The New Year is a time for resolutions, but seeing them through is something that many of us tend to find challenging. An estimated 20% of New Year's resolutions will have failed by the time December comes around, once more suggesting that as individuals we are too focused on the negative when it comes to upholding our promises. In the current economic climate, personal finance resolutions are especially widespread as we strive to tackle our debts and maintain prosperity despite the constant threat of a recession. With this in mind, you should look to set relevant and manageable goals for yourself as you enter 2012, and lay down a marker for a financially independent future. (For related reading, see Financial New Year's Resolutions You Can Keep.)
TUTORIAL: Credit And Debt Management
Get to Grips with Your Credit Rating
It was reported that consumer confidence in the U.S. rose suddenly this week, as enhanced spending sent stocks modestly higher than they had been previously. While this may be a portent for an improving economy, it could also be a consequence of families investing a little more of their hard earned money into organizing their Christmas festivities. If it is the latter, then there is a danger that families are spending beyond their means in order to fulfill their Christmas ideals, leaving them vulnerable to increased debt and financial liability in 2012.
Consumer debt is undoubtedly a significant issue in the U.S., and the truth is that many individuals remain in the dark when it comes to the exact details of their credit rating. Your first step in 2012 should be to get to grips with your existing debt levels. So, obtain a free credit report and assess every individual liability against your name. There may well be debts that you are entirely unaware of, not to mention those that may have already been settled and need to be removed from your records. Either way, understanding your financial standing is the key to improving it. (To learn more about your credit rating, read The Importance Of Your Credit Rating.)
Return to Basics: Make Cash Your Master, Not Plastic
Credit card debt accounts for up to 98% of the total U.S. revolving debt, and remains the scourge of consumers throughout the country. If you assess every household in the U.S. that is burdened by credit card debt, then the average liability stands at a staggering $15,799 for each, and this is undoubtedly something that consumers need to address during the forthcoming year. A good way to start would be to stick rigidly to cash or debit card payments for all purchases, ensuring that every expenditure is funded through an existing bank account.
This achieves far more than making sure that every financial transaction is supported by actual funds. It also limits the amount that consumers spend on purchases, as it is estimated that individuals may invest anywhere between 12 and 18% more when using credit cards than they would normally. Fast food chain McDonald's suggested something similar in 2010, when they reported that the average transaction soared from $4.50 to more than $7 when consumers wielded the plastic. Using real money always makes us think twice, and this a good habit to get into when cultivating best financial practice. (Read about how credit card interest is calculated, see Understanding Credit Card Interest.)
Make Saving as Big a Priority as You Possibly Can
Your mother probably always encouraged you to save your money. Whether you listened or not is another matter, but the truth is that having significant savings has never been more valuable to Americans. Look at the housing market for example, where negative equity is burdening more than 50% of mortgages throughout the country, meaning that repeat buyers in particular cannot sell their property for a high enough value to pay off a realtor and place a minimum 10% deposit on their next purchase. Having significant savings would negate this to some degree of course, and afford home-owners a greater choice in buying and selling their properties.
Now, this is easier said than done in an economy where growth is minimal and unemployment is high, but committing to saving sums of cash that are relative to your incomings is always good practice. Consider how many Americans over 60 must face delaying their retirement plans, or others who are struggling to cope with the overall cost of living in the country. Even a seemingly minimal level of savings could make a significant difference to your future, especially if you commit to the process early enough.
The Bottom Line
The three New Year's resolutions are certainly not easy to adhere to over time, but they could well prove to be the difference between a year of financial hardship and one of relative prosperity. January 1 of each year provides a wonderful opportunity to start afresh and adopt a new attitude to your financial practice. So, evaluate every area of your incomings and outgoings in order to ensure that you are not in the same position when 2013 comes into view. (To learn more about budgeting, read 3 Alternative Budgeting Styles: Which One Suits You?.)