Save and Invest

The biggest mistakes we made with our money this year—and how we're doing better in 2020


No one's finances are perfect. There's always room for improvement, whether it's something that requires sustained effort like saving more or getting debt under control, or something as simple as (finally) canceling that subscription that automatically renews each month.

With the start of a new year —and new decade — just weeks away, it's the perfect time to reflect on past mistakes and plan for a more fruitful future. Here's how the CNBC Make It Money team members are improving their finances in 2020.

Paying closer attention

The number-one place where I get frustrated about wasting money is with pricey subscriptions that automatically renew. Recently, an old Wordpress site I had from college to house my clips and portfolio was renewed, costing me an unexpected $400 for the domain and associated email account. Several times in the past year (or so), I received emails stating that the domain provider's policy was "changing," but I carelessly ignored them.

Disregarding those email notices ended up being a huge mistake since I definitely didn't pay $400 when I set this website up as a college student and so, clearly, the changing of terms had to do with price. In 2020, I'll be paying closer attention when I'm sent emails regarding any "changing of terms" to my online accounts and will make sure I'm not holding onto subscriptions I no longer want or use. Anna Hecht, money reporter

Maximizing investments

My husband and I are great savers, but we've always struggled to smartly invest everything we've saved. I'm embarrassed to admit we even have some money sitting in a CD. My goal this year was to move a big chunk of our savings from a high-yield savings account to a brokerage account. (We already have one that we contribute to regularly, but I wanted to open a second so our money is diversified.)

The problem is I get completely overwhelmed every time I try to open an account. For as much as I write about and edit the topic, I still feel stuck when it comes to this area of my finances. So this financial project is moving to my 2020 to-do list. Hopefully, I actually can accomplish it next year. Lindsey Stanberry, deputy managing editor

Planning ahead

My biggest problem area this year was not adhering to the budget I made. I created an extensive budget with all my fixed and unfixed expenses for me and my partner, but when it came to holiday shopping and sales, we went over budget. Next year I want to have a separate fund for holiday shopping and stick to that. Allie White, money reporter, credit cards

Using benefits wisely

I forgot to set up an FSA account this year. The weeks around open enrollment were a bit chaotic last year and somehow, the FSA sign-up slipped through the cracks. That meant that I didn't have any health savings to fall back on this year for prescriptions and co-pays, not to mention my annual eye exam and contacts purchase., 

It was a bigger problem than usual this year since I injured my knee and could've put that extra savings toward doctor's bills and physical therapy costs. It's a lesson well-learned — double check your open enrollment documents carefully and take advantage of these tax-free savings. Megan Leonhardt, senior money writer

Saying 'no' more often

My big project this year has been tracking my spending to cut back where I need to and generally being more mindful of where my money is going. Doing this — and participating in activities like a No Spend month — has made me reevaluate the utility and value I get out of things I used to do or buy out of habit: lunches and dinners out, picking up "inexpensive" books that start to add up, going out every weekend out of obligation and on and on.

In trying to be intentional in different areas of my life, learning to say no to other people and to myself more often has been a boon not only to my mental health but to my finances as well. I'm hoping to carry that into 2020. Opt out! Alicia Adamczyk, money reporter

Being proactive

I have two credit cards: One I use for almost everything and one that pays for my gym membership and basically nothing else. Over the past year, there were a couple of months where I forgot to pay the balance on the second one and ended up not only owing interest, but getting hit with a $35 late fee. That's a HUGE percentage of a bill that's less than $100! But instead of calling the credit card company and asking for grace because I rarely miss payments, I told myself it was my punishment for being irresponsible. It was such a dumb way to lose money!

I'm planning to do two things next year: 1. Set reminders to pay the bill every month and actually do it instead of pushing them off for "later." 2. Call my credit issuer and try to negotiate the fees if I miss one. Doesn't hurt to ask! Emmie Martin, associate money editor

How are you preparing for 2020? Email money reporter Alicia Adamczyk about your goals and tips for the new year at

Don't miss: Why you should participate in a No Spend month this year

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Don't cut back too much on spending or you'll be 'miserable,' says Ramit Sethi
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