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4 Realistic Financial Resolutions for 2016

Jan. 13, 2016
Personal Finance
4 Realistic Financial Resolutions for 2016
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By Steven Elwell

Learn more about Steven on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

With every new year come resolutions that most people stick with for a few days or weeks and then eventually ignore. Many of those resolutions are tied to personal finances — for instance, you’ve probably heard by now that you can save a lot of money just by avoiding that $5 daily coffee at Starbucks.

Such goals are worthy, but breaking old habits can be hard. (Besides, people love their Starbucks!) Here are four resolutions you’re less likely to have heard and more likely to be able to stick with:

1. Spend more

I know what you’re thinking: This is going to be easy. But the key is to spend more on experiences and spend less on things. Studies repeatedly have shown that experiences make people happier than material items. A 2014 study indicated that the mere anticipation of an upcoming experience makes us happy. Happiness from material items often fades, but memories of experiences can last forever.

2. Stop checking your 401(k) balance

Many people are concerned about their retirement investments because of the market’s roller coaster last summer and its rough start in 2016. The stress of a downturn in the markets can cause people to constantly check on day-to-day movements and even sell their investments at the worst time possible. Many who got out of the market during the 2008 crash have yet to get back in and missed out on an enormous recovery.

Resolve to check your retirement account balance only once a quarter to avoid letting your emotions affect your investment decisions.

3. Ditch your traditional bank savings account

In mid-December, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since 2006. In the hours that followed, multiple banks immediately raised their prime rate, which is used to set the rates on consumer loans such as mortgages. They did not raise the rates they pay on savings accounts, though, which means you still won’t receive much, if any, interest on your savings. Enough is enough.

Fortunately, the age of online banking has fostered new options for savers that are much more competitive. Many banks are offering FDIC-insured online savings accounts that pay 1% interest. You can link these accounts directly to your checking account at another bank to facilitate quick transfers when you need money. This could mean hundreds of dollars of additional interest each year if you keep a healthy balance.

>> MORE: NerdWallet’s Best Savings Accounts

4. Use your credit card more

In the past, it was frowned upon to use your credit card to buy things when you had the cash. Today, it’s actually faster and easier to use a credit card for your normal expenses and then pay off the balance at the end of the month to avoid the interest.

Depending on the card you use, you can often receive reward points or cash back for your purchases. One such credit card pays 1% cash back on purchases and another 1% cash back when you pay that same purchase off. If you spent $1,000 per month and paid the balance off each month, you would net $240 in cash rewards for the year.

>> MORE: NerdWallet’s Best Credit Cards

If your resolutions for the new year involve spending more in a way that will make you happy but will also help your wallet, these four tips can help.

Steven Elwell is a fee-only financial planner and vice president of Schroeder, Braxton & Vogt in Buffalo, New York. For more information, visit

Image via iStock.