We just love the new year, from the festive parties to the chance to stay up past midnight for a reason other than catching up on Homeland.
We also love the elusive New Year's resolution. Of course, the problem with resolving to, say, exercise twice a week or read more books is that these goals can often take a long time to complete. And, in a sense, they're never truly complete -- you're bound to beat yourself up the first time that you forget to go to the gym.
This is why we came up with 10 financial New Year's resolutions you can act on right now.
1. Build an Emergency Fund
You already know that we think an emergency fund is important -- it's a financial safety net against unforeseen disaster. When you have a family to support, it becomes even more important to store up at least six months' living expenses for whatever life throws at you. So make it a priority this year!
What you can do now: Saving is easy when it's automatic. Set up a regular transfer from your direct deposit paycheck that will go straight into your savings.
2. Don't Get Blindsided by Expensive Events
Fun activities -- weddings, graduations and holidays -- can take a large chunk out of your budget. This year, give yourself ample time to start saving for them.
What you can do now: Map out all of the major events that you know are coming up in the next 12 months, and set budgets for what you'll spend on each one. This will help you to determine how much money you need to save every month until said event in order to reach your spending goal comfortably and on time.
3. Splurge! (Smartly, of Course)
Once you've got the basics covered -- you've budgeted, you have emergency savings and you're saving for college and retirement -- use some of your hard-earned money on things that your family really enjoys.
What you can do now: Set aside a certain amount of your budget each month as "fun" money for a family splurge. Coupons and discounts can help you save on entertainment--check out some of our favorite coupon sites and apps.
4. Check Your Finances More Often
Even small financial changes from month to month can throw you off your budget. Instead of waiting to re-evaluate your family budget once a year, resolve to give it more frequent check-ins.
5. Invest in Your Child's Education
The price of college admissions rose 15% between 2008 and 2010 for the average four-year university, so it's best to start planning for your child's undergraduate education as soon as possible.
What you can do now: If you haven't done so already, open a 529, which allows your money to grow tax-free in an investment account. If you already have one, set up an automatic increase of your monthly contributions. Saving an extra $50 a month from the time your child is born could yield an additional $20,000 in college savings by the time he turns 17, based on a 7% return on your investment.
6. Talk About Finances as a Family
According to research, 77% of parents don't always tell kids the truth about money matters. Since kids learn to manage money through their parents, make it a goal to talk to your kids about financial topics this year.
What you can do now: Consult our age-by-age financial guidelines for how to make financial topics more accessible, based on your child's age. Or check out the White House guidelines for talking to kids about money.
7. Eat Healthier
While resolving to "eat better" can seem daunting, even small changes can make a big difference. Bonus: Eating better can mean eating more affordably, too.
What you can do now: Have each person in your family swap just one unhealthy habit, like drinking soda, with a healthy one, such as eating veggies. (Tip: You can always disguise healthy foods in clever recipes, like this tasty cauliflower casserole.)
8. Get Out of Debt
No one wants to be in debt -- but getting out of it takes discipline. Make this the year in which you finally put a dent in yours.
What you can do now: Start by tracking your spending and figure out your key spending triggers. Then learn how to lower your interest rates, as well as set up a plan for getting out of debt.
9. Make Family Time a Priority
Soccer practice. Play rehearsal. The last-minute meeting with your boss. It's harder and harder to spend quality time together, but this year, put family time back on the resolution list. Studies show that kids whose families eat meals together perform better on tests, and parental involvement in schoolwork has also been shown to have a positive influence on academic performance. In other words, family time helps create successful adults.
What you can do now: Pick a specific time each day to spend as a family--even if it's only for a quick check-in each morning or a mini dance party before everyone goes to bed, like this mom does.
10. Watch Less TV
Zoning out in front of the television is an easy way to relax -- and a way to keep the kids occupied. However, cutting back on TV can be good for your family's health and your budget. Vow to do things differently this year.
What you can do now: Substitute one of the shows that your family normally watches with a group walk or a bike ride instead (keep in mind these six free things that your kid needs). Have your kids volunteer different substitution suggestions each week to keep them interested in the change, and evaluate after a month to see if you can cut cable out of your budget- - it's good for your health and your wallet.
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How to Improve Your Finances in the New Year
Need help managing your money? LearnVest's free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans--managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners--can help you chart a course for the future you want.
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