New Year's Resolutions That Will Actually Save You Money

Simply paying down credit card debt can start a series of changes that will improve your finances for years to come.

A good New Year's resolution can make you healthier or happier.

A great resolution will make you a bit richer.

A survey conducted by Marist Poll found that 44% of adults in the United States planned on making a New Year's resolution. Though 12% of those making resolutions vowed to "be a better person" or lose weight this year, resolutions that had anything to do with finances were down the list behind "eat healthier" and "exercise more" (both at 9%).

Taking steps to improve your health might yield long-term results by reducing health-care costs, but there are resolutions that can shore up your finances in the short term. There are people out there who want to get a new job (9%) and spend less money while saving more (6%), but those resolutions only work if you go through with them.

A report by site NerdWallet found that 74% people who made New Year's resolutions broke them in six months, while 21% failed in less than two weeks. Those with financial resolutions faired slightly better, with 47% achieving at least part of their goals for the year.

"You can increase your chances of reaching your New Year's goal by picking something that you can break down into a series of small steps," says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet.

Saving money often requires paying down debt first. With 40% of Americans looking to tackle debt, and 23% looking at their credit-card debt specifically, NerdWallet suggests starting with the average $6,081 in credit card debt carried by each U.S. cardholder with an outstanding balance. If cardholders made only the minimum payment on that debt, it would take 14 years and an additional $4,000 in interest to pay it off.

Palmer notes that even 10% of Americans who'd like to focus on their average of $17,000 in student loan debt should likely focus on credit card debt first. If someone carrying $17,000 in student loan debt and $17,000 in credit card debt made only the minimum payments each month, it would take 10 years to settle the student loan and 19 years to pay off the same amount of credit card debt. The difference? Credit-card interest that's 2.5 times higher than the student loan interest.

"Credit card debt is like an invasive plant that can quickly get out of control if you don't take care of it," Palmer says.

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Getting rid of that $6,081 completely would require a whopping $457 a month. John S. Kiernan, the senior writer, and editor at the credit and finance site WalletHub suggest paying down 20%. If you can transfer that debt to a credit card offering 0% interest for at least 12 months, it'll cost less than $150 a month and reduce the amount of interest you'll have to pay overall.

"The sooner you can reach debt freedom, the better off your wallet will be," Kiernan says.

Saving money is the top goal for 71% of NerdWallet's crowd, with 24% looking to start an emergency fund. While those who made that resolution a year ago fell short of their target by an average of $1,302, they still saved $7,052. Paying down existing debt can help with that goal, but so can setting hard limits and not spending on unnecessary items (as 33% of those who fell short did last year). Diverting money from debt maintenance to savings can help build the 12 to 18 months' worth of emergency take-home income that 54% of Americans told the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority they lack.

While Kiernan notes that all of the above can help increase your credit score and decrease the amount you'll pay in interest overall, NerdWallet says it can also help build a bigger nest egg for retirement. Roughly 15% of those surveyed by NerdWallet wanted to increase their retirement contribution this year, with 77% of those who made the same decision last year sticking to their resolution. If someone with a median income of $59,039 contributes just the 3% their employer will match, it'll add up to $623,000 after 37 years (given a 6% rate of return on investments). If the same worker bumps that contribution to 8%, however, that retirement savings will add up to $1.14 million.

As Palmer points out, making financial changes in the new year doesn't require a lofty resolution. Small, achievable goals will leave their mark in the new year and beyond.

"Big financial leaps start with small steps that you can stick with throughout the year," Palmer says.