Here's Exactly How to Afford the Life You Want in 2019

When it comes to your finances, do you take a head-on or head-in-the-sand approach? If you identify with the latter, the good news is you're not alone. The bad news? You're not alone. Data suggests that when it comes to managing money, women are not as independent as you'd expect. In fact, 91% of women in heterosexual couples are not participating in financial decisions. But we want to change that statistic. To help you become a master of your own finances, we're debuting a new series called The Paper Files, where we uncover tricks and tips that will help you manage your money and your future. Ready to take it head-on?

Financial questions to ask yourself

If you're anxious about the balance of your bank account, you're not alone. A new study by Northwestern Mutual found that money is the number one cause of stress among Americans. According to those surveyed, 44% were anxious about their finances, far surpassing personal relationships (25%) and work (18%) as sources of anxiety. With the time to make resolutions right around the corner, what better time to tackle your finances head on?

Just in time for the new year, we asked Elisabeth Kozack, the vice president of Product Innovation and Customer Experience at Marcus by Goldman Sachs, to share five simple tips for getting your finances in order, including easy ways to get started now (because, let's be honest, getting started is the hardest part). Ready to give yourself a financial pulse check? Keep scrolling to find out how to start 2019 off with zero money anxiety.

Get Your Budget in Order

Do I have an emergency fund established?

It might seem daunting, but evaluating your budget is an essential step in taking control of your financial future. "Don't wait until an unexpected expense arises to take a look at your budget and finances," advises Kozack. "The end of the year is a great time to review how your finances stacked up in 2018 and to map out upcoming expenses—like vacations, moves, and big purchases—that you know are happening in 2019."

How to get started now: Personal finance management tools, such as automated account aggregator services like Mint or Clarity Money, make it easy to gather all your financial data in one place. You'll gain a better understanding of your spending habits and discover opportunities to save.

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Establish an Emergency Fund

Is my budget in order?

Having an emergency fund—one that's separate from your checking and savings accounts—means that you'll have one less thing to worry about in the event of a crisis, says Kozack. "Unplanned life moments can happen at any time (from medical expenses to job loss or income changes), and these unexpected costs can impact your financial future," she explains. "Generally, it's best to put away three to six months' worth of living expenses that you'll be able to tap to pay for necessities."

How to get started now: "You can easily start by making small deposits into a separate account each month to build your emergency fund," she advises. Download a money-saving app like Digit, which analyzes your spending habits and automatically saves your spare change so you don't have to think about it.

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Manage Your Credit Card Debt

How am I managing my credit card debt?

Many millennials know from experience that impulse spending can lead to mounting credit card payments. According to a recent survey, consumers drop an average of $540 a month on spur-of-the-moment purchases. "If you find yourself in credit card debt, you could look into a debt consolidation loan, which is used to combine multiple debts into a single new debt," recommends Kozack. "Instead of numerous accounts, you would have just one, easy-to-manage monthly payment to help you get back on your feet at any stage in life." 

How to get started now: "Consider consolidating your debt with a single, no-fee, fixed-rate personal loan," advises Kozack. If you make your monthly payments on time as you pay off your loan, you could even see an improvement in your credit score, she explains.

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Ensure Your Savings Account Is Making You Money

Is my savings account making me money?

Accruing interest on the money you already have in the bank is one of the easiest things you can do to ensure you're on track to meet your financial goals. "Often, consumers keep their savings in accounts that are not earning much interest, which is why it's important to do your research when it comes to your savings account and making your money work for you," explains Kozack.

How to get started now: Choosing the right savings account to fit your needs can be challenging, each one has its own interest rates and fees to take into consideration. Set up a spreadsheet to compare various offerings so you can find the one that best aligns with your goals.

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Map Out a One-, Five-, and 10-Year Financial Plan

Do I know my 1, 5, and even 10-year financial plan?

"While it seems daunting to think about what your future looks like 10 years from now, long-term financial goals are just as important as your short-term ones," says Kozack. Whether you want to pay off your student loan debt, buy a house, or save for a summer vacation, putting pen to paper and writing it down is a great first step toward turning your goal a reality. 

How to get started now: "Start by writing your goals down," offers Kozack. "As trivial as it may seem, writing them down may help to keep you on track and plan effectively." 

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