they offer significant tax advantages, and you can even choose to use your HSA for retirement instead. If you’re looking for an efficient way to save for healthcare costs (or supplement contributions made to your retirement account) over the long term, a health savings account is a strong choice.
12. Get scrappy when planning travel
“Travel has endless benefits,” Qapital says. “You get to see new and beautiful places and experience culture, you get pushed out of your comfort zone, you get to connect with new people or visit loved ones.” But while Americans are currently benefiting from a strong dollar making international travel cheaper, travel isn’t always easy on your wallet.
“The good news is, there are tons of ways to travel on a budget. Start by planning for a trip in advance and setting alerts on your phone for best deals. You can often save big by booking ‘unusual’ days like a Wednesday-Wednesday trip instead of Friday-Friday. Lower demand for flights means lower cost. Use apps like Hopper to monitor the best deals, and consider traveling during the offseason to big destinations!”
13. Find alternative ways to “have fun” on weekends
Says Qapital: “You don’t need to spend money to have a great time. Be a tourist in your own city and visit free museums, re-arrange furniture, go for a walk, look for free concerts, go on a hike, or have a self-care day. The possibilities are not only endless—they’re also low-cost!”
14. Limit ride-sharing/paying for transport
You can’t always put this to work: Sometimes, Uber is your only (or safest) option. But sometimes, you can save money and get to where you’re going safely using public transit or even walking to your destination. “Incentivize yourself by linking your Uber/Lyft app to a financial goal,” Qapital says. “How about every time you skip the Uber, you put that money into your savings account instead? You’ll see that savings start to stack up!
Added benefit: Walking is good for your overall wellness, not just financial.” We’ll point out that Qapital’s Apple Health Rule allows you to link walking and saving—for instance, set a fitness target like “5,000 steps,” and automatically save toward your goal when you reach it.
15. Get thrifty! (Think about sustainable spending)
“Sustainable spending is one of our favorite ways to make your dollars stretch,” Qapital says. “Not only is it good for the environment, it’s good for your bank account. Instead of buying this season’s new line, try going to your local thrift store, or upcycling an outfit or item from a friend. Other pros? You’ll have one-of-a-kind outfits to dazzle in, and you’re supporting your local community.”
16. Clean out your closet
Consider this a sister tip to No. 15. “How many of us have an overflowing wardrobe full of items we haven’t worn in years? We won’t point any fingers, but it’s basically the norm nowadays.”
Qapital suggests using the “Marie Kondo method” to make money. “Go through your items and carefully decide which items spark joy. If they don’t? Ditch them at your local consignment shop. It’s a great way to make some extra cash, and you’re helping support sustainable fashion!”
17. Get support from your friends
Just about everything is more fun with a friend—and when it comes to becoming financially healthier, a friend can make the journey easier, too. “Having a money buddy along for your financial wellness journey has the same benefits for your wallet as a workout buddy does for your physical health,” Qapital says. “You can work together, support and encourage each other, and help each reach your respective financial goals.
Plus side? If you’re both looking to cut your spending, odds are your friends will be more willing to try some low-cost entertainment options—hiking, exploring a city, becoming a mixologist to save some money at the bars, or trying new recipes instead of the new fancy restaurant in town.”
18. List it out
“Making your money stretch means cutting out nonessential purchases that don’t bring you much value; the best way to avoid overbuying is to make a list before you head out,” Qapital says. “We’ve all heard that you should stick to a list and not grocery shop when hungry, and the same principle applies to other types of shopping. Keeping a running wishlist of other things like clothes, gifts, and even holiday destinations will help you to differentiate what you really want from what just seems like a good idea at the time. Stores and online shops are scientifically designed to induce spending. Impulse is your enemy, and your shopping list is your best shield. If you feel like you really can’t control the impulse, hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button to your favorite store emails.”
19. Bulk up carefully
Costco and Sam’s Club are popular for a reason. “Buying essentials and nonperishables—like paper towels, frozen vegetables, and toiletries—is such a good savings trick that entire retail chains have sprung up based on this single idea. It’s an added benefit that you’ll also save time since you won’t need to go shopping as frequently,” Qapital says. “Just be careful not to catch the ‘bulk bug’ by stocking up on too many different items, though—it’s never a bargain to buy something that you don’t really need.”
20. Host potlucks
Want to host a dinner party but are short on funds? “Potlucks are a fun and delicious way to still be the ‘host with the most’ without having to dish out the cash for a giant grocery bill,” Qapital says.
