Financial resolutions may come close to exercise-based ones when people decide what to work on in the new year. That makes sense, because even people who are smart about their money sometimes do dumb things with it.
Improving your finances, however, is a lot like getting in shape. You're better off setting small, manageable goals and tracking your progress. You should also celebrate the small victories and work to get back on track when things go awry.
Our panel of Motley Fool writers spend their days doling out financial advice, but that does not mean we have perfected our own financial pictures. Each of us has something we want to get better at in 2019.
Get better at tracking expenses
Maurie Backman: Being self-employed means getting to deduct certain business expenses that are necessary in the course of your work. For me, these include things like travel to and from conferences, equipment I use to do my job, and office supplies.
Keeping track of things like my internet and phone service is easy because those are fixed costs that are paid automatically every month. But variable expenses, like mileage or travel costs, are trickier, which means that if I want to write them off, I need to track them thoroughly.
Unfortunately, I'm not always so great about saving smaller receipts that, when added up, could save me some money on my taxes. Granted, we're not talking about huge amounts, because clearly, a new $500 laptop isn't something I'm going to forget. But I might occasionally neglect to record a 20-mile trip in my car, or I might lose a receipt from a business lunch that cost $25.
Again, these expenses aren't huge, but they can add up, so going forward, I'm going to try to get better about snapping photos of receipts right away, archiving them properly, and recording them on the spreadsheet I already maintain. After all, why should I let the IRS get even a touch more of my money if I don't have to?
Be more realistic
Selena Maranjian: As I look forward to 2019, one of my financial resolutions is to save money by being more realistic. For example, if I'm not going to go to the gym regularly, I really don't need to be paying a significant sum to the gym every month. I can get sufficient exercise on my own at home, with an elliptical machine, or just walking in my neighborhood. A year's worth of $40 payments is almost $500 -- that's a hefty sum.
Similarly, do I really need to maintain my cable TV subscription when I watch so much on Netflix and Amazon.com's Prime Video? Probably not. If I can cut out $80 or more per month that way, I can save almost $1,000 per year.
There are lots of expenses like these that many of us could cut and not miss very much. Think about magazine subscriptions, for example, if you're not actually finding time to read them. Think about your habits, too -- are you frequently buying books when just checking them out of the library would save money and leave your house less cluttered? That's certainly the case for me.
Here's to a more realistic 2019!
Watch impulse spending
Daniel B. Kline: Digital shopping makes it easy to make purchases on a whim. This may explain how I ordered a $199 Oculus Go headset without thinking what I would actually use it for and why I bought a Nespresso coffee maker even though I almost always have my coffee outside the home.
I've also been known to order things on Woot (an Amazon property) or Groupon without considering whether I really need them. In general, it's not a lot of money, but sometimes I'm wasting cash and end up with gear, gadgets, and who knows what else that I barely use.
With one-click shopping, there have been occasions on which I've ordered something in the middle of the night and been surprised when it arrived. Call it sleep-buying -- except I was awake when I did it. This is why I own at least three knife sharpeners (none of which work that well, which is why I'm always tempted to order another).
I'm lucky enough that I can afford pretty much anything I want. My wife and I live below our means, and that means that buying an Xbox game I never play won't break the bank.
Still, it's wasteful, and that money could be invested or just left in the bank. I'm not going to stop buying things I may not need, but I am going to try to become a lot more discerning about what I buy. Sometimes that will mean waiting a day to make a purchase, and at others, I'll try to take a more rational approach to what I actually need.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Maurie Backman owns shares of Amazon. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.