Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for 2015? The majority of us tend to make the same resolutions, which are to lose weight, get a new job, quit smoking or get closure on some issue that’s been bothering us. Unfortunately less than a third of all Americans are making financial resolutions for 2015. If you’re one of the two-thirds that have not yet made any financial resolutions here are 10 that should be easier to keep than quitting smoking or losing weight and that could make your life much less stressful.
#1. Make a budget, er playbook
We understand that the idea of creating a budget is not very appetizing. But it’s not all that difficult. All you really need to do is sit down and go through your checkbook and your statements to find areas where you could reduce your spending. You might also want to order your free credit report from one of the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) or get all three simultaneously on the website www.annualcreditreport.com. That way you would be able to see if there are any accounts you should be paying off faster than others.
#2. Pay down your debts
While paying down debts certainly isn’t as much fun as, say, spending a night on the town it’s the best way to get your finances under control. Some experts advise you to pay down those accounts with the highest interest rate first as this will save you the most money. Others such as the financial guru Dave Ramsey suggest you pay off the debt with the lowest balance first. You should be able to do this fairly quickly so you would then have extra money available to begin paying off the debt with the second lowest balance and so on. This is called the snowball method because when you get one debt paid off you should gain momentum to pay off the next – like a snowball rolling downhill. Of course, regardless of which of these methods you choose be sure to continue making the minimum payments on your other debts.
#3. Create an emergency fund
Actually this is something you should do before you do anything else. Most financial experts say you should save the equivalent of three to six month’s salary but the more the better. The transmission falling out of your car or an unexpected trip to the emergency room could set you back thousands of dollars. And in this era of jobs insecurity, losing your job could be devastating. Be sure to sock the money you’re saving away someplace inconvenient like an online savings account so that you won’t be tempted to dip into it for a discretionary purchase.
Don’t do this until you have an emergency fund and few debts. But when you do the best way is through a 401(k) – assuming your employer offers one. This is especially true if your employer matches your contributions. This is like free money. You might also talk with your bank or credit union to see if it offers any financial planning services or can recommend higher-yield places to put away your savings. If so, you should set up an automatic monthly deduction from your paycheck to that new account. And try to contribute the highest amount allowable to your IRA or any other tax-advantaged savings plan.
#5. Create multiple income streams
We don’t mean by this that you should get involved in something like multilevel marketing. Assuming you have a regular job, you could parlay your hobby or your industry knowledge into freelance jobs or side gigs. You could also sell your unwanted stuff on eBay or your artsy or crafty creations on Etsy. Just make sure you don’t ignore your regular job while you’re pursuing these side ventures.
#6. Have “the talk”
One of the most uncomfortable conversations that couples can have is regarding finances. This can be more awkward than “the breakup talk” but everyone needs to know how things stand regarding spending, debts and savings. This is a financial resolution that’s especially important for engaged couples and newlyweds – to head off trouble in the future.
#7. Get your records in order
If you get your financial records for the year organized now you will be able to file your taxes early. There are great apps available such as Mint that can make keeping your finances organized drop-dead simple. Mint will track your spending and then organize it into logical categories such as food, clothing, entertainment, dining out, utilities and so forth. You could use Mint to create a budget based on those spending categories and if you overspend in any of them, Mint will send you an alert by email. It will even alert you if it finds a financial product better than one you’re currently using.
#8. Cut your spending
The idea of cutting your spending is a very popular resolution but one that’s too vague. If you haven’t done this already go back through your bank statements and checkbooks to see where you could realistically make cuts. Most people find the easiest categories to reduce spending are eating out, clothing and entertainment. You might also get an insurance audit as you could be overpaying on your auto or homeowner’s insurance. You might consider refinancing your mortgage. Interest rates are now basically at an all-time low so if you haven’t refinanced within the last 10 years the odds are that a refi could save you several hundreds of dollars a month. Depending on where you live you might also be able to get an energy audit, which could help bring down your utility bills. Here, courtesy of National Debt Relief are some more tips for cutting your spending and without sacrificing your life ..
#9. Invest in… you
One of the easiest and best resolutions to make is to invest in you in 2015. This could mean taking classes to get a better job or to merit a raise. One great thing about your education is that no one can take it away from you and it could even be tax-deductible. You might also want to sign up for an online class on stocks and bonds to become a better saver and investor.
#10. Make everything as easy as possible
One resolution that’s very easy to keep is to set up automatic withdrawals and automatic bill pay to help you achieve your financial goals. You could also buy and use a program such as Quicken to keep track of your finances. If your bank is typical you should be able to download all your checking and savings account information directly into Quicken so you wouldn’t even have to do much manually. Financial programs such as Mint and Quicken will not only make it much easier for you to manage your finances but will keep you continually on top of where you stand – in terms of the big picture.