10 ways to get richer in 2017: Raise your credit, invest your cash and save more money
After getting into shape (lol), spending less and saving more tops the list of Americans' most popular New Year's resolutions, according to Nielsen's annual survey.
But with about 60% of New Year's resolutions being dropped by the six-month mark, it's safe to say most people don't stick with their commitment to self-improvement.
Want to be better than the crowd?
Financial advisers often recommend making specific, achievable resolutions about money. The narrower your aims, the more realistic that you'll meet them.
And people who do make a resolution are still 10 times more likely than less-ambitious counterparts to achieve some sort of self-improvement.
So by all means, resolve away.
Just remember you might see more success if your goals are focused: Rather than just planning to "save more," try pledging to "save 5% of every paycheck" — and then setting up an auto-deposit (more on that below) so the effort required is one and done.
To find you more specific tips, Mic combed through some of the best money advice we saw in 2016.
Here are some of our favorite nuggets of advice — that pack big financial payoffs — to carry you into the new year.
Side-hustle like a pro.
Did you know you can get paid to literally just fiddle with your phone?
Or that your Instagram account can become a cash generator?
Thanks to smartphones and increase in remote work, you don't even need a car or a spare room to get your piece of the side-hustle economy.
Sites like TaskRabbit make it pretty easy to find low-to-medium skill gigs, some of which can pay as high as $48 an hour, according to some reports.
Companies like Jobbler and Upwork are also building on the model, and branching into more complicated — and higher-paying — jobs as well.
Then again, maybe you're sick of the gig economy. In that case, check out Mic's guide to busting out of the freelancing trap.
Life-hack your way to a higher credit score.
Bad credit is not just embarrassing; it's costly. Improving your credit score can save you tens of thousands of dollars over time.
While the best score booster is obvious — regularly paying all your bills on time — there are a few other ways you can improve your credit score in the short term, which don't require the use of a time-machine.
For instance, you might be surprised to know that about 1 in 20 consumers have errors on their credit reports that are actually costing them money.
The Federal Trade Commission even has a handy template letter for you to dispute the charges.
Another nifty trick? Try to negotiate a slightly higher credit limit from your card company — and then keep spending the same amount, or less, each month.
Since your credit utilization makes up a full third of your score, increasing the denominator of the ratio (your expenses divided by your limit) will effectively improve your credit score and save you cash — gratis.
Embrace tax-efficient moves like a HSAs, FSAs, deductions and Roth IRAs.
Tax write-offs: Not just for powerful corporations.
While it's not super common for young people to itemize deductions, there are a lot of deductible expenses you don't need to be rich to take advantage of: for instance, the first $2,500 in student loan interest you paid over the last year.
It also might be time to get a little more serious about some of those confusing workplace perks, like flexible savings accounts and their rarer — but more sophisticated — cousin, health savings accounts.
The basic gist of both HSA and FSAs is essentially the same, you set up an arrangement with your employer to have part of your pre-tax paycheck deducted into a special account for medical expenses.
This reduces your taxable income and saves you money: The average FSA-user saves about a third on their medical costs over the course of a year.
You'd be surprised by what counts as an FSA medical expense: Sunscreen, Lasik, pregnancy tests and transport to the doctor's office all make the list.
If you're looking to save more for retirement, you should also consider complementing your 401(k) with a Roth IRA, a move that's generally seen as a hedge against higher taxes decades into the future when you finally cash out.
That's because Roth IRAs tax the dollars before they go into the account, meaning that when you finally pull the funds out they are tax-free.
Remember your age.
Self-awareness is the first step to building wealth.
For instance, if you're 24, you're young enough that there's likely little need to buy a big life insurance plan or set up a college fund for your non-existent kid.
But you're also too old for rookie errors, like 90-day late student loan payments: a common mistake that could hurt your credit.
Of course, that's easy to say — but hard to do if you're drowning in debt.
The best advice is not to bury your head in the sand: Look into the right ways to postpone your debt payments until you have more cash on hand. (Expert tip: Learn the difference between deferment and forbearance.)
And it's not just young millennials who fall behind; if you're 35 and still haven't started saving for retirement, it's time to make some changes.
One easy-to-remember rule of thumb is that you should have about one times your salary saved by age 30, and two times your annual income by 35.
Need a reality check? Plug your numbers into this terrifying calculator from CNNMoney which shows how much you need to be saving every year.
Then check out Mic's guide to the worst money mistakes at every millennial age.
