The New Year is almost upon us and that means it will soon be time to start making some resolutions. This year, consider making some financial resolutions to go along with your solemn promises to quit smoking, lose 75 pounds and stop torturing the family dog. (For more resolution ideas, read Financial New Year's Resolutions You Can Keep.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Here is a list of resolutions that can help you to get your finances in order.
Live Within Your Means
This is probably the simplest of all steps that you can take to get your financial life in order - and the hardest to actually perform. Start by reviewing your budget over the past year to see where your money actually went. (Be warned: this often leads to some disturbing and painful revelations, as it will reveal how much of your cash went into the register at the local liquor store or other proprietary establishment of your favorite vice.) After this, see where you can cut costs without sacrificing things that you need. Finding a new cable/internet or car insurance provider can often free up about a hundred dollars a month. Budgeting programs such as mint.com can help you do this and provide numerous other services and benefits as well, such as reminders of upcoming expenses.
Start a Retirement Plan
If you are not saving for retirement yet, now is the time to start. Your company retirement plan is a good place to begin saving, especially if your employer offers matching contributions. If you are already participating in your employer plan, consider increasing your contribution percentage or even making the maximum possible contribution, if you can afford it. If you make $40,000 a year, then a 15% contribution equals $6,000. If your employer will contribute 50 cents for every dollar you put in up to the first $3,000, then you have a total of $7,500 per year going into your plan. If you are 35 years old, then that would amount to $225,000 in contributions alone by the time you are 65. If you are already contributing the maximum amount to your company plan, then consider opening a Roth IRA and doing some investing on your own. (For more on retirement, see The Best Retirement Account For You.)
Create an Emergency Fund
Nothing disrupts a well-planned budget like large, unforeseen expenses such as major car repairs, medical bills and legal fees. Resolve to set aside $200 a month every month this year to put into a liquid savings or money market account so that you will be prepared for this type of expense when it comes up. You may need to get an additional part-time job to fund this, but allocating some time for this now may be a very wise investment for you when catastrophe comes calling.
Get Out of Debt
This is one of the greatest financial feats that you can accomplish in a given year. Resolve to take a second job for 12 months and get your car loans and credit cards paid off. Of course, this is a major sacrifice for the year, but the money you save will benefit you for years to come. Paying off your debt is equivalent to getting a major raise, in terms of cash flow. Working an extra 12 hours a week for one year, at $10 an hour, will net you an extra $5,000 for the year. Even if you don't pay off your debt entirely, you will save hundreds of dollars in interest charges over the life of your loans.
The Bottom Line
These are just some of the general financial resolutions that you can make for the coming year to help you get back into the black and stay there. (For more ideas about how to improve your finances, read 5 Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Financial Resolutions or consult your financial advisor .)