A Smart Resolution: Whip Your Finances into Shape
Let Your Budget Be Your Guide
The first step to getting a handle on your finances is to put together a budget.
- Find out where your money goes. Write down how much money you make each month, then list your essential expenses like mortgage or rent, food, insurance, childcare, utilities, transportation and gas, and loan and credit card payments. You can find free budget planners online or check out a book on basic budgeting from your local library.
- Make saving part of the plan. Set aside a bit of money from each paycheck in a savings account. It's even easier to save if you have the money deducted from your paycheck and automatically deposited. If you get a bonus, tax refund, or other windfall, add part of that to your account to help build an emergency fund or save for something costly like a new computer, wedding, or special vacation.
- Do a budget check-up. Several times during the year, check to see if your expenses and income match your budget. If not, make adjustments so you're not spending more than you have.
Make a Plan to Get Out of Debt
If you find yourself faced with mounting credit card debt, now is a good time to build a plan that will help you pay down your debt.
- Prioritize your debts and start by paying down the highest interest rate balances first.
- Whenever possible, pay more than the minimum due. It can also be helpful to make more frequent payments, for example paying every other week rather than just on the due date.
- Pay cash or use a debit card to keep your credit card debt from growing even bigger.
Make Tax Time Less Taxing
Starting the first of the year, you'll notice your mailbox filling up with important tax forms. Don't wait until April 14th! Get organized now. If you're due a refund, the sooner you file, the sooner you get your money back.
- What forms should you receive? You should get a W-2 form from each of your employers and a 1099-Misc form for other income like commissions, rent, and freelance work. You should also receive 1099 forms from your bank and any firm that handles your investments. If you have a mortgage, your lender will send you a form that lists the interest and property taxes (if they're included in your mortgage payment) you paid last year.
- Get it all together. Put all your documents in a box or folder and include a copy of last year's tax returns for reference. That way you?ll have everything you need in one place.
- Sort your documents to make tax filing easier. Put W-2 and 1009-Misc forms in an "Income" folder. 1099-INT forms and year-end bank and investment statements should go in an "Interest" folder. Mortgage statements and receipts for cars, home improvements, home office expenses, medical bills, and other large purchases can be filed in an "Expenses" folder. Receipts for charitable donations can be gathered in a "Deductions" folder.
Remember to plan ahead and come January, you may be able avoid debt that could take months to pay off.
This article is for informational purposes only. For personalized financial advice, you should contact a qualified financial advisor.