Turn your resolutions into game plans.

Saying that 2020 was an unexpected year for a lot of businesses is a bit of an understatement. Due to social distancing considerations, many businesses were upended overnight, and nearly every industry had to fundamentally rethink the ways in which they interacted with customers. 

Even if you're not making business decisions, it's hard not to feel the aftershocks of all this. Many Americans found their incomes disrupted at some point during the year, and consumer shifts in day-to-day habits came with big shifts in day-to-day spending. It's no surprise that these factors have a lot of Americans rethinking their finances. Even expenditures as small as your weekly coffee budget benefit from being mindful about finances. 

An online study cited 23% of respondents' New Year's resolution for 2021 as saving money or getting out of debt, and it's not hard to see why. We thought it would be helpful to compile some of the top expert strategies for managing your money so, 12 months from now, you can toast to all the awesome financial decisions that you made in 2021. Let's begin.

Be Mindful of Cash vs. Credit

We've all had months with shocking credit card bills. It's easy to rationalize a purchase as "only costing $3," but these purchases can add up fast. This can be especially true when you're shopping on credit, where it can feel like you "haven't spent the money yet." Although many credit card purchases might not feel like real expenses until you see the bill, every credit card swipe still counts towards your financial state from the moment you hit "accept."

To address this, many experts recommend using cash as your preferred method for making small day-to-day purchases. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, cash is significantly more tangible than digital transactions. It's a lot easier to conceptualize spending money if you're physically exchanging bills, instead of more abstract methods like swiping a card or hitting "accept" on an online shopping portal.

Additionally, using cash lets you budget out your recreational budget in advance. While walking around with a month's spending budget in your wallet probably isn't a good idea, withdrawing a month worth of food and entertainment budget in cash makes your transactions feel more tangible and your remaining money easier to budget.

Split Up Your Budgets

Not all expenditures are created equally. Spending $100 on a restaurant meal is very different than spending $100 on groceries, rent, or insurance. If your main form of recreational spending comes from a lot of small transactions, it can also be difficult to appreciate how much of the monthly budget you're actually spending. 

To this end, it's helpful to set up budgets in advance that account for the different areas where you'll be spending money. Many experts recommend separating your money into at least three categories: essential, recreational, and savings. It's a lot easier to understand a $20 meal as being 10% of your $200 recreational budget for the month than it is to think of it as x% of the total money you made. Splitting up your budget also allows you to better prioritize essential spending, such as car payments, rent, or childcare. Missing payments on essential expenditures can quickly end up costing you even more money, so it's in your best interest to budget around it. 

Approach Budgeting With Clear, Stated Goals

Saying "I want to save more money" is a good goal, but it can be a pretty nebulous one to commit to. What does saving money look like to you? Are you looking to spend less on your monthly grocery budget or are you saving to buy a car? Saving money is a universally smart budgeting move, but it's a lot easier when you understand both what you're saving for and how you plan to get there. 

The next time you're budgeting your finances, ask yourself what the explicit goal of saving money is. Next, do the math and figure out how much your current spending habits line up with that goal. The answer might surprise you, but being clear with yourself encourages more mindful spending habits in the future. 

Make It a Career

Granted, this particular bit of advice requires a lot more commitment than the others, and that means that it's naturally not going to be for everyone. However, if you're at a spot in life where you're figuring out what your next professional steps are, consider pursuing a degree in finance. Not only does having a competitive degree translate to higher expected wages, it also sets you up with the skills that you need to make sound financial decisions for the rest of your life.

Granted, the thought of pursuing a degree in finance can often call to mind all of the Hollywood eccentricities of accounting, but pursuing an education in finance opens up all sorts of doors. While you may not be a person who particularly enjoys crunching spreadsheets, businesses will always need people with a strong sense of financial literacy who can use that knowledge to make profitable decisions. 

Pursing a master's degree in finance may also be a lot easier than you think. Even top-ranked business schools like the Daniels College of Business in Denver can boast about allowing for a flexible schedule, courseload, and route to graduation. In fact, their MSAQF (Master's In Applied Quantitiative Finance) program typically only takes one year, and features a highly customizable schedule. For a program that boasts an average graduate salary of $78,000, that's not a lot of time to commit. 

What are some of your favorite habits for being mindful about finance? Sound off in the comments.