Let’s face facts: after the holiday season shopping is completed, most of us find that our bank accounts are a bit smaller than we hoped they would be.
With this reality check in mind, here are 10 steps everyone can use to start off the new year on a smarter note with their money, and hopefully stick with them throughout 2017:
- Stop getting "nickeled and dimed" by everyone. And don’t start doing it to everyone else. Why let stores, friends, family, etc., take advantage of you when it comes to money? Be fair about money matters and don’t get taken advantage of by anyone. Instead, use coupons, negotiate better deals or terms (especially when it comes to insurance) and ask firmly but nicely (mind your manners!) for the money you’re owed. Please stop drawing the short straw in these situations—you deserve better. (For related reading, see: Master the Art of Negotiation.)
- Put a budget in place AND stick to it. No sense in spending your money without a clue–let’s figure out how to better use this green stuff, eh? Nothing will help you do that better than really seeing what money goes out and what money comes in. No excuses either—there are plenty of cheap and easy to use software/apps/tools that can help you create and track your budget. After you do this, you can figure out where you need to improve and make progress.
- Put a financial plan in place AND stick to it. See above. Make sure your investments and tax situations are where they need to be with your goals in mind… whatever those goals may be.
- Eliminate terrible debt. The big-box store plastic is probably the biggest problem for most people. The only acceptable debts (as long as the interest rates are reasonable) are mortgages, car loans, home improvement loans, and college loans. Negotiate lower rates whenever possible – no need to pay more interest than you should.
- Get a sufficient emergency fund in place now. This way, you won’t resort to using plastic when you have one of those “uh-oh” moments. Ideally, save three months of income for starters. One year of income saved would be best. (For related reading, see: Building an Emergency Fund.)
- Improve your health. Yes, this affects your money. Less money spent on medications/prescriptions, fewer doctor’s visits (except your regular checkups), etc. Eating better (you can contact me about this too – I know a thing or two in this area) and regular exercise (try to start somewhere – even if it’s just taking a walk after lunch or dinner) are truly your financial “friends." If you make some healthy changes, you will spend less money on many types of insurance going forward and enjoy a better quality of life. Who doesn’t want that?
- Take care of the things you have. There's no sense in spending money frequently on big-ticket items. Make them last for a while. Maintenance is key, especially when it comes to vehicles, boats, your home, properties, etc.
- Be satisfied with what you have. Too many people play that silly game called “keeping up with the Joneses.” Having the latest big-screen TV in every room in your house is not wise if you don’t have enough saved for retirement or for little Suzie’s college education. Prioritize the things that really matter – delay instant gratification instead of having the “I need this yesterday” mentality that gets far too many people into financial trouble. (For related reading, see: Stop Keeping up With the Joneses—They're Broke.)
- Avoid doing dumb things. What I mean is that people sue people every day, so refrain from giving the sue-happy crowd any reason to come after you. There’s a reason there are a lot of lawyers in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And last (but not least)…
- Learn something new financially every day. Even if it seems like something trivial, the more you educate yourself about financial matters, the better financial decisions you’ll tend to make. Hire a qualified financial professional who educates you on a regular basis. This step (if you hire the right advisor) can easily help you with the previous nine steps.
Happy New Year everyone—let’s make 2017 a great year!