It cannot be denied that consumer debt is still a significant problem in the U.S., especially when you consider the nation's high level of unemployment. It is not all bad news however. The rate of consumer debt in the U.S. stands at $11,400 billion for this year, which while being uncomfortably high remains considerably lower than the levels that were experienced in 2008 and 2009. Given the level of debt per household and the current cost of living in the U.S., the issue is manageable so long as people take a responsible attitude to managing their finances. So why not make a New Year's resolution to organize your finances and rid yourself of long-standing debts?
TUTORIAL: Credit And Debt Management
Create a Budget Based on Real Numbers and Information
If you are serious about organizing your finances in 2012, then you must start by creating a budget. This needs to include your incomings and outgoings, so that you can first understand the amount of disposable income that your salary produces each month. If you don't know how much you have to spend each month, then how can you make financially responsible purchasing decisions? Make sure that all of the information included in your budget is accurate. Do not shy away from detailing your incomings and outgoings in dollars and cents, so that every bill or expenditure is recorded as it is rather than being rounded up. If your budget is entirely accurate and based on facts then it has a greater chance of succeeding. (For related reading, see The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
Embrace Technology as the Budgeting Tool of the 21st Century
Having your budget in place is one thing. Maintaining it is quite another. Fortunately for us, technological advancements in mobile media applications have made budgeting easier and more accessible than ever, so that you can track every financial transaction as it happens. It is important that you utilize technology to aid your budgeting plans. Using even the most basic Excel package can provide a flexible and customized working budget, while iPhone apps such as MoneyBook and Mint allow you to track your financial activity as you spend. These apps are secure, easy to use and ensure the maximum performance of your budget, and also help to turn a New Year's resolution into a long-term commitment.
Do Not Rely Solely on Your Budgeting Expertise
With a budget in place, it is all too easy to become complacent about the state of your finances. Even while regulating your expenditures, it is always worthwhile attempting to save money through your everyday activities. For example, committing to making a shopping list and purchasing household goods online can save you considerable sums of money, most notably because you have more time to browse and are not tempted by strategically placed impulse items. Assess every area of your expenditures to see where you can make additional savings, and ask yourself this single question: am I getting the most value for my money? If not, then it is time to shop around. (To learn more about budgeting, read Budgeting When You're Broke.)
Focus on Income as Well as Expenditures
There is a clear emphasis on expenditures when it comes to managing finances. However, you would do well to pay just as much attention to your levels of income, and more specifically whether they can be boosted as you enter 2012. Once again, technology is a huge aid in this respect, with established resources and virtual communities that make it easier than ever before to earn additional money whether you have a marketable skill or otherwise. Consider websites such as Elance and Skills Pages as examples, where people with a flair for design or the written word can create a portfolio and work on an independent part time basis for employers. Even if you lack this type of marketable ability, electronic commerce websites such as eBay allow you to create a new revenue stream simply by selling your unwanted household goods.
Always Plan Ahead and Account for Big Ticket Items
Your budget is always vulnerable to large expenditures. Think of Christmas, birthdays and holidays and how they require significant investments in addition to your day to day expenditures. You must prepare for these in advance. For example, department stores and retail outlets are well known for their January and summer sales, so take advantage of these to purchase gifts and stocking fillers all year round. The New Year is an especially good time to purchase items such as Christmas cards and gift items, simply because brands are required to clear their inventories for the forthcoming range. This can not only save you money throughout an entire year, but also spread your expenditures across more manageable payments.
The Bottom Line
The New Year is a great time to start afresh with your finances, but you need to be prepared to persist with your budget plans until they take effect. As a consumer, you have online resources and mobile media applications that can help you to create and manage a budget effectively, but this is meaningless unless you take the time to seek out financial savings and maximize your income. (For related reading, see Top 8 Ways To Stick To Your Budget.)