(Editor’s note: This article is published from The Council of Better Business Bureaus. Although it is written for consumers and individuals, it is also applicable to business. Better Business Bureau serving Central California and Inland Empire Counties contributed to this article.)
According to Principal Financial, 80 percent of Americans are making money-related resolutions that can end up changing their lives for the better.
Save more each month (40 percent), pay off credit card debt (32 percent), reduce spending (31 percent), save more for retirement (27 percent) and building an emergency fund (21 percent) round out the top five financial New Year’s resolutions for 2018.
When it comes to generations, 18 percent of millennial employees — higher than any other generation — are intending to pay off their student loan debt as a New Year’s resolution.
Of the top financial blunders of 2017, not saving enough (17 percent), accumulated credit card debt (11 percent) and taking on more debