Small Financial New Year’s Resolutions to Set That Make a Big Difference

By Ellevest Team

We learned a lot of money lessons this year. But the one that sticks out the most? How seeking out small wins can boost your financial confidence wherever you are in your financial journey. That’s because when you set smaller, visible money milestones, you’re more likely to hit them. You're more likely to hit them consistently. And you’re more likely to adapt them as habits without feeling the pressure of typical financial New Year’s resolutions.

Even if your financial plan had setbacks this year — or you’re reading this thinking, “What financial plan?” — don’t assume you have to hit a hard reset on your money habits. Instead, take the strain off a little and introduce any of these small financial New Year’s resolutions. You’ll be shocked at what a big difference they can make in helping you stress less about money day-to-day (even after a week or so of low-key commitment).

The trick to keeping these financial resolutions all year so you can actually feel better about your relationship with money? Be intentional about keeping them small. For example, if the idea of your student loan debt spikes your money anxiety, don’t make your financial resolution “pay it off.” Instead, consider true baby steps: list my loans in order from high to low interest rates; read about methods for how to pay them off; call my loan servicer to adjust my payments a little over the minimum due. In other words, set and hit one small financial resolution. Celebrate your win. Repeat. And just like that, you’re paying off your student loans.

Here are more ideas on how to set small financial New Year’s resolutions for surprisingly big results.

1. Financial resolution: Start. Wherever you are, start.

Sometimes, the hardest part is just getting started. 

Taking that step is important because if you’re not in control of your own money, you’re not in control of your own life. Nearly three-quarters of women who outsource the management of their money to male partners find themselves with a negative financial surprise after divorce or widowhood, and nearly three-quarters are single — either never married, divorced, or widowed — when they die.

Here’s a list of 31(!) ways to practice financial self-care to help you dive in. It’s good for your money — and for other things too, including managing the emotional stress around money. And here are 12 small money habits that might feel festive to kick off in January (but they’ll work any time, obv).

Here’s what to do if dealing with money feels overwhelming — basically, break it down into small, achievable wins to give yourself “mood momentum.” And here’s some guidance to help you kick any lingering feelings of spending guilt to the curb.

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for 30 Minutes with a CFP® Pro, a one-on-one session that pairs you up with a financial planner from Ellevest’s all-women team to answer your most pressing questions about getting on track with your money.

2. Financial resolution: Make a budget that works for you.

Financial wellness is a big deal around these parts. And one of the three main components of financial wellness is your financial foundation, which includes learning your spending habits and designing a monthly budget that works for you. It starts not with a spreadsheet, but with an exploration of what’s important. Here’s a worksheet to download (free for Ellevest clients) to explore your core values so that you can practice intentional spending — a habit that makes spending decisions feel easier and more meaningful. 

Next comes your actual budget. We often recommend the 50/30/20 rule. It’s a high-level, flexible budgeting framework that can help you control where your money’s going without having to count every penny. Here’s a worksheet to download (free for Ellevest clients) to use as a template. Or you might choose the one-number approach, which is even simpler to follow: you just determine one number to have in mind as you make spending decisions.

Finally, it’s about making your budget work in real life. Here are some tips to avoid overspending. Here’s a rundown of ways you can cut back to an essentials-only budget if you’re financially challenged right now. Here’s our best guidance on how to stop living paycheck to paycheck. And if you’re in a relationship, here’s our advice on splitting expenses with your partner.

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for a Budgeting Session with an Ellevest financial planner to work together, one-on-one, to create a personalized spending plan. 

3. Financial resolution: Set smart money goals.

Wondering what your money goals should even be at your age? (Let alone in this economy?) We hear this all the time. To make sure you’re doing the right things with your money — so you can get to where you want to be — don’t manifest your dream life: plan for it. Whether you call it your “financial plan” or “money roadmap,” having a personalized strategy for prioritizing your financial goals is crucial to hitting them. Get started with the money moves to make in every decade. We also have more specific advice for single moms, LGBTQIA+ people, new college grads, and recent widows. And we have advice for where, exactly, you might want to put the money you’re saving toward short-term goals — one size definitely does not fit all.

