It’s a new year, a time for a fresh slate and a new beginning. Lose ten pounds! Exercise more! Quit smoking! But January is also a great month to get your financial house in order. Everyone’s personal money situation is a bit different but below are a few tips to help you get started.
In our house, I handle the finances. From bill paying to retirement investing, I’m the go-to gal for money. My husband, bless his hard-working soul, doesn’t have much time or interest in the family finances but I keep him informed. So this past week, we sat down for our yearly financial recap. I came prepared with two glasses of wine and a sheet of paper listing all our assets (mutual funds and savings accounts), their balances and their 2012 performance. (To help us accurately analyze our portfolio, I use a great tool called Instant X-Ray available free on the Morningstar.com website.) These meetings are not only important for our financial health but they also help keep us on the same page financially, reinforce all the hard work we’ve both done to ensure our fiscal future, and highlight where we need to make some improvements (i.e. save more for our twins’ college). Once we see where we’ve been it’s much easier to pinpoint where we need to go.
Save for a Rainy Day
Financial experts recommend having a minimum of six months of living expenses saved in case of an unexpected job loss or other dire emergency. Yet more than half of all Americans don’t have enough money tucked away for a rainy day. The problem? Many people feel overwhelmed trying to save that much money and simply give up or don’t even try. The answer? Start with a smaller goal. It’s not how much you save that matters—any amount will do as long as you do it consistently week after week, month after month. The mere act of saving regularly is empowering and contagious. Start small (say $10 to $25 a week) but keep at it. Once you see your little nest egg starting to build, it will give you more confidence and resolve to save even more.
Cut the Fat From Your Budget
The beginning of the year is also a great time to take a hard look at your monthly expenses and see where you can cut out or at least cut back. A few months ago, for instance, we cancelled our online movie rental subscription. We simply weren’t using it. So instead of paying $7.99 a month, we opted to stream movies on an as-needed basis and saved a few bucks in the process. We also cut out our daily newspaper subscription and instead have it delivered only on the weekends (when we actually have time to read the paper) shaving off another $10 a month. Individually these savings may seem like a drop in the bucket but together they add up to more than $215 a year.
Take a close look at your own budget and see what you can find.
Start Attacking Your Debt
Now that you’re saving for a rainy day and have trimmed excess waste from your budget, it’s time to pay off credit card debt. Those high interest rates are eating away not only at your ability to save more but they’re also playing havoc with your mind causing many a sleepless night. But with a bit of determination (2013 will be the year!) you can pay the debt down.
Concentrate on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first by throwing as much money as you can at it each month while paying the minimum on all the others. Once that card is paid off, cut it up or put it away where you won’t be tempted to use it again, and then concentrate on the next credit card with the highest interest rate.
Need a bit of extra cash to help move your system along? Look for a small part-time job, hold a garage sale or sell your kids’ gently-used but outgrown toys and baby equipment on eBay, tutor students after school, or become a neighborhood pet sitter.
Put Your Billing Paying on Autopilot
And finally, if you’re still paying your bills by pulling out your checkbook and a roll of stamps each month, there is a better, faster and yes, cheaper way. Signing up with your bank to have your bills paid automatically from your savings or checking account is not only a huge time saver but you’ll also never have to worry about a late credit card payment—and the whopping $35 penalty—again. Plus, paying electronically will save you a tidy $64 a year in postage (assuming you pay twelve bills each month). It may not look like much but add it up with your other New Year’s budget cuts and now you’re looking at a dinner-night out complete with baby-sitter!
Christina Baglivi Tinglof is a blogger and the author of five books including Double Duty: The Parents’ Guide to Raising Twins and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples.