-- We get it: Money resolutions can feel like a lost cause, especially if you’re already drowning in debt or saddled with bad credit. But if the fear of falling short is stopping you from even attempting to reach any financial goals, well, it may be time to think smaller. There are lots of little steps you can take over the course of 2017 that, in tandem, can lead to ultimate financial balance.
Here are 50 ways to give your finances a fresh start this year.
1. Do Your Taxes ASAP You’ll want to avoid taxpayer identity theft, which can delay a much-needed refund. Plus, an early refund can bolster your financial situation.
2. Auto-Save Jumpstart your emergency fund by setting up an automatic deposit or transfer into a savings account each month.
3. Give Cash a Try If you’re prone to overspending on credit or debit, spend a week or two keeping only cash in your wallet. You can’t overspend cash — once it’s gone, it’s gone.
4. Ask for a Raise If you have a performance review coming up, or the opportunity to ask for a raise, now’s the time to take stock of your professional value and put together a pitch for better compensation.
5. Check Your Credit Scores You can’t know what to improve if you don’t know where you stand. You can get two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.
6. Spring Clean Your Credit Report Do a major audit by pulling your free annual credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute any errors you find with the credit bureau(s) in question.
7. Reevaluate Your Savings Strategy See if you can maximize your savings by opening an account with a higher annual percentage yield (APY) than your current one or consider a savings vehicle, like a money market fund or a Certificate of Deposit (CD).
8. Move While it can cost a lot at first, moving can be a long-term money-saving strategy. A good rule of thumb is to keep your housing expenses below 30 percent (or, ideally, less than 25 percent) of your income. Do the math and a little research to see if you can do better than your current rent payment. Make sure you factor in the cost of commuting to make sure it really would be a financially beneficial move.
9. Ask for a Lower Credit Card APR If you’re paying high interest on your credit card, see if you can’t talk it down. By negotiating down your annual percentage rate (APR), you could save serious money.
10. Get a Balance Transfer Credit Card Look into moving high-interest credit card debt onto a new card touting a low-to-no introductory APR for the rest of the year (or longer). Note: Most issuers charge a balance-transfer fee.
11. Prioritize Payments Our favorite way to pay down multiple credit cards? Put as much money as you can toward the balance with the highest APR, while paying the minimum on your other plastic. That way, you’ll save on interest charges.
12. Consider a Credit-Builder Loan … If your credit is shot, which would increase your APRs, one way you can start to rebuild your payment history is with a credit-builder loan. You can look into credit-builder loans at your local bank or credit union.
13. … or a Secured Credit Card Secured credit cards, which require an upfront deposit that serves as your credit limit, are designed specifically for people who need to build or fix their credit. You can find our picks for the best secured credit cards here.
14. Figure Out Where the ‘Right’ ATMs Are Every time you use an out-of-network ATM, you’re paying money to use your own money. Cutting back on those fees can really help you save in the long run.
15. Simply Review Your Budget How often do you look over your budget? If it’s been a while, start the year off fresh with a budget more customized to where you (and your finances) are today.
16. Scour Your Credit Card Statements You could spot areas where you’re overspending. Plus, you’ll want to be on the lookout for fraud or billing errors.
17. Try a Budgeting App There are a lot of free ones out there that can track your spending, point out what expenses are really draining your bank account and alert you when you’re about to go overboard.
18. Eat at home Dining out too often can put a serious strain on your wallet. Try cooking at home just a few times a week, and you’re sure to free up some money you can use to pay down debts or put into a savings account.
19. Plan Your Meals Better yet, try planning out your meals several days or a week in advance, and set aside time to shop and prepare them. This minimizes the chance you’ll dine out, which is generally more expensive than home-cooked food.
20. Cancel Memberships If you’re not using your streaming account, or don’t use it that often, go ahead and cancel it. You can always renew later if you decide you miss it, and you’ll free up money each month.
21. Review Your Transportation Situation Can you begin biking to work or ride with a friend to cut gas expenses? Perhaps walking to work a few times a week could help you save on bus fare.
22. Invest If you haven’t already started putting money aside for retirement, this may be the year to start doing so. Added bonus: If your company matches any investments you make, it’s like getting free money for those golden years.
23. Look into a Rewards Credit Card If you charge a lot and pay those balances off in full, but only have a standard credit card, you may be losing out on rewards for your spending. Check your credit scores and see what types of cards you’d qualify for. You may even be able to get a rewards card that doesn’t have an annual fee.
24. Evaluate Your Rewards Credit Card Already have a rewards credit card? Now may be the time to look at it and see what perks it’s offering you. Does your credit card reward you most for money you spend at the gas station? That’s great if you drive a lot, but if you’re taking public transportation or walking, there may be a better rewards credit card out there for you.
25. Negotiate With Your Creditors If you’ve got outstanding debts, see if the creditor or collector will agree to a payment plan.
26. Clip Coupons Yes, it’s old fashioned, but those weekly circulars from your local grocery store, and coupons from newspapers, mailers and sites like Coupon.com can really add up, especially if you hit double- or triple-coupon days.
27. Pay Off a Loan If you’re nearing the end of your loan term, whether it’s for a car, student loan or something else, consider paying it off if you have the cash. You’ll cut out the interest you would’ve paid and, chances are, you’re paying more in interest for the loans than you’re making on the money if you leave it in your savings account until the bill comes due.
28. Review Your Insurance Policies It’s a good idea to review your insurance policies — whether it’s your home insurance, car insurance or any other type — to see if you’re still getting the coverage you need. Then, take that information and shop around to make sure you’re getting the best price available.
29. Ask More Questions Personal finance can be really confusing, so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand some of the concepts — even the seemingly basic ones. Commit to learning more about things like how credit works, your options for retirement planning or smart ways to use your credit card.
30. Set Calendar Reminders Putting bill due dates in a digital calendar and setting up notifications will help you remember to pay things on time and save you the hassle of late-payment fees or damaged credit.
31. Set a Savings Goal Think back on what you wanted to do last year but couldn’t afford. Was it a vacation? Buying holiday gifts? Build an emergency savings? Figure out how much you want to save, when you want to save it by and how much you have to set aside each month to reach that goal. Then do it.
32. Give up Your Vices or Guilty Pleasures Do you put too many dollars toward dining out? Perhaps you spent too much on alcohol or cigarettes? Consider giving up these things (or at least cutting back on them) and using the excess cash to pay down debts, build up an emergency fund or save for a big ticket item.
33. Sell Stuff You Don’t Need Take a look around the house and see if there’s anything you’re not using. By selling your unwanted items, you can free up money to put toward your savings or paying down credit card debt.
34. Change Your Passwords Protect financial accounts by changing up those access digits, especially if you’re using any of the worst passwords from 2015.
35. Comparison Shop Want to score a great deal? Search online and shop around to find the best deals on products. You don’t have to settle for the first deal you see.
36. Consult a Professional If your money situation is complex, a visit with a certified financial planner, credit counselor or certified public accountant may be worthwhile.
37. Turn Your Hobby into Cash Websites like Etsy have made it possible for thousands of people to sell their wares with little or no investment beyond the craft itself. So, if you make your own candles, scented soaps or other wares, consider setting up a shop.
38. Fill a Piggy Bank At the end of every day, drop your loose change into a jar or other vessel — it doesn’t have to be a piggy bank per se — and do it every day. One of our editors tried this last year and had $285 in change by the end of it. That’s a nice dinner out, and then some.
39. Cut Water Costs If you don’t already have low-flow shower heads and toilets, consider getting them. New toilets can be expensive, but you can cheat by filling a liter bottle with water and then dropping it in the tank so you don’t use as much water each time you flush.
40. Buy Generic Brands Why pay full price for name brands when generics work just as well? Get in the habit of buying these, at least some of the time, and your wallet is sure to get fatter.
41. Make Shopping Lists An easy way to save money is by making a shopping list before you hit the stores. Stick to it, especially if you’re shopping when you’re hungry, and you’ll avoid buying items you just don’t need.
42. Refinance If your credit has improved, see if you can qualify for a lower-rate on a mortgage, auto loan or private student loan, for instance. Just be sure to account for any fees associated with refinancing before you go ahead and do so.
43. Make Your Home Energy Efficient It may cost more upfront, but little upgrades like installing a programmable thermostat can help you cut down your energy costs. You can find more ideas for making your home energy-efficient on EnergyStar.gov.
44. Use the Library If you buy a lot of books or music, try borrowing it from the library instead. As long as you avoid late return fees, you’ll end up saving a considerable amount of money.
45. Consolidate Your Credit Card Debt Look into getting a personal loan, or debt consolidation loan, to consolidate debts you’re carrying on multiple credit cards. Depending on your credit, you may be able to secure a lower rate.
46. Live Below Your Means Spending less than you earn on a regular basis is one way to ensure you always have an emergency fund on hand. Borrowing less than you need — or at least not over-borrowing — will save you big on interest.
47. Reevaluate Your Tax Withholding Sure, a big tax refund is nice, but it indicates you were paying the government too much all year. Consider changing your withholding specification on your W-4 to get more money back on each paycheck.
48. Wait a Day Before Buying If you’re prone to impulse-shopping, institute a one-day waiting period before buying. That’ll give you time to evaluate if the purchase is a want or a need.
49. Pay Your Credit Card More Than Once a Month Link your debit card account to your credit card account and then make a habit of paying down your balances once a week — or at least twice a month. That’ll help you avoid spending more than what’s in your bank account.
50. Skip the Trip Sure, an expensive vacation seems like a necessity, but, if finances are tight this year, opt for a staycation or an affordable road trip instead.
This post was written by the editorial team at The Credit.com. The team includes journalists, authors and consumer advocates. We're committed to helping consumers understand and master the confusing world of credit and improve their financial standing by recommending products and actions that are in their best interest.
Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.