How to Afford the Life You Want in 2018

Updated 11/06/18
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January often signals a shift in perspective. After overindulging and overspending during the holiday season, we enter the New Year wanting to shed our bad habits and reset priorities. As 2018 stretches out before us, it's the best time to think about who we want to be—holiday indiscretions aside.

If the start of the year gives you money anxiety, you're not alone—more than a third of American's say the New Year prompts them to take stock of their finances. But if your goal only focuses on the big picture, you're making a vital mistake. Whether you're saving for your first home or to build an emergency fund, we've pinpointed the smart and simple habits that will help you achieve your goals in 12 months. Requiring little more than a few money apps, time, and resolve to start anew, it's easy to take action now.

Commit to adopting these five financial habits for a successful, stress-free 2018.

Start Talking

Drafting a financial plan doesn't have to be intimidating, says Allison Engel, director of women's market strategy at Northwestern Mutual. In fact, the first step is surprisingly simple: talk about it. "[Our] 2016 Planning & Progress Study found that the vast majority of women admit to feeling financial anxiety, perhaps because they don't feel comfortable talking openly about their financial fears and insecurities," she tells MyDomaine. "Not talking about financial concerns and goals can hinder future success."

Try it now: Next time you catch up with friends, ask them about how they budget. If there are areas you're unsure about, like whether you have enough money to invest or how much you should set aside for retirement, talk about it. "By overcoming the initial awkwardness of these conversations, women are more likely to make significant progress in their financial planning through voicing their plans and goals," Engel says.

Schedule a Money Minute

The issue with budgets and New Year's resolutions is that we tend to set them with an optimistic mindset, and then rarely revisit them. In reality, hundreds of small decisions contribute to your overall bank balance, so it's important to check your financial pulse regularly.

Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, says she overcomes this by scheduling a "money minute" at the start of each day. "Every single morning without fail, whether it's Monday or Saturday, I log into my money center on LearnVest," where she's linked her credit cards, savings accounts, and 401(k). By prioritizing her finances first thing in the day, von Tobel says it reminds her of her budget goals and also helps her keep an eye on incorrect charges.

Try it now: Schedule a daily money minute reminder into your calendar as a reoccurring event. Use an account aggregator, like Mint or Personal Capital, to keep all your financial data in one place, and spend a moment glancing over any changes from the last 24 hours.

Follow the 24-Hour Rule

Shopping without intention is one of the biggest financial challenges millennials face—65% say impulse shopping is the main reason they struggle to save. To curb your spending habits, money expert Stefanie O'Connell recommends instituting a 24-hour hold policy. "By instituting a 24-hour hold policy on purchases, much of what feels like a must-have in the moment will likely fade away too," she explains on her website. "The key is to hold off on pulling the purchase trigger until you've had the time and space to make that assessment."

Try it now: Next time you want to make a non-essential purchase, pause. Set a reminder on your phone to alert you when 24-hours has passed. If you still think it's a smart buy after that period, make the purchase. Chances are, once that in-the-moment thrill has subsided, you'll be able to make an impartial decision.

Automate Savings

The best way to achieve your financial goals is by automating as many decisions as possible, and January is the best time to start. Think about the costs you'd like to set aside this year—for an emergency fund, savings account, or retirement plan—and work with your bank to schedule these regular deductions every paycheck. That way, there's no chance you'll forget to transfer money or be confused about how much you have to spend on dining out and entertainment.

Try it now: Once you've determined your fixed and variable savings (this budget plan will show you how) take a look at what's left over. How much money can you realistically set aside for savings? As a guide, you should aim to dedicate 20% toward financial priorities, like paying off debt or growing your savings account. When you know this figure, set up automatic transfers so that your savings are immediately deposited into a separate account on payday.

Capitalize on Credit Card Rewards

Signing up for that new credit card always seems like a good idea at the time, especially during the holiday season. When endless rewards and cash incentives are dangled, it's easy to sign up, and then forget about it. If you can't recall what rewards your card offers, now is the time to review the fine print and make sure you're utilizing them—or, switch cards.

Try it now: Create a reward cheat sheet. Nerdwallet's credit card expert Sean McQuay says he has 15 cards and uses a spreadsheet to make sure he's making the most of the rewards on offer. "I have a United card, and even though I don't fly often, the free baggage deal is worth it for me," he tells MyDomaine. In short: jot down the specific benefits of each card, be it cash back, in-store incentives, or frequent flyer miles, and make sure you're utilizing every offer.

Ready to kick your savings into gear? Strip these nine expensive and unnecessary purchases from your routine to get started.

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