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Stop using credit cards, save more for retirement, and other 2020 financial resolutions

Samantha Fields Jan 24, 2020
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Be less impulsive with spending. Pay off the last of the student loans. Stop using credit cards entirely. Those are just a few of the financial resolutions our listeners made for 2020.

Right around the new year, we asked you to share your 2020 resolutions with us. Many of you — mostly women — did. 

As we all know, a whole lot of people make New Year’s resolutions, but very few actually keep them. Just 21% keep financial resolutions, according to a recent survey.

There are a few factors that improve someone’s chances of being part of that 21%, according to Rianka Dorsainvil, a certified financial planner: making goals that are specific and tangible, writing them down and having an accountability partner.

“Having an accountability partner is huge, because if you have somebody that’s going to be holding you accountable, you’re much more likely to stay on track,” she said. “It’s just like a personal trainer when it comes to fitness.”

Over the next year, Marketplace will be something of an accountability partner for these six people, checking in with them periodically to see how they’re doing with their financial resolutions. 

Rebecca Payne, 27, Chicago, Illinois

Rebecca Payne resolved to stop using her credit card entirely so she can focus on paying down credit card debt. (Courtesy photo)

Goals: Stop using credit cards entirely, and instead put everything on a debit card. Pay off existing credit card debt in the next 12-16 months.

The debt crept up slowly.

When Payne first got a credit card, she’d pay it off, in full, every month. Then she got older, moved out on her own, and life got more expensive. 

More and more things started going on the card and over time she got “complacent with carrying over a balance month to month,” she said. “For a long time I was like, ‘Oh, well, at least it’s not at this number, and at least it’s not at this number.’”

Eventually, it was at that number. A number that she wasn’t comfortable with (and isn’t comfortable sharing with Marketplace). 

“For the last couple of months, I’ve just been really uncomfortable with where my credit card debt has gotten to, and it’s given me a bit of anxiety,” Payne said.

“For a long time I was like, ‘Oh, well, at least it’s not at this number, and at least it’s not at this number.’”

Inspired by a bunch of her friends who have never had credit cards, she decided that in 2020 she would stop using hers, and move to an entirely cash-based system.

In the next 12 to 16 months, Payne is also aiming to pay off all of her credit card debt. 

She’s taken her credit card out of the little wallet on the back of her phone, and replaced it with her debit card. She’s moving her auto-pay bills from her credit card to her debit card. She’s trying not to look at all the sale emails that come into her inbox. Finally, she made herself sit down and write out a budget.

“I feel good,” she said. “It makes me excited for finally getting this under control.”

It’s early days, she knows.

“It’s Chicago, it’s 12 degrees and snowing out. I don’t feel like going out right now,” she said. “I think it might be a little more difficult later on when it’s nice out and you want to be doing everything out and about.”

She’s told her friends what she’s doing, that she’s trying to stick to a budget, and they’ve been supportive. 

“Right now, I’m feeling very optimistic about it,” said Payne. “And I’m hoping to ride that wave for as long as I can.”

Mónica Muñoz, 54, San Diego, California

Goal: Buckle down on “extraneous spending” and concentrate on saving as much as possible ahead of her planned retirement in 2025.

Mónica Muñoz wants to save as much as she can over the next five years. (Courtesy photo)

Mónica Muñoz was just 19 when she first started working for a local government agency, and “retirement was the last thing on my mind,” she said.

At 54, she’s still working for the same agency, and retirement is now top of mind. It’s also the focus of her 2020 New Year’s resolution.

“Because I am five years out from retirement, I would like to buckle down on extraneous spending and be very committed to putting more cash away,” she said.  

For the most part, Muñoz feels like she’s in good shape for retirement. She’s always been pretty fiscally conservative, she started saving young, and because she’s spent practically her whole working life for a local government, she’ll retire with a solid pension. So all the stuff she’s been able to control, she’s feeling good about. It’s the thing she can’t control that worries her. 

“The big question that no one can predict is the cost of health care,” she said. “That’s the only thing that I’m concerned about.”

So for the next year, and really the next five, her goal is to sock as much money away as she can — in her Roth IRA and other savings accounts — so she’ll be able to live comfortably in retirement, even if something catastrophic happens with her health.

“Because I am five years out from retirement, I would like to buckle down on extraneous spending and be very committed to putting more cash away.”

To achieve her goal, she’s decided things that are more icing on the cake than necessity — like new clothes and the occasional splurge on jewelry — are going to have to go. 

“One of the things I know it means to me is that I’m gonna have to break up with John Hardy and David Yurman,” she said with a laugh. “Those are things that I certainly can stop and I will stop.”

