The last-minute 2021 financial resolution completion guide

A lot of people made important financial resolutions at the beginning of 2021 — and nearly as many people are spending the last month of the year wondering which of those resolutions they can still complete. Is it possible to put extra money towards your emergency fund and still set aside cash for holiday spending? Do you need to consider a seasonal job or a side hustle? Are there any tax write-offs you can take advantage of? What about other overlooked ways of earning and saving cash?

We asked a team of experts at the beginning of the year to help us set our financial resolutions, and asked them to help us check our progress earlier this fall. Now, we’ve asked those same financial experts what people can do to make one more last-minute push towards achieving their 2021 financial goals.

It’s important to note that you might not be able to achieve all of your outstanding financial resolutions before the year ends — especially if you’re in the process of setting aside money for the holidays. “It’s very difficult to save for two competing goals,” explains Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks. That said, it is still possible to get at least one goal achieved before the end of the year, whether you’re hoping to build out your emergency fund, stick to a gift-giving budget or put an extra $1,000 in your savings account by December 31.

Here’s what you need to know.

In this article:

Prioritize your emergency fund

Some financial resolutions can wait until next year — but if you’re trying to prioritize a single financial goal to achieve by the end of 2021, focus on your emergency fund.

“It’s essential to keep building an emergency fund if you don’t yet have one that is sufficiently funded, including during the holiday,” says Grant Sabatier, co-founder of Bank Bonus and author of Financial Freedom. “You never know when an emergency can happen — and during the holidays, with increased travel, there are often more emergencies than other times of the year.”

Wang agrees. “If you haven’t funded an emergency fund at all, I think it’s better to start doing that rather than save for the holidays.” If you won’t be able to make it through the end of the year without setting some money aside for holiday spending, Wang suggests dividing any cash you earn between now and the end of 2021 between your emergency savings fund and your holiday budget.

When it comes to financial planning, you might wonder how much money you should have in your emergency fund. Many financial experts, including Sabatier, suggest setting aside six months’ worth of expenses. “Having six months of expenses saved in cash in a savings account is a fully-funded emergency fund and will help you sleep better at night,” Sabatier explains.

If you can’t get a six month emergency fund saved by the end of 2021, set aside as much as you can by the end of the year — and then recommit to your emergency fund goal in 2022. “It helps to put away equal amounts of money all year, and any bonuses you get, until you have enough saved,” Sabatier advises.

Set a holiday budget

Does saving for the future mean skimping out on the present — or, since the holidays are upon us, the presents? Not necessarily.

“It is possible to save for an emergency fund during the holidays if you’ve created a holiday budget,” says Steffa Mantilla, Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and founder of Money Tamer. “Since everyone’s finances are different, set a gift budget and stick to it. That way you’ll still have extra room in your budget to save money for your emergency fund without it all going to unexpected holiday expenses.”

Jerry Zeigler, Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC) and owner of JZ Financial Management, agrees. “With inflation and logistic issues, this is a good year to focus more on carefully considered gifting — with a budget.” What does Zeigler mean by carefully considered gifting? Exactly what you might imagine. “Quality versus quantity. Not quality as in expensive, but as in a gift choice that fits the recipient well. I call it careful gift giving.”

Sometimes the best gift you can give people is the gift of your time — especially at the end of a year when many of us have spent less time than ever with the people we care about most. “Friends and family would rather have the time with you than get another candle,” says Mantilla. You can also give your friends and family the gift of not having to buy you a present, which could turn out to be exactly what they were hoping for. At the end of the day, setting a firm but fair holiday budget will save you some seasonal credit card debt and bring you closer to your 2021 new year’s financial resolution.

Take advantage of seasonal employment

“If careful gift giving still won’t allow you to do the giving you want and meet your financial goals, then consider getting a seasonal or temporary job to cover the costs of holiday spending,” Zeigler advises. Taking advantage of seasonal employment is one way to earn a little extra money over the holidays — and complete that last-minute push towards your 2021 financial goals.

However, you should be aware that signing up for a seasonal job often comes with a few hidden costs. “Whether or not you should get a seasonal job comes down to a time/money calculation,” says Sabatier. “Yes, you should get a seasonal job if you want or need more money. But the holidays are often the only time we get to spend extra time with our families, and you can never get that time back.”

If you want to earn extra money while maintaining the kind of flexible schedule that allows you to maximize the time you spend with your loved ones, you might want to consider a side hustle instead of a seasonal job. While you can always create your own side hustle, Wang suggests using online apps to help you earn money quickly.

“FieldAgent is an app that has you do various tasks at stores for different retailers and brands, like checking prices and taking photos,” Wang explains. “SteadyApp is an app that will take your information and tell you about side gig opportunities that may offer bonuses — so you’ll get an extra bump in pay when you deliver for DoorDash. It crowdsources information to help you find better gigs.”

No matter what type of seasonal work you choose, make sure it fits into your long-term financial goals. If you’re hoping to save money on holiday gifts, for example, working retail could get you access to both a paycheck and a discount.  “Many stores hire seasonal workers for the holidays,” says Mantilla. “You may even get an employee discount so you can save money on gift shopping.”

Be careful about tax write-offs

While some people may look to tax write-offs as potential sources of income, be careful — because some tax deductions might cost you more than you realize. “Tax write-offs often require spending more money, so evaluate them carefully, especially at the end of the year,” explains Sabatier. “It doesn’t make sense to have to spend money in order to save.”

That said, there is one tax write-off you might want to write into your budget. “If you are inclined to make charitable money contributions, this year you are able to take a deduction for qualified contributions even if you don’t itemize,” says Zeigler. This deduction can be as high as $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples filing jointly — so keep track of your charitable contributions if you think they might qualify!

The charitable tax deduction is an above-the-line deduction, which means that it has the potential to lower your taxable income — and save you even more money. “For a $300 tax deduction,” explains Zeigler, “if your marginal tax rate is 15%, then you’ll save $45 in taxes.”

Look for unique ways to save money

Want to end 2021 with an extra $1,000 in savings? It’s possible — if you look for unique ways to save and earn money toward your financial resolution.

“One of the best ways to end 2021 with an extra $1,000 in savings is to look at all of your expenses and see where you can save $500,” says Sabatier, “and also look for ways to make extra money.” If you are traveling for the holidays, for example, you could rent out your home on Airbnb or VRBO. “By cutting back your expenses and working to make some extra money, you could end up with more than you expected in your savings account at the end of the year.”

Mantilla agrees. “The fastest way to save money is to assess your budget and make as many cuts as possible. If you’re busy during the holiday season, it may make sense to cancel your streaming service subscriptions until the new year. Then, try to work overtime hours at your job, freelance in the evenings, offer services to your neighbors, or pick up a holiday job as a way to earn extra money. Put the money straight into your emergency fund and you’ll have your goal met in no time.”

There might even be ways of earning extra cash that you haven’t thought of — such as signing up for bank and brokerage accounts. “I think the best way to pick up cash relatively quickly is to take advantage of the bonuses many banks and brokers are now offering for new accounts,” Wang explains. “The broker bonuses are the quickest, since you can often get free shares of stock almost immediately. Just sell the stock, keep a little aside for taxes, and then use the rest of the funds for the holidays.”

No matter what you do to earn and save extra money, know why you are doing it — and know whether it means you need to change the way you approach your finances in 2022. After all, it’ll be time to make new financial resolutions soon.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

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