As we enter the New Year, many people take this time to reflect and make resolutions for things they want to change in their lives. A common resolution is to be more financially stable. Many times, this is easier said than done and people give up keeping track of their finances. Here are a few tips to keep in your toolbox to help you stick to the resolution for a financial transformation.
1. Don’t let holiday expenses start your New Year off in debt.
While the holiday season may be fun and magical, many people go overboard with gift giving, holiday meals, travel expenses, etc. These expenses (that are usually made on a whim or in a panic because “I just have to have something to give them, no matter what it is”) can lead to pretty significant debt. This year, take this time to create a plan for the holidays that will not leave your piggy bank all skin and bones. Take a hard look at what you spent over the past two months and set an amount of money that you are comfortable spending and plan how you can best spend that money to manage expenses and make the holidays even happier!
Another helpful strategy is to buy gifts throughout the year while they are on sale, allowing you to avoid paying the marked-up holiday prices. If you start planning what you want to get your family and friends you can pick up these items throughout the year. This not only saves you money but it will save you time so you’re not shopping at Wal-Mart every other day trying to find last minute items in December.
To prepare for next year, look into opening a First Keystone Christmas Club account where you can put money aside each week so that you’re better prepared for the holidays. For example, if your holiday budget is $500, putting $12.50 aside each week beginning in January will give you $500 by mid-October.
2. Let’s talk about the “B” word.
Remember the budget you were going to create and stick to back in 2010? Now is the time to revisit that budget. With technology advances available through online banking and mobile apps, it’s easy to categorize your expenses to see exactly where you are spending your money. Many credit card companies will even provide online pie charts so you can “see” the differences in your spending. Review both end of year charts from 2018 and 2019 to identify your consistent payments and establish a budget to cover the essential expenses. For example, if you have a car insurance payment due in October, start putting the money aside now so you don’t have to scrape the funds together when it finally comes due.
While we’re on this topic, now is a great time to find ways to cut frivolous spending. During your account reviews, look at the amounts spent on dining out, entertainment, and repetitive membership charges. Do you over-spend on a fancy coffee every morning or eat out for lunch every day? If you spend $5 every morning on coffee, that totals $1,825 for the year. If you buy a large canister of coffee at the grocery store, it usually costs about $8 and that may last for an entire week. A whole year of coffee totals just $416. That’s a huge savings that could be utilized in your budget. Are you paying multiple video/television subscription services each month as well as a cable bill? Do you actually watch enough programming to make it worthwhile? Check your credit card bills – do you constantly pay a late fee because you forget about the due date? Look into options for autopay or utilize online banking bill pay features.
3. Know how to handle life’s curveballs.
There are many things that can constitute a significant life change – marriage, a new job, moving, retirement, having a child, etc. If you are discussing a big life change for the new year it is important that you are prepared for these events and know what all is entailed. Make sure you are researching all the hidden costs and how to stay financially stable during these events. You can even seek out the assistance of financial advisors for recommendations and guidance.
4. Know your credit score.
If you want to buy a house, buy a car, apply for a credit card or a loan, you will need to be creditworthy. Get a handle on your debts now so you can take steps towards improving your credit score before you need it. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year. To see what’s listed on your report, get your free report at www.annualcreditreport.com. You may find things listed on your report that you didn’t realize were there or are easily cleared up.
This is also a great way to make sure you are not the victim of identity theft. Keeping a good handle on your credit report will help you significantly in the future.
5. Maintain a safety net.
You can plan for the upcoming year as much as you want, but we all know that even a well-thought out plan can change. Cars break down, medical situations arise, plumbing gives out; these are all unexpected events that can lead to large bills. If you don’t have a savings safety net these expenses can wreak havoc on you. Many professionals agree that you should have at least two to three months’ salary saved in an account just for emergencies. Of course, this arrangement is not always feasible when you are living paycheck to paycheck, but if you start saving now, even a couple bucks here or there can add up quickly.
6. Beware of interest rates and fees.
Anyone who has money saved started somewhere, so let this be your year. If you do find yourself in a true financial jam, make sure to do your research before accepting the first credit card or loan that is offered to you. Many credit products can have astronomical interest rates, so be sure to read the fine print. Many credit cards even offer a low interest rate for an introductory period which provides time to see how the card will fit into your budget. This is the point where your homework is crucial.
7. Use the same rules as with a diet.
Just like all the resolutions to lose weight, it’s easy to fall off the wagon. But the key is to getting back on track. Just because you went overbudget one month doesn’t mean you should throw the budget out. Get back on track and try to do better next month. Financial health doesn’t happen overnight. It can be a few months until you see the progress you are making. No matter what, don’t lose hope. Improving your financial health, even a little, is something to be proud of.
If you have questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact First Keystone Community Bank at 800-759-2266, extension 8508 to speak with a Customer Service Representative. We are always here to help!