It also means being more intentional and thoughtful about all kinds of consumption, which is one of the things her financial advisor suggested.

“He says, you know, if you’re interested in being really committed in these next five years,” she said, “then that’s what you need to do, is to just be cognizant of it.”

Ian Picard, 26, Boca Raton, Florida

Goals: Increase emergency fund and cut down on spending to get ready to buy a house this year.

This year Ian Picard wants to increase his emergency fund and buy a house. (Courtesy photo)

Ian Picard knows he’s something of an outlier. 

At 26, he keeps meticulous spreadsheets of where all his money is going, makes strict monthly budgets and loves setting financial goals.

This year, he’s focused on increasing his emergency fund from $8,000 to $10,000 (right around six months of expenses), maxing out his IRA, and trying to cut down on spending so he can afford to buy a house. That’s the big one. 

“My goal this year, because I’m hopefully going to be buying a house sometime in 2020, is to keep the spending at or below about $1,500 dollars [a month], to see if I can make a mortgage payment work,” Picard said. 

“I like the idea of hopefully saving a lot of money and living life more on my own terms … that sounds pretty wonderful.”

Right now, he’s usually able to keep his monthly spending, including rent, to right around $1,500. But if he’s going to buy a house, chances are the mortgage payment alone will be more than that. Which is why he’s now trying to get his other expenses — things like food and nights out with his friends — as low as possible. 

“Trying to build a mortgage payment into the limit I’ve set for myself is going to be a big change,” Picard said. “Right now my rent is just about $800 a month and I’m thinking, based on the area, the mortgage will be just around double that, maybe a little bit more. So that’s gonna be tough.”

The biggest place he thinks he can cut back is food. That, and “general social things like going out on the weekends,” he said. “I may buy, for instance, drinks at the supermarket and then pregame events, as opposed to going out and spending a lot of money with friends.”

Picard can’t think of a whole lot of other ways to cut back. He’s already made his budget pretty lean. 

But he’s into it. He finds it more satisfying than stressful to track his spending and watch his savings grow. Especially since he started reading about the principles of the FIRE movement — financial independence, retire early — online.

“I’ve been part of the subreddit on financial independence for a couple years now. I was introduced to it from a friend and it just kind of took root,” he said. “I like the idea of hopefully saving a lot of money and living life more on my own terms … that sounds pretty wonderful.”

Jodi Pritchard, 54, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jodi Pritchard (left) and her wife, Melissa Mazur (right), are aiming to save more this year, and also, finally, pay off the last of Mazur’s student loans. (Courtesy Jodi Pritchard)

Goals: Live within a budget, finish paying off student loans, increase savings.

Jodi Pritchard is not normally one for New Year’s resolutions, but when December rolled around and she was going through her budget and realized she and her wife, Melissa Mazur, had already spent a chunk of money they’d been planning to save, “something just broke in me,” she said.

“What would happen is every few months when we get a three-paycheck month, that extra paycheck would be used for playing catch-up, which is frustrating because we’d rather use that money for savings, in a more strategic way,” she said.

Money is something she and Mazur have been on the same page about from the beginning of their relationship, Pritchard said, so in December, when this bubbled up, they just sat down together to review where their money was going and brainstorm ways to cut back on spending. 

Where the money was going was “the extra Target run,” she said. “Going out to eat and just not thinking about how that added up. And then entertaining for friends. It’s like, OK, let’s get a few bottles of wine.”

They have no intention of cutting those things out entirely, but they are aiming to be more intentional about them, and to save more each month. They’ve already reworked their budget and set a specific new savings goal. They’re each responsible for half. So far, Pritchard said, they’re both staying on track. 

“We decided to prioritize paying off the student loan because, at our age, it’s just really annoying having that still be a factor in our budget.”

“I literally just have a little memo on my phone where I’m like, OK, this much went here, and there. Because then it’s always there and visible, and I wanted something easily accessed,” she said. “I think what my wife is going to do is get an extra debit card like you would do for your teenage kid, and just load it up with her portion of that money every month.”

They both care a lot about saving, though for somewhat different things. 

“It’s very interesting because I am very focused on having enough for retirement, and [the] long term,” Pritchard said, whereas Mazur wants to have a huge emergency fund, around a year’s worth of expenses.

They’re working on both of those things. 

And finally, after more than 20 years together, they’re aiming to pay off the very last of Mazur’s student loans this year.

“She added up what we owed, and we divided it by 12, and that is what we are going to be paying every month,” Pritchard said. “We decided to prioritize paying off the student loan because, at our age, it’s just really annoying having that still be a factor in our budget.”