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for a Comprehensive Planning Package with an Ellevest financial planner to work together, one-on-one, to create a full financial plan to build the life you want.

4. Financial Resolution: Give yourself a boost wherever you can.

Some boosts are mechanical — things like setting up autodeposits or round-up features on your banking account(s) or opting for credit cards that offer cash back.

But boosts can be psychological, too. Improving your money mindset is such a crucial part of your financial wellness practice — here’s a worksheet to download (free for Ellevest clients) to help you pause and reflect. Check out this article on how naming your money goals can help you achieve them. Here’s how working with a financial planner can help you with money stress. And here are some thoughts from CEO Sallie Krawcheck on how your money goals can boost your happiness.

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for a Comprehensive Planning Package with an Ellevest financial planner to work together, one-on-one, to create a full financial plan to build the life you want.

5. Financial resolution: Wrap your head around paying down debt.

If you want to start paying down your debt, you’ll need a game plan. Here are two common approaches on how to pay off debt and take control of your money. And here’s how to prioritize paying off debt vs investing — because there’s a difference between “good debt” and “bad debt.” Now that you’ve snooped the strategies, here’s a worksheet to download (free for Ellevest clients) to help you pick an approach. 

For more info about specific types of debt, here’s four important things to know about student loans and how to pay them off. And here’s our best advice on paying off credit cards

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for a Budgeting and Debt Planning Session with an Ellevest financial planner to work together, one-on-one, to deal with debt and fit that plan into your overall budget.

6. Financial resolution: Build a cushion for emergencies.

From our own experience talking with people like you, we can say with certainty: folks feel a lot better having a little bit of emergency cash on-hand when a crisis strikes (versus adding to credit card balances).

That’s why we say that a strong financial foundation is only strong when it includes a mini-emergency fund. Aim for one month's take-home pay, squirreling away as much aside as you can until you hit that major milestone. (Then, pivot to take care of the high-interest debt before you add any more to your emergency fund.) Here's how much you need to save for emergencies and what you should (and shouldn’t) do with those savings. And here’s a worksheet to download (free for Ellevest clients) to help you play with numbers. 

7. Financial resolution: Make investing a habit.

There’s a definitive answer to what’s maybe the most-asked financial question of all time: Is now a good time to invest? Yes, even — dare we say “especially”? — in this economy. (We’re big fans of dollar-cost averaging over here.) Not sure how investing works? Start with our article. Then take your first step by investing for retirement. Learn why it’s important to take advantage of your 401(k) employer match, then check out this flowchart to see which retirement account might be right for you. Investing might be an easier money habit to keep up with when you tie it back to your core values with what we call impact investing, a method of intentional investing that allows you to use your dollars for companies and causes that make a positive difference in society and the planet. Read more about how investing for women doesn’t just mean flexing our individual financial power (though that’s important, too). It also means that women can actively take control of our own lives — and make the world a better place while we do it. 

Want some help with that? Anyone can sign up for the Ellevest workshops on Investing, Part 1: How It All Works and Investing, Part 2: You & Your Portfolio, two live, virtual workshops that dig into important investing concepts you should know.

We’ve offered so many resources to you in this article. The intention wasn’t to overwhelm, but rather to make it clear that there are so many little places to start setting financial New Year’s resolutions. They don’t have to be drastic to make a huge difference (that’s another money lie to add to the list). Pick just one to accomplish the first week of the new year. Then, once you’ve completed it — and celebrated that small win — check back here to pick another. Then another. Then another. In a matter of weeks, imagine yourself thinking: “Money stress? That was so last year.” 

Not sure if this is the best next step for you? Book a complimentary 15-minute call with one of our all-women financial planners and feel better about where you’re headed right away.


© 2024 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.