Save more, spend less, reduce debt—we all know we need to do this for financial success but it can also seem like an overwhelming and daunting task. Where to begin? Start fresh in the New Year, and know that any large task is easier to complete if you break it down into steps.
To help make achieving financial well-being more manageable, here is a month-by-month money plan recommended by experts to help you have a great financial year in 2024.
January – Create or Update Your Budget
The first step to creating or updating your budget is to set a budgeting goal. Are you doing this to pay off bills? Save for a family vacation? Something else? Starting a plan will be easier if you know what you're working towards.
Next, write down everything you spend money on currently. And we mean, EVERYTHING...even those daily coffees at Dunkin or muffins you buy at the work café. Separate into "needs" (mortgage, gas, groceries, utilities, etc.) and "wants" (i.e., dining out, new purse, pricey mocha lattes). Look for areas in the "wants" category where you can cut back on spending.
Once you know your monthly expenses, deduct them from your after-tax income. Whatever is left over, put in your savings account. If there is nothing left over, you need to cut your "wants" list down further, or consider changing jobs or adding a side hustle this year to generate extra income.
To help you analyze your spending, make adjustments, and create a budget, check out our handy Budget Calculator.
February – Tackle High-Interest Debt
Paying high interest rates is like handing over money for nothing, so this month is a good time to get in front of high interest credit card balances. For each account, write down the interest rate, minimum monthly payment, and how much you currently owe, advises Shannon McLay, founder and CEO of the Financial Gym in New York City.
Next, look for a great credit card balance transfer offer that will allow you to cut out or reduce your interest rate for an extended period. Once you've transferred your balances, for any remaining debt implement the avalanche method: Pay the minimum on all your credit card debt each month and put any extra money toward the loan with the highest interest rate. If you get a windfall—like a bonus or a tax refund—put it toward that top debt as well. Once you pay it off, move to the loan with the next-highest interest rate, and so on.
March – Get Your Tax Documents Ready
Prevent a last-minute scramble to get everything you need to file your taxes. Store all your documents as they come in whether by mail or online in one folder along with your receipts for deductible expenses.
Next, think about the prior year and make note of any big life moments that might affect your taxes—for example, buying a house or getting laid off.
Be sure to triple-check all personal information that you enter on your tax forms or give to your accountant. One of the most common filing errors is entering incorrect Social Security numbers for your spouse or kids—and these numbers are critical for receiving valuable tax benefits and a timely refund.
April: Build emergency savings
Life happens, and so do unexpected car repairs and broken air conditioners. Many of us are unprepared to cover an unexpected expense that could cost thousands of dollars is important. That's why creating an emergency savings fund.
"The point of money is to feel secure," say Suze Orman, host of the podcast Women & Money. Ormond recommends having at least eight months of living expenses in savings.
While that may seem impossible, it's not if you save money throughout the year. To put your savings on automatic, set up automatic deposits to your savings account. Name it something like "Rainy Day Fund" or something similar. Money experts say personalizing an account with a name that calls out its purpose motivates you to keep saving.
If you were forced to use your emergency savings last year but are on a better financial track this year, focus on rebuilding your savings.
May – Get Organized
Being disorganized not only costs you time, but it can also cost you money, say if you have to replace an original document like the title to your car, for example. Organization experts suggest you gather all of your important papers, sort them by type and date, and store them in a document box near where you pay your bills.
If there are documents you are constantly looking for, like your W-2 for instance, scan them and save them in a password-protected digital file on your mobile device or personal computer.
June – Review Your Investments
The start of summer is a good time to review your investments to make sure your money is working for you. Experts suggest you contribute 15% of your income to your retirement savings. Take advantage of employer matching, if your company offers it.
Make sure your investment mix still suits your short- and long-term goals. Set up an appointment with an experienced financial advisor who can review your portfolio—or create one if you are new to saving for retirement—and help keep your investments on track.
July - Check your credit report
It's easier to secure a loan for a new car or house, when you have good credit. Because errors do occur, and identity theft is on the rise, it's important to check your credit report at least once a year. (Even better, request one report from a different credit reporting agency every four months to keep tabs on things throughout the year.)
Go to annualcreditreport.com to order your free report. Look over your payment history carefully to ensure everything is correct and report any activity you don't recognize. If you notice recurring suspicious activity, you might want to freeze your credit. Keep in mind that child identity theft can go undetected for years, so you may want to consider freezing your kids' credit until they are older to help prevent it.
August - Save on school costs
Your child doesn't always need new school supplies when you have a junk drawer full of pencils, pens, and notebooks. Team up with other parents and buy items in bulk to share the expense.
Be sure to check for coupons and promo codes at sites like Rakuten and Honey so you don't miss out on deals. Thrift stores are a great place to find gently used backpacks and laptop bags. Make purchases using a cash-back or rewards credit card to get even more bang for your buck.
August is also the time when many states offer a tax-free week for back-to-school shopping. This year, the tax-free week in Maryland is August 11-17.
If your kid is applying to college, gather all of the paperwork you need to apply for school and for student loans. The 2024–25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form will expand eligibility for federal student aid. Check here for qualifications.
September – Get a Will (or Update Yours if You Have One)
It's never fun to think about death, but it's an inevitable part of living. A will says where your assets go when you pass away, and it is important to have one so the burden doesn't pass on to your loved ones. However, other documents are needed as well.
According to estate planning experts, you should also have a revocable trust with an incapacity clause (which appoints someone to handle certain assets for you if you're unable); an advance medical directive (which states what medical care you want in an emergency); a durable power of attorney for health care (which names a trusted person to make medical decisions for you); and a durable financial power of attorney (which names someone to make financial decisions for you).
Once you have these documents in place, hold a family meeting to inform loved ones of your plans.
October – Get Rid of Extra Bills and Subscriptions
Do you have a Spotify account, and so does your husband and kids? Getting rid of duplicate or no longer used services is a good way to cut back on expenses. Print out a few months of bank statements and highlight your regular payments to subscription services like Netflix, Apple Music, Worthpoint, etc. See which ones you can combine, or do away with all together.
Also, try bargaining with your providers, especially if you've been a long-term loyal customer. For cable, cellphone, and internet service, look into the introductory plans competitors offer and ask your provider to match the lowest one.
Or download an app like Trim, which negotiates lower rates with providers on your behalf. (Trim is free to use, but you'll split the savings with them.)
November – Reduce Your Health Costs
Create a binder for your family's medical forms and bills so you can stay organized and not fall behind on bills. To save money at the pharmacy, be sure to ask how much a drug would cost if you paid without going through insurance. Surprisingly, you may get a lower price paying out of pocket.
GoodRx is a free app that compares drug costs and offers scannable coupons. And don't forget to use up your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Spending Account (HSA), which usually expire on Dec. 31 and don't carry over into the next year. If you're not sure what's covered, visit fsastore.com for eligible products.
December – Have a Money Talk
For many of us, it's difficult to talk about our finances. But transparent, open communication is key to achieving financial success and avoiding conflicts over money with your partner and family.
To get started, break the taboo by holding a quick weekly check-in with your spouse, says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance journalist. If you have teenagers, include them so they are aware as well.
Discuss what each of you values most so you are on the same page and can create shared financial goals. Then, look over your recent spending together over the past couple of months to see if it aligns with your values. For example, if quality family time is important to you but most of your extra money is going towards material things, you may want to reevaluate your budget. Select a reward the family can save for together, such as a weekend getaway or a new gaming system.