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The new year is the perfect time to tackle those nagging personal finance to do's so you can master your money, get organized, and position yourself for a successful 2014!
Do you get that awful sinking feeling around the New Year because you know that tax day is coming and your paperwork is unorganized? Or that another year has passed and you've not made as much or progress toward your financial goals as you planned on last New Year? Are papers piled up on your desk or counter that need to be sorted, organized, shredded and filed? Are you scared to look at your credit card statement after all your holiday shopping?
Take that funky financial feeling and flip it around by following our Money Resolution Checklist and get your money under control this year.
1. Get organized: Gather all the bills, bank statements, receipts, insurances EOB's, and anything else money-related into a pile on the dining room table. Grab a cup of coffee and start sorting them into piles. As you come across tax related receipts and information set them aside in a separate pile for your income taxes.
Tax Information to Set Aside:W-2s and 1099s, interest and dividend statements, social security statements, unemployment statements, pension statements, mortgage interest statements, real estate tax receipts, child care expenses, student loan interest, college expenses, medical and dental expenses, home business tax information, etc.
2. Create a Budget: Figure out how much money you make and how much you spend. I like to go through my bills for the last 12 months and list them in a spreadsheet how much each bill was for Jan, Feb, Mar, etc. That way I can go off of last year's numbers when I'm budgeting for this year. Grab a few months of bank statements and add up what you spent on food, gas, shopping, personal care etc. Don't overcomplicate it and keep your categories simple. You can drill down to how much you spend on gas for each car you have, but I'm not that fussy. For example: I just list auto with sub categories of car payment, auto repairs, gas, and license.
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3. Stop Paying for Things You Don't Need and Don't Use! Every time I go through and review my spending I come across things I've purchased that I could have done without, and services I'm paying for with a recurring payment that I'm no longer using! Make a list of those things and lower your monthly budget. For example we just cancelled cable and our home phone after getting a Roku and Ooma, saving us $84 per month!
4. Automate Your Payments Simplify your life and save time by setting up automatic payments through your bank. It will help you avoid having to remember to pay a bill, help you avoid late fees when life gets hectic and you miss a deadline. It will also help you plan which bills get paid out of which paycheck so you can manage your cash flow more easily.
5. Go Paperless Eliminate the overwhelming paper clutter by using an app/website like Manilla to keep all your bills and documents. One login will let you manage all your bills, statements, credit cards, and rewards cards at once. Get reminders when a bill is coming due, log into each site directly through Manilla to pay your bills (if you're not doing the automatic payment route). You can even collaborate with your spouse or roommate to manage your accounts and bills!
6. Pay Down Debt! Make this January be the month with the highest level of debt you'll have ever again. Take some of this saved money and snowball or avalanche your debt! The Snowball method involves paying down the smallest balance first and rolling that payment into the next smallest balance until your debt is paid off. The avalanche method requires you to sort your debts in order of interest rate and pay off the highest interest rate first. It will save you the most money in the long run, but some people find the snowball method more rewarding because you're eliminating creditors more quickly by getting rid of the small ones first.
7. Credit Checkup You'll have some fun while paying down your debt seeing your credit score go up. It was recommended to me by a friend to get a CreditKarma account when I started working towards paying down our debt. Like Manilla and Mint, Credit Karma is a free, but super helpful tool to monitor your credit score, get alerts to changes in your credit history, and learn tips on how to improve your credit!
8. Save Your Money: IRA, 401K, Emergency Savings, Christmas...Evaluate how you've done this past year with your savings. Is it good, great, or not-so-much?
Automating your savings will make sure your money doesn't leak out of your bank account. If you are like me, you have the best of intentions to save, but you end up at the end of the month with no money left. My dad always told me to pay myself first, and I never really got it until I started to have part of my paycheck automatically sent to a savings account. I never saw the money, it just went in every month and I was amazed how quickly it added up.
Planning ahead with an emergency fund, retirement savings, and even a gift account for birthdays and holidays can make or break your financial life! Don't skimp on this. It will bring you more peace of mind and security than anything else, knowing you've got a cushion to fall back on in case you lose a job, the car needs an expensive repair, or medical issues arise!
9. Evaluate Your Insurance Coverage Homeowners insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, long term care, and accident coverage are not fun to think about, but protecting your assets is very important. Dave Ramsey says to insure the things you cannot afford to replace. Make sure you're set up in these areas so that a catastrophe won't lead you to the poor house!
10. Have fun! Why do we work so hard? We do what we have to do, to do what we want to. No one wants to look back at the end of 2014 having worked their tail off, reached some goals, and been miserable throughout the process. 2014 is another year of your life and you deserve to live it up! Set your financial goals, but give yourself some freedom, whether it's a monthly allowance for spending money, or a saving for a total splurge vacation! I've known enough people who save, save, save, and end up missing out on the joys of spending a little now and then! Don't be one of them!
Related Money Resources
What are the top nagging money to-do's on your list this year?
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