The Tipping List
Financial Resolutions You Can Make Anytime
You don’t have to limit yourself to January 1!
-Ethan Ewing, Bills.com
At this time last year, the stock market was near its record high, unemployment was near record lows, and the bursting housing bubble was the main financial concern facing us. Today, with the country in a very different situation, the New Year is a wonderful time for new resolve.
Consider this a guide to outlining your financial goals for 2009, and take steps toward reaching them.
1. Create a spending plan. Create a straightforward budget for the year, and monitor it monthly – or weekly (making sure to include your spouse or partner if applicable). Each month, review your progress and revise as needed.
2. Live with cash. Move away from credit cards, especially for daily, routine and ongoing purchases. Write checks or use automatic bill payments for bills, and withdraw enough cash or use a debit card for other expenses. Track withdrawals diligently to avoid going into overdraft.
3. Pay bills on time. On-time payments are the most important element of good credit. Keep bills in one location and check that spot weekly. Set up online payments or write due dates on a calendar to stay on track.
4. Save. Aspire to save 10 percent or more of your income, but even if you can manage only a few dollars a week, get in the habit and start, and then add to your savings whenever you can. After you pay off a bill, add the amount you would normally pay toward the bill to your savings instead. If you get a raise, bonus, cash gift or other one-time monetary receipt, save it – or at least a portion of it.
5. Care for your health. Money cannot buy good health, but poor health can cost a bundle. Exercise and eat well, get enough sleep and, in these stressful times, take time to pursue relaxation practices, whether that means spiritual practices, meditation, a workout or coffee with a friend.
6. Do more with less. Take care of household maintenance, barter services or goods with friends or neighbors, and fix up old belongings rather than rushing to buy new ones. Some statistics say that people buy 30 percent more when shopping with a larger cart – so even a small change like avoiding the store cart when possible could make your life simpler and your budget happier.
7. Participate in a retirement plan. Many believe now is a great time to invest for the long term. Especially if your employer matches contributions, contribute to your retirement plan. If you are on your own for retirement savings, invest in an Individual IRA, a Roth IRA or a plan for the self-employed.
8. Obtain adequate insurance. Insurance protects against expenses you cannot cover yourself. Be sure you have life insurance to protect your family, auto insurance to cover your car, health insurance to provide for at least major medical incidents, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to protect possessions from theft or disaster.
9. Pay taxes on time. File your income tax return on or before April 15, with any tax due, to avoid penalties. At the same time, adjust withholding if needed to account for changes in income. That step might be especially important this year for those with lost or reduced work. If your refund was large, have less tax withheld this year so you are not giving an interest-free loan to the government.
10. Get help if you need it. If you lose your job, file for unemployment quickly. Many states have payment delays that mean filers wait weeks for a check. If you are worried that you will be unable to pay rent, mortgage or other obligations, talk to your bank or a reputable debt-resolution company to learn about your options.
Many of us feel helpless about the economy at the moment. But by making these resolutions, we can take charge of our financial futures.