Danita Park, 49, Houston, Texas

“At the end of the day, I don’t want to consume just to consume,” Danita Park said. (Courtesy photo)  

Goals: Get a good handle on credit card spending and reduce it by half. Make and stick to a budget.

Something about turning 50 this year made Danita Park start thinking more critically about how she’s spending her money.

That, and looking at how much she’d spent over the last year on her credit cards. Which is something she hadn’t been thinking much of at all, until recently. 

“Because I was paying it off every month, I wasn’t seeing fees and that kind of stuff,” she said. “It wasn’t really until I got to the end of the year when I was like, ‘Wow, I paid a lot.’”

And, she realized, she didn’t know where it had all gone. So, for the first time ever, she decided to make a financial New Year’s resolution. In the last three years, she realized, she’s more than doubled how much she’s spending on credit cards.

“Over time I have added more credit cards, and my spending has really ballooned. So I need to just figure out, first of all, why is it so much? And how do I spend less?” she said. “At the end of the year, when I was looking at how much I’d spent, I didn’t have a good sense as to where all that money had gone.”

“My spending has really ballooned. So I need to just figure out, first of all, why is it so much? And how do I spend less?”

It’s not that she can’t afford her current level of spending — she can. It just doesn’t feel good to her anymore.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want to consume just to consume,” she said. 

To that end, Park is aiming to cut her credit card spending in half and put what she saves toward her retirement accounts.

Step one was downloading all her credit card statements, and going through and categorizing her spending. Doing that, she learned that most of her money goes to travel, which she feels pretty good about, to beauty (“I live in Texas, so we spend money on nails and hair and things like that,”) and shoes and clothes (“a big one.”)

Step two was thinking about how much money, total, she wants to spend this year, and how to budget it out. “I’ve got that roughed in, and now I’m trying to execute that plan,” she said. 

Just a few weeks into the year, Park is feeling pretty confident that her goal of cutting her spending in half is attainable. 

“Although I have to tell you, all the January sales were very painful,” she said. “Because I was spending so much, and I didn’t really even think too much about when I was consuming things, I think it’s going to be a mindset change.”

Linda Jellison, 60, Vancouver, Washington

This year Linda Jellison wants to work toward “financial maturity.” (Courtesy photo)

Goals:  Put together and stick to a budget, be less impulsive with spending, start saving again for retirement, pay off credit cards every month.

This is the year that Linda Jellison plans to work toward something she feels she should have been working toward since she was in her 30s. She’s calling it “financial maturity.”

To her that means being less impulsive with her spending, putting together and following a budget, living within her means and starting to save again for retirement. 

“I’ve just kind of lived paycheck to paycheck for so long,” she said. “When you have good credit and you have credit cards, it’s like, ‘well, it’s no big deal if I run out of money, I’ll just charge it,’ like that’s free. But it’s not free. I don’t want to be in debt forever.”

In the last few years, she found her credit card debt growing, with unexpected car repairs, vet bills, trips to see her mom in California. She was also unemployed for a while, in 2016, and got to the point where she had to tap into her retirement account just to get by. 

For a long time, too, she was just putting things on credit, and not thinking too much of it until the bill came due. An approach she calls “pay now and worry later.”

“I think in the last few years I’d probably get stressed about once a month right before payday,” Jellison said. “It’s like, ‘oh, well, my checking account is overdrawn again, good thing I have that automatic transfer from my savings.’ But then look at my savings balance, and look at where it was last month. So, you know, I used to get stressed quite a bit about money.”

“It’s just making those decisions on a regular basis so that I don’t have to be stressed about money and I don’t have to be borrowing money from my savings because I didn’t make it to payday again.”

A big part of her motivation to finally get a handle on her spending this year is to eliminate that stress and anxiety over money.

“I have a tendency to be a little impulsive, and to just, if I’ve already spent my paycheck but I want to buy something for someone, put it on a credit card. And I want to try and pull back those tendencies,” she said. “So I’ve got to pay the bills first, and be responsible.”

And start thinking about and saving a lot more seriously for retirement. Which, at 60, still feels entirely out of reach. 

“What I want to be able to do is to start saving again, particularly to an IRA, because I haven’t been able to do that for many years,” she said. 

Her current company does have a 401k plan, but she hasn’t enrolled yet because, up until now, she’s needed all her income. 

“I think I’ll start with maybe a little percentage,” she said. “That’s the goal. To get to even 5%, to put that away, that would really be nice.”

It’s on the list. One of the specific, tangible things she wants to get done in 2020. Ultimately, if she’s actually going to make that happen, and make her other goals happen, she said, she needs to learn to live within her means. 

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