After a month of indulging on eggnog, holiday cookies, and other seasonal goodies, many Americans mark the New Year by making resolutions, often dealing with losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle. With the current economy, financial fitness is more likely to be your priority for 2009.
As with any exercise program, getting started and sticking to it are the hardest parts. The Illinois CPA Society recommends these nine resolutions to bolster your financial standing and keep it healthy.
- Slim down your spending
Keep track of the amount of money you spend and take time to think about why you spend the amounts that you spend. Do you spend more when stressed, tired or hungry? Learn to avoid situations which might lead to overspending, and always think twice before buying. It’s not just how much you make but how much you spend that most influences your finances.
- Be Honest
When estimating monthly expenses, consider typical monthly spending amounts. If you normally spend $300 on groceries, don’t write down “$200” in your grocery category. Write down “$300” and then aim for $200. Underestimating will get you in trouble.
- Stick to a budget
Maintaining a budget and careful tracking of your spending are the only effective ways to keep tabs on your cash flow. Once you see where your money is going, you can make better choices on how best to spend less and save more. Resist the urge to abandon your budget, especially in the face of negative comments from friends and family.
- Work off debt
Eliminating your debt can seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you've been shackled with it for sometime. However, like all tasks, it starts with an action plan and small steps. First, you should outline a very specific strategy for accomplishing this goal. It needs to consist of more than “I am going to spend less.” Second, consider using a credit counseling service or setting personal limits for your credit cards each month. Paying off your debt may end up taking more than a year or two, but having a clear action plan and asking yourself each day what you can do to reduce your dependence on credit cards will go a long way in making your 2009 finances more healthy.
- Flex your money knowledge
Financial planning is a major step towards achieving financial security. It can help you become better prepared for whatever life throws at you. Make yourself aware of basic issues such as your net worth, when your debts need to be paid off, your retirement goals, and your capital needs to buy house/car/appliances. Get smart about your money and teach your children how to use it and save it.
- Set Goals and Priorities
You will never hit the target if you don’t know what your goal is. Identify and prioritize your financial goals and when you would like to achieve them by. For instance, do you know when you want to buy a house and its cost, what it will cost you for your child’s education 20 years from now, or your retirement expenses 10 years from now?
- Exercise caution and emphasize safety
Focus on creating a financial safety net; save for emergencies. Generally, you should have an emergency fund to cover six-months worth of living expenses in the event you lose your job or suffer a serious illness.
- Keep your records in shape
Keeping financial records in order can save you time, money and trouble in the event of an emergency. Have photos and videos of everything you own and keep them in a safe place. Store permanent records such as birth certificates, property deeds, insurance policies, wills, power of attorney and other important documents in a safe, fireproof location. Make sure your spouse, family and executor know where these documents are stored. Copies of these documents and other financial records should be kept in a clearly marked filing system in your home.
- Get a Finance Coach
January is an ideal time to meet and develop a financial plan with your CPA advisor. Outline some short and long term goals together. More information to help you build a stronger financial future can be found at the Illinois CPA Society website, www.icpas.org.