With every new year we set resolutions. Losing the weight of debt on your shoulders, trimming the fat from the budget and toning up assets should rank at the top of lists for 2009.
Let’s face it – 2008 was a real financial stinker. 401k’s lost value, home values fell, credit card debt skyrocketed, unemployment, salary cuts… drink a dixie cup of cheap champagne and say good riddance to 2008. 2009 is the year to get your personal financial house back in order.
Here are some resolutions for thought:
Cutback on Credit Card Usage
Tuck the plastic away and pay cash. Yes, cash. It’s that paper and coin stuff in your wallet or purse. Become friend again with George, Abe and Andrew. If you aren’t a cash-carrying fan, use your bank debit card. You’ll be less likely to spend the extra $5-$50 if you know it’s coming directly out of your bank account.
Make a Budget
Strange as it may seems, many people don’t know where their money goes each month. If this happens to be you… it’s as easy as a notebook and a pen. Write down what you spend every day for a month. Track every penny from the electric bill to tipping the parking attendant. Once you know where you spend, you can start making adjustments. Be realistic and be ready to cut things – even if it’s for a month – to see if you really miss it.
Make a Commitment to Know and Improve Your Credit Score
If you don’t know what your credit score is, you need to. It’s like knowing your weight. If you don’t know what the number is and set a goal, how will you know when you get there? Find your credit score using sites such as MyFico which is free an provides you with a full credit report. Improving your credit score by paying bills on time and lowering debt will save you money in the long-run by being rewarded with lower interest rates. Tip: Mark your calendar to order a credit report every six months to track your progress.
Pay More Than the Minimum
Yep. If you are only making the minimum payment on accounts, not only are you paying more in interest but you aren’t taking the opportunity to improve your credit score. Try and pay and extra $10-$15 on credit cards and if you are extremely disciplined, try and pay an extra 5-10% on your mortgage payment (if not each month, every few months). Over time these extra few dollars can save you hundreds if not thousands in interest.
Create a Snowball Debt Payment Plan
If you don’t know what a snowball debt payment plan is, read past entries to get started. It’s quite simple to do and will provide motivation and a great deal of satisfaction in addition to saving you – - – - money! More for you, less for the credit card company.
Create “Found Money” Situations
Maybe it’s participating in a few focus groups over the year or cleaning out the garage and selling items on Craigslist or eBay. Maybe it’s finding a job on the weekend or a freelance opportunity. Make 2009 the time to earn some extra income to apply to your snowball debt plan.
Contribute the Maximum to Retirement Plans
The stock market is in the tank but we know it will come back so why not be buying when stocks are on sale? Invest in yourself and put the maximum you can towards retirement. If your company has a 401(k) contribution match – take advantage of the free money. Don’t forget to contribute to your IRA too!
Start an Automatic Savings Plan
Even if it’s $25 a paycheck, put it aside in an ING savings account. Having it set aside for emergencies will provide a great deal of comfort.
Get Smart About Your Personal Finances
Don’t assume you know everything or stick your head in the sand trying to hide from it. Face your fear in the comfort of your own chair or in the library. Read a few self-help personal finance books. You will learn a few tips along the way and stay disciplined. I’ve listed a few books below to help get you started.
Bonus Round Resolutions
I haven’t made it this far but someday I will!!! The two most wonderful resolutions one could possible do is to save 10% of each and every paycheck and to make an extra mortgage payment each year. This is a long-term goal of mine and not one that I’ll be able to achieve in 2009… but there’s always 2010.