When it comes to your money habits, have you been naughty or nice this year? Blogger Stephanie Taylor Christensen outlines smart money behaviors for the year to come.
Have your money decisions this year secured your spot on Santa’s nice list—or do they justify a visit from his polar opposite, Krampus?
Santa’s Nice List:
You Track Your Money
Knowing where your money goes—and whether every dollar you spend, save, or invest is aligned with your financial reality and future goals—scores you a spot on the Nice list. Whether you track your cash with an app, budgeting software, a spreadsheet, or pen and paper isn’t nearly as important as doing so consistently. Eventually, you’ll spot which financial choices work for you—and which need fine-tuning.
You Seek Answers to Financial Questions
Just 37 percent of respondents on the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) received scores indicating a high level of financial literacy. Further, experts at FINRA explain that, based on their quiz responses, most people self-report a greater understanding of financial concepts (like inflation and the impact interest rates have on savings and the cost of loans) than they actually know.
Not knowing how to manage your money isn’t something to be embarrassed about! One report estimates just 10 states spend more than 15 hours of classroom time teaching personal finance concepts to high school students.
Financially responsible Grownups acknowledge what they don’t know about money and look for the financial answers needed to succeed. “Those with higher financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement and to have an emergency fund, and less likely to engage in expensive credit card behaviors,” explain the FINRA experts.
If you choose to remain financially unaware, you’re sure to be on the Naughty list this year.
You Avoid or Eliminate Credit Card Debt
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reports just 35 percent of people who use credit cards pay the balance in full each month. If you currently carry a credit card balance, you need a plan to manage your spending so the debt doesn’t continue to climb. Eventually, you want to get rid of the debt entirely. Whether you tackle the smallest credit card balance first or focus on the one with the highest interest rate first, there’s a spot on the Nice list for those committed to making their debt part of holidays past.
Krampus’ Naughty List:
You Accumulate More Stuff than Savings
Grownups know how to edit their list of everything the heart desires down to just a few items. Your personal definition of a want versus a need should reflect a similar approach, so you’re able to make consistent contributions to an emergency savings account. (Ideally, you should save enough to fund at least six months of your monthly living expenses.)
Despite that no one knows when a financial emergency like illness or job loss could strike, a Federal Reserve study reveals 46 percent of Americans could not pay for an unplanned expense of just $400 without having to borrow money, use a credit card, or sell an item of value. Setting aside even small amounts of money for emergency savings (like $20 from each paycheck) requires you say no to some purchases—but it can make a major difference in how vulnerable you are to the unexpected. If you aren’t even trying to save, be ready to plead your case to Krampus!
You Let Emotions Drive Financial Choices
If you don’t have a financial plan, emotions will steer you toward Naughty List decisions: You buy what you can’t afford as a reward for a stressful workday. You invest in a home you’re not sure you’re ready to buy because your ego tells you to keep up with your friends. You see a panic-inducing headline about the stock market, and sell everything in your portfolio.
If you don’t have a few well-defined goals to keep you working toward the financial life you want, emotions will cloud your financial judgment. It’s never too late to change course, but you have to be willing to make a plan to eliminate the impact that envy, desire, and even boredom have on your financial choices and habits.
You Tap Into Your Retirement Funds
Your retirement accounts should be the last place you go to fund any non-essential purchase (until you’re at least 59 ½ years old). In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, tapping your retirement funds to pay for things other than expenses related to medical bills, disability, higher education costs, taxes, or a first-time home purchase (among a few other specific reasons) justifies a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. On top of that, you could you get hit with a significant tax bill based on how much cash you withdraw—and how it impacts your tax bracket. A shiny new car or luxury getaway is tempting when you have money sitting in a retirement account, but part of keeping Krampus at bay is walking away from short-term pleasure that will hinder your financial future.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health, and small business news. She is the owner of Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.