Even if you’re lukewarm about New Year’s resolutions (Kondo-ing your house may seem so 2019), now is an opportune time to give some thought to what you would like to save for, pay off or invest in this year. After all, that trip to Rome won’t magically fund itself.
We may be biased, but our writers — who cover topics like student loans, credit cards, banking, debt, travel rewards and more — are pros at setting financial goals that are smart, personalized and, perhaps most importantly, attainable.
Need some inspiration? Read on to find out what nine Nerds plan to do with their money, the steps they’ll take to achieve their goals and the one piece of financial advice they have for 2020.
Erin El Issa, data studies and credit card writer
My money goal for 2020: Save up an emergency fund that covers three months of my family’s expenses.
Why this matters to me: I’m good at investing for retirement and paying down debt, but putting money in an emergency fund is a struggle for me. We had a baby last year, and for peace of mind, I want to have liquid cash available just in case so we don’t have to raid investments or use a credit card in case of an emergency.
How I plan to achieve it: I’m setting up automatic monthly transfers at the beginning of 2020 to reach my goal before 2021!
My top credit card tip for 2020: If you’re only paying the minimum on your credit card debt, double it. Even a little extra cash can shave months or years your payoff plan and save you big in interest charges.
Anna Helhoski, student loans writer
My money goal for 2020: Pay off my student debt. Finally.
Why this matters to me: I’ve been writing about student loans at NerdWallet for several years, but most people don’t know I have student loan debt, too. I graduated nearly a decade ago with a typical debt load and the highest interest rates ever on federal loans.
How I plan to achieve it: During my repayment journey, I consolidated my federal loans, took a six-month forbearance and switched to an income-driven plan to ease the burden. After all this time, the finish line is so close! I plan to make regular payments until my 2019 tax refund arrives to help me pay off the remaining balance.
My top student loans tip for 2020: If you have federal student loan debt and you’re having difficulty making payments, I recommend enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. It sets your monthly payments at a portion of your income and extends your repayment term. You can always make additional payments to pay off your debt sooner, but it can help ease the burden when you don’t have the income to meet the cost of your monthly bill. It’s an option that federal loan borrowers don’t use nearly enough.
Kimberly Palmer, credit cards writer and spokesperson
Why this matters to me: Since my husband and I had our third child in 2019, it’s really important to us to start planning for his future by saving for college because we know it will be expensive.
How I plan to achieve it: Even though having him has added to our expenses, we are going to try to cut back in other areas (ordering less takeout, going out to dinner less and trimming our cable package) so we can find a way to put money aside.
My top credit card tip for 2020: Using cash-back credit cards can be a great way to stretch a family budget. Make sure you’re earning 1.5% or even 2% back on every purchase.
Sam Kemmis, travel rewards expert
My money goal for 2020: Spend more points and miles than I earn.
Why this matters to me: It might sound counterintuitive to want to spend more, but points and miles depreciate so quickly that the worst thing you can do is hoard them. That’s exactly what happened to me in 2019, so I’m now sitting on a big pile of credit card points. (Of course, this is a fun problem to solve.)
How I plan to achieve it: I hope to do some bucket-list travel in 2020. I have a trip to Bali and Singapore planned in the spring and hope to use my credit card points to book hotel stays in both. I’ll be visiting Bali during the low season, so I’ll probably consider hotel programs like Marriott Bonvoy that feature off-peak award pricing.
My top travel rewards tip for 2020: Hyatt points are changing in March. They’re currently some of the most valuable points out there, so it might be worth using them earlier in the year.
Annie Millerbernd, personal loans writer
My money goal for 2020: Buy out my leased car and pay for about half of it out of pocket.
Why this matters to me: I first leased my car because I didn’t have enough money to buy a used car, which I would’ve preferred at the time. After doing some research (and talking with NerdWallet’s auto loans writer), it turns out buying the car at the end of its lease is a good financial choice.
How I plan to achieve it: I’ve shifted some of my budget around so I can save some from each paycheck to put toward the cost of the car. It feels kind of full circle to turn something I originally thought of as a bad choice into a good one.
My top personal loans tip for 2020: Competition among personal loan providers is increasing every year. Pre-qualifying for a personal loan doesn’t impact your credit score, so shop around at multiple lenders to get a low rate on a loan.
Chanelle Bessette, banking writer
My money goal for 2020: Save upward of $10,000 for home renovations.
Why this matters to me: I recently bought my condo and have a couple of big renovations planned, including new carpeting and a bathroom remodel. I’d like to have $10,000 saved up in advance. My condo was previously a rental and most of the fixtures and features weren’t built to last, so it feels really good to update the old, rundown parts of the unit.
How I plan to achieve it: I’ve set up automatic deposits into a separate savings account that I won’t withdraw from. I’m planning to cut back on some other big spending categories (like dining out) so that I can save more money toward that goal. Hopefully, I’ll be able to at least have my carpeting done by spring, with the bathroom remodel done in late 2020.
My top banking tip for 2020: Interest rates on banking products have been fluctuating a lot, so if you’re interested in opening a new account in 2020, keep in mind that the flashy promotional APY of a new account might not stay put throughout the year.
Sean Pyles, consumer credit and debt writer and host of NerdWallet’s SmartMoney podcast
My money goal for 2020: Save $10,000.
Why this matters to me: Saving is the bedrock of financial security, but it’s always been something I struggled with. In the past few months, I’ve finally gotten a good habit going, and I want to keep it going with an ambitious savings goal for 2020.
How I plan to achieve it: To help meet this resolution, I’m cutting spending in some areas, like going out to eat, and making automated monthly transfers to my high-yield savings account.
My top saving tip for 2020: Automate, automate, automate. The easier you can make good money habits for yourself, the more likely you are to actually do them. And automating things like savings transfers and credit card payments can take you far.
Sara Rathner, credit cards writer and spokesperson
Why this matters to me: I bought my first house in 2019. This next year is all about adjusting to the new costs compared with renting and allocating the money I saved toward furniture and repairs without blowing my budget.
How I plan to achieve it: My mortgage is considerably higher than what I paid in rent, so it changes how aggressively I can save toward other goals like retirement. I plan to still save as much as I can after each mortgage payment, but I definitely have less wiggle room now.
My top credit card tip for 2020: If you’re planning on applying for a mortgage or other loan in the next few months, hold off on applying for new credit cards. That’s because new credit inquiries temporarily lower your credit score, and lenders will have lots of questions about new credit cards during the loan application process.
Holden Lewis, mortgage writer and spokesperson
My money goal for 2020: I want to fix up two houses — the one I live in now, in Florida, and my mom’s unoccupied house in Texas (she’s in a nursing home). Then, sell the house in Florida and move into Mom’s house in Texas, mortgage-free.
Why this matters to me: It’s important to move out of Florida soon so I can sell the house before my beach town’s property values fall due to global heating. Plus, I want to live close to Mom, and I like Fort Worth more than Florida.
How I plan to achieve it: As far as paying for both houses’ repairs and renovations, we probably will pay out of savings. We’ll have a lot of cash to fix up Mom’s house after we’ve sold the house in Florida.
My top mortgage tip for 2020: If you plan to keep your home for at least another year or two, a home equity line of credit is a good way to finance renovations and repairs. HELOC rates are linked to the prime rate, and the Federal Reserve is expected to cut the prime rate once or twice in 2020. In short, a HELOC is a low-cost way of financing renovations and home repairs.