Here’s a little self-care gift that costs nothing and has a big payoff: Time spent making sure you’re saving in the smartest ways, for retirement or other long-term goals.

While finding extra money to save is tough for many people now, with holiday expenses heaped onto higher living costs, there are many ways to set the stage for a stronger financial future.

Here’s a checklist of money moves to consider in 2024.

Get the Match
You’ve heard it before but it’s worth saying again: If you’re in a company 401(k) plan and it offers a match on your contributions, try to contribute enough to get the full match. It is literally free money.

Many companies match contributions to a degree. The most common matching formula for plans at Fidelity Investments is dollar for dollar up to 3% of pre-tax salary, then 50% of each dollar up to another 2% of salary.

That formula leaves an employee with a 4% match on top of their 5% contribution — a 9% savings rate. That’s below the 15% Fidelity recommends as a goal, but it’s a great start.

“Keep in mind that the match is not the max,” suggests financial planner Ryan Frailich of Deliberate Finances. “Too often people get the match and stop there.”

Build Emergency Savings
At the same time, building up emergency savings can help you keep gains in retirement accounts compounding tax-free over the long haul.

“It’s important to have that as a resource, because if unforeseen circumstances happen you don’t want to have to pull money out of retirement savings,” said Mindy Yu, director of investing at Betterment.

“You want your money to have that time in the market and to avoid unnecessary penalties for pulling money out” before it’s allowed, said Yu. In most cases, on top of paying income tax on that money you’ll pay a 10% penalty for withdrawing it before age 59 ½.

If you have a Roth account — more on those a little later — you can withdraw the money you put in without penalty before 59 ½. But any earnings on that money must stay in the account until you’ve held it for five years and are 59 ½ to avoid possible taxes and a penalty. There are a few exceptions, including for buying a first home and college costs.

Engage Autopilot
Set up regular automatic deductions from checking into savings or investment accounts, even if it’s a small amount.

Part of the idea here is that sometimes what you don’t see in your checking account you don’t miss — and you can always lower the amount if it’s making finances too tight.

In addition, you can turn on your 401(k)’s auto-escalation feature. If you were auto-enrolled into a plan, your company may have already turned on that feature, which raises the percentage of salary you put into the plan by 1% a year. But you may need to log onto your plan’s site and elect to do that yourself.

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