The end of 2014 is soon approaching and if you’re like most Americans there are a bunch of things you wish you had done differently especially in the area of personal finance. But if you’re coming to the end of the year and you feel your finances have become a jumbled mess, don’t despair. There are some very simple things you could do for turning around your finances next year. That way, when New Year’s Eve 2015 rolls around you’ll be able to pat yourself on the back and say about your finances, “job well done.”
1. Understand that you’re unemotional about your money
Whether we like to admit it or not we’re all pretty emotional about our money. As an example of this, if your desire is to pay off your mortgage so that you can live debt-free this might feel really good but it also might not be your best decision. The reason for this is that even with the tax break a 4% mortgage is really more like a 3% return on your investment. But if you were to put that $100,000 into an index fund with an 8% return you’d be way ahead of the game. The important thing is to understand that you have irrational feelings about your money and work to overcome them.
2. Don’t think bank balances. Think net worth
There are apps such Mint and Personal Capital where you can track your net worth. If it’s going up, things are great. If it’s going down, not so much. But by doing this instead of just checking your bank balances it will keep you accountable.
3. Create an emergency fund
It’s always best to have six months savings to get you through a period of unemployment, as this is the amount of time required to find a new job on the average. For that matter, you could suffer a disastrous medical emergency or the transmission could fall out of your car. In any event, if you have an emergency fund it will stave off having to borrow more money and keep you from going into debt.
Don’t you just hate to haggle? Most of us do. But this is a big mistake. You should even try to negotiate all of your monthly bills and by this we mean all of them. There are states where you can choose which company generates your electricity, which could cut your bill dramatically. And, of course, be sure to haggle on your rent before you move in. If you can win a discount this will be multiplied across many months or years.
5. It isn’t savings until it’s in a savings account
Let’s say that you change to a new wireless plan and manage to cut your costs by $100 a month. Don’t think you’re really saving that money unless you put the $100 into a savings account every month. One good tip here is to open a separate account and then transfer the money each month. That way you can see your savings growing and growing.
6. Don’t be afraid to challenge everything
Sit yourself down on January first or second and go through your expenses line by line. Ask yourself in each case if you really need to spend the money on that item. For example, are you really using that gym membership? Or do you really need to spend $9.99 a month on Spotify. The important thing here is to challenge every one of your expenditures. Were willing to bet you will be able to find at least half a dozen that you could cut out and save money.
7. Sell your old stuff on Craigslist
The other side of the ledger to saving money is finding ways to earn extra cash. You should be able to earn that cash by selling all the junk you don’t use on Craigslist. We know of one person who sells just three items a month but has found that it definitely adds up. It’s also okay to sell stuff on eBay but with Craigslist you never have to worry about shipping the stuff.
This is a great and simple trick especially when buying a big-ticket item. There are coupons available that will save you money on just about everything. Thinking about buying a bigger screen TV? Then try Googling “52 inch HDTV and coupon.” You might be amazed at what turns up.
9. Buy secondhand
There is no shame in buying stuff secondhand and it’s a great way to save money. If you’d rather not be seen shopping at Goodwill try one of the more upscale secondhand stores such as Plato’s Closet or Twice. For that matter you will also find really good deals on all kinds of things on Craigslist and eBay.
10. Buy everything with your credit cards to earn cash back
Try to put all of your purchases on credit cards to earn cash back. One of the best is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. If you put $3000 on that card within 30 days you can redeem the cash for a $400 statement credit or $500 in travel. This means it’s basically $400 in free money just by putting $3000 on the card. You could easily meet the sign-up requirements to earn your bonuses by using the card to buy gas, groceries, regular purchases and even health insurance.
11. Or put those cards away
The financial guru Dave Ramsey advocates paying cash for everything. He recommends what’s called the envelopes strategy if you find you’re having a hard time keeping your spending in check. This is where you divide up your money every two weeks into envelopes representing your spending categories such as groceries, clothing, entertainment, dining out and so on. Then when one of those envelopes is empty that’s it. You can’t spend any more money in that category.
12. Determine your limits
There have to be areas where you could cut back on your spending. For example, how many times do you eat out a week? If the answer is more than four this is certainly an area where you could cut back. Another area where you should be able to trim your spending is on clothes. You don’t have to think about giving up everything. You just need to look at every one of your expenditures as a choice and not as a mandatory cost.
13. Google everything and we mean everything
If it’s something you’ll be spending money on be sure to Google it. We recently heard one story where a person saved $700 by searching for a part that she needed to replace on her car. You can find virtually everything online these days and there’s a very good chance that it will be cheaper than the “retail” price.
You undoubtedly know the old adage “never bite off more than you can chew.” When it comes to turning around your finances its easy to create huge goals. Anything that’s worth saving for probably requires a large amount of money. When February rolls around and the euphoria of that New Year’s Eve resolution begins to wear off it’s easy to lose steam and just quit saving for that goal. A better answer is to break your big goals into smaller more realistic ones. That way, you can feel good about reaching each of your benchmarks. But even if you don’t reach a benchmark on time, you can keep saving, as you will be able to see that you are actually making progress.