21. Be loyal
OK, OK. We’re all tired of giving every store our email, but ignoring loyalty programs is a sure-fire way to shrink your dollars’ spending power. “Loyalty programs offer discounts and freebies for repeat purchases, and most of the time you can sign up for free rewards that don’t expire,” Qapital says. “Picking up a punch card at your favorite cafe might get you a free latte at zero cost to you, just like a rewards card at your grocery store could bank your coupons and store credit.”
22. Keep an eye on the calendar
Says Qapital: “Whenever you have the flexibility to choose the timing of a purchase—especially for big things like cars and appliances—it’s worth knowing when it’s likely to go on sale. Black Friday and January are huge sale seasons for just about everything, but you can be strategic and look for product-specific sales throughout the year.
Some examples to consider:
— new cars usually go on sale in September at the end of the model production year
— furniture prices typically get reduced in September when summer moving demand dies out
— clothes go on sale at the end of the season
— the housing market is always changing, but winter in cold-weather climates is often a time when the market is quiet
— the Tuesday after Cyber Monday has discount flights and cheap hotel bookings for ‘Travel Tuesday.’
The rule of thumb is that prices are low when demand is low, so look out for low-demand seasons to find good deals.”
23. Spend where it counts and save where it doesn’t
“Each of us has different values and preferences for what’s important to us, and the key is to know what really makes a difference to your wellbeing,” Qapital says. “On the flip side, sometimes there are things we think will make a bigger difference than they actually do. Food shopping is a great example. Love organic produce? Buying from the farmer’s market down the street is probably worthwhile—but perhaps you can offset their higher prices by grabbing pantry staples in bulk from the value superstore. Less waste on the unimportant stuff leaves you and your cash free for the next goal.”
24. Pick up a side hustle (you’re passionate about)
Embarking on a side hustle in the new year is a great way to boost your income and achieve financial goals. The key is to select a side hustle that not only taps into your skills and experience but also aligns with your interests. This approach ensures the extra work feels rewarding rather than draining.
Before starting, carefully consider the time you can commit. A side hustle should enhance your life, not cause undue stress. Evaluate the potential earnings against the effort required, and look for options with flexible hours or higher income potential.
Lastly, be aware of any initial costs, like equipment or training. Choose a side hustle with minimal upfront expenses and a good return on investment. Also, keep an eye on how this additional income could impact your taxes, maintaining records of your earnings and expenses.
Overwhelmed? Start Simple.
We know. We just threw 24 different ideas at your feet. It’s a bit much.
You don’t have to use all these personal finance tips all at once—in fact, unless you’re an extremely energetic go-getter that can juggle a lot of things at once, we suggest you don’t.
Your path to better financial health can start with just a single step. Sell a few of your older outfits. Put $10 toward an emergency fund. Take five minutes to look at what you’ve spent over the past month. It won’t seem like much, and it might not have much immediate effect, but it will put your mind where it needs to be to take bigger steps.
Once you’re ready to string several of these steps together, you might appreciate a little technological assistance. For some people, an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet is enough. But some prefer the ease of use and functionality of budgeting apps.
That includes Qapital—which, in addition to the advice they provided today, offers many of the features you might need as you try to up your money management game.
Manage Your Finances With Qapital
Feeling overwhelmed by your finances? The personal finance app Qapital can help you mentally declutter.
Qapital makes managing and understanding your finances easier than ever, putting control back in the hands of individuals and couples using the app. With Qapital’s suite of smart money tools, you can save for the things that matter most and get one step closer to achieving financial freedom.
You’ll be able to set goals and gain an overall view on all your finances, including savings, investments, bills, and spending accounts. Create emergency funds, safety-nets and more—all with a few clicks in the Qapital app. And Qapital’s system helps motivate you to save toward those goals.
Other useful tools include:
– Free robo-advisor that uses pre-built portfolios aligned with your risk tolerance and investing goals
– Debt management tools to understand your debt better and pay it off sooner—for less—by prioritizing which debt to pay off first and possibly recommending refinancing options to bring down the cost of debt
– “Cashback Hacks”: Cash back, across more than 12,000 retailers, which gets deposited straight into goals you set within the app
Qapital understands that taking control of finances is hard work, which is why they’ve come up with automated features such as Payday Divvy. With Divvy, you tell Qapital how much of your paycheck you want set aside for spending, saving, and investing, and it makes all the transfers in the background every time you get paid.
Meanwhile, Qapital’s interface makes it easier to visualize things such as the path to your long-term financial goals, or trade-offs you make with certain spending decisions.
Put simply: Qapital makes it easier to measure financial success. Find out how much easier money management can be with Qapital today.