Play hardball and negotiate — even with your scary landlord.
As hot real estate markets cool down — at least in super-expensive coastal cities — landlords are increasingly offering perks as a way to lure in tenants.
One study of New York City rentals found these kinds of "deal sweeteners" were up 20% over the last year. When you're eyeing a prospective new pad, be sure to check comparable listings to see if they're coming with something like a free-month's rent or a waived broker fee.
If you don't ask, you don't get.
Warm your way into even the stingiest landlord's heart by finding a way to save them some money: New carpeting is a real pain to install, for example, so you could let your landlord off the hook for that or other renovations.
Of course, if you're getting sick of parting with a rent check every month — and you're ready to stay put for at least a decade or so — then maybe it's time to consider buying a home.
Just make sure you don't end up with too much house.
Automate building wealth.
If your bank account is still an embarrassment despite your last raise, it's not entirely your fault: One study shows that people who live paycheck-to-paycheck are actually twice as likely to be middle-class than low-income.
The reason for this is lifestyle inflation: When we earn more, we tend to spend more, simple as that.
Far and away the most important thing to automate is your employer's 401(k) program, especially if you work for one of the 91% of companies which offer some sort of matching for retirement funds.
That's free money.
And consider supplementing your retirement savings with a personal savings app that'll do the work for you: Digit, Acorns or Rize are all good options.
Set up a low-cost investing account.
If the olds in your life are raising eyebrows at your plan to ride the green rush to financial success — aka invest in marijuana — put their minds at ease by getting yourself a brokerage account for grown ups.
Whereas it's traditionally been harder for non-tycoons to play the market, recent advances in financial technology have eliminated many overhead costs for stock investing, which has made it cheaper.
For example, as recently as 1992, it wasn't really possible to trade a stock without paying a 2.5% commission. Now, consumers have a number of options online which'll move your money around for as little as $5 or $10 a trade.
And some, like Robinhood, are totally free.
Investment vehicles like exchange traded funds even let you buy little baskets of stocks — as opposed to going whole hog on a single company — which means you can get a "diversified investment," for as little as around $200 a share.
Diversification is a smart way to hedge riskier bets as you build wealth.
Stop paying full-price for airfare.
Looking for a cheap winter getaway?
It's a great time to go abroad, given that the strong U.S. dollar means you'll get more foreign currency at the exchange. Just do your homework and focus on destinations — like these 10 international cities — where flight prices are at a discount right now relative to history.
There are also apps and tools that could help you choose the perfect time to fly and scan for pricing discrepancies, plus lots of expert best practices.
One fan favorite — and perhaps the most controversial — is the practice of "hidden city ticketing."
Popularized by Skiplagged, the process basically takes advantage of pricing quirks where flying to the place you want to go costs more than flying somewhere farther away. Sites like Skiplagged help you book such flights that have a connection in the city you're actually trying to go to.
It's risky and there's a lot of catches — airlines, unsurprisingly, are not a fan. But if you're fine with carrying your bags, there are potential savings to be had.
Just pack light.
While the $4 latte tastes better than your typical office swill, at a certain point, there's no justifying paying for things when there's a free alternative.
You already knew that. But did you know there's a way to effectively get stuff like lotto tickets for free — plus earn interest, even if you don't win?
If that sounds intriguing, check out Mic's handy guide to "prize-linked savings accounts" and other things you can get for free. Never pay for condoms, language classes or credit reports ever again.
Take a damn vacation already.
What's more, if you plan your vacation ahead of time, 94% of vacations lead to a positive return on investment thanks to improved energy levels and outlook upon your return, meaning that your company can benefit too.
Even freelancers can benefit from a healthier attitude about vacation — despite the obvious roadblocks: It's hard to take time off when you're a one-man or one-woman shop.
The key for all workers, full-time or not, is wringing more out of the hours you work by taking your productivity up a notch. That clears time for vacay.
If an overbearing (or hypocritical) boss is getting in the way of your much-earned time off, experts suggest creating a plan for how your workload will be handled before you put in the request. If you can already point to colleagues who will cover for you, then you're way more likely to get the A-OK.
While it's always good to hold out for a raise in 2017 — which you should 100% ask for, the right way (hint: bring the receipts and show concrete ways you've earned it) — your boss can always say no.
But by employing savings hacks and cost-cutting measures at the start of the year, you can set yourself up for a richer future, with or without the raise.
And there's always 2018.