Grand promises made at the start of the year can lose steam by February 1 (empty gyms, anyone?). If you’ve vowed to take control of your finances, experts say the trick is small, doable actions that change your thinking—and your behavior. We bring you six.

By Kathleen Murray Harris
Updated January 06, 2017
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Illustration: woman with piggybank dreams
Credit: Tomi Um
Illustration: woman with piggybank dreams
Credit: Tomi Um

To Help You Spend Less: Be Frank About Finances.

Money-related social situations (expensive meals out, chipping in on a pricey gift) are tricky, but when you’re forthcoming about your goal to spend less, you may be pleasantly surprised by how peers react, says Rachel Cruze, author of Love Your Life, Not Theirs. Remember, others are probably feeling the same pinch.

Create Customized Lists of Needs and Wants.

“Budgets often fail because they’re not personalized,” says Anna Newell Jones, author of The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living. Beyond groceries, housing, electricity, and transportation, there’s a lot of leeway. If frequent travel or elaborate family parties are key to your happiness, put those on your “needs” list. “Move something of equal scale and value—premium movie channels, landscaping services—to ”wants,“ and make cuts there,” says Newell Jones.

Ask for an Opinion.

“When you’re so close to your spending habits, it can seem like there’s nothing to cut,” says Lauren Greutman, author of The Recovering Spender. Inviting fresh eyes to peruse your budget may help ID non-essentials (new linens every year?) or a category in which you’re generally overspending (eating out?). Yes, money can be a taboo topic. So Greutman suggests finding a private Facebook group focused on budgeting (search “budget help”) or tapping a pal who shares your goal.

To Help You Save More: Gamify Your Savings Plan.

Greutman recommends two apps that will encourage you to build your nest egg: Acorns and Tip Yourself. Acorns rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the extra to an investment account. Tip Yourself lets you create personal challenges, large and small (such as paying off your car or saving $20 on coffee in a week). It adds up.

Find Money in the Couch Cushions.

Greutman believes there’s “at least $1,000 worth of stuff to sell in every home.” You can sell designer clothes and shoes on apps like Poshmark. But even broken gadgets and appliances can earn you dough. Surprising things sell well on eBay—water-damaged laptops, old appliances, even Starbucks mugs. Do some research on your memorabilia (and your junk!).

Get Help Investing.

If saving is going well and you’d like to venture into more complex territory, consider getting a financial adviser, says Cruze. “Find someone local you can sit down with in person,” she suggests. It’s best to get a recommendation from a trusted friend. “You want an adviser who’s patient enough to teach you what you don’t know,” adds Cruze. A couple of things to ask when assessing advisers: “Are you certified?” and “How will I have access to you for questions?” Be sure to educate yourself about fees. Many experts recommend working with advisers who charge flat fees as opposed to those who charge commissions.