If financial resolutions are intentions — “I want to save more money this year” — then financial goals are a more specific aim — “I plan to cut discretionary spending by 20 percent each month.” Financial actions are the actual steps you take to make progress — “I will log in and cancel any subscription service I haven’t used in the past 30 days.”

The goal is the expendable piece of that process, says Nikita Turk, Personal financial specialist for NerdWallet. As a financial specialist, she helps individuals focus on what’s important. She says people often overlook the intention of the change they want to make because it’s thought to be implicit. That can lead to tunnel vision and inflexibility on specific targets. Skip resolutions and go right from intention to action, she suggests.

Nikita Turk, Personal financial specialist for NerdWallet.

Let’s say your financial intention (don’t call it a resolution) for 2023 is to spend less money and pay off debt. Say it out loud to someone who’ll listen, says Turk.

“Now, with a sense of direction and accountability, you can make money moves. no resolutions required.”

Nikita Turk
Money Move #1 – Look at the Numbers

1Money Move #1: Look at the numbers

Grab a recent paycheck and a piece of paper, or get fancy with a free budget planner. Write your monthly, after-tax income at the top, then list your financial obligations. Think rent, utilities, groceries, childcare, transportation and any other bills and debt you have to pay, no matter what.

Subtract those essential expenses from your monthly income. The money that remains is what you have for discretionary expenses and saving. “It’s usually not as bad as you thought,” says Turk. This exercise tends to uncover that a lot of expenses are discretionary, she says.

Use bank and credit card apps to tally up all the other scattered spending. From there, you can probably find a few things to cut. If you’re not sure where to start, take the budgetary axe to a streaming service.

Money Move #2 – Kick the Online Habit

2Money Move #2: Make it harder to buy things online

Debit cards, credit cards, cash apps and digital wallets make spending painless on the front end. The dull ache hits later, though, when the bills are due, especially if you carry a credit card balance. It’s time to make shopping inconvenient. Delete retailer apps, unsubscribe from their mailing lists and remove stored credit cards from browsers and websites. It might sound trivial, but doing so adds friction to the purchase process. You’ll probably think twice about that new pair of shoes if you have to grab a credit card and hand-jam the numbers into your phone at checkout. 

“It’s basically a modern version of ‘freeze your credit card in the ice cube,’” says financial planner Bobbi Rebell.

“And yes, the literally frozen credit card is a thing.”

Money Move #3 – Pay Down Debt

3Money Move #3: Pick an approach to pay down debt

Take another look at your list of obligations and focus on the debt this time. Note the amount you owe and interest rate for any money borrowed. Think things like a car payment, student loans or a balance carried on a credit card. Now choose a prioritization strategy. 

Consider using a debt snowball or debt avalanche approach to pay off what you owe. With debt snowball, you focus on your smallest balances first, and hope to rack up quick wins as you close out loans. 

With debt avalanche, you prioritize loans with higher interest rates to wipe out the most expensive debt first. Credit card bills are a good place to start with debt avalanche, due to exorbitant APRs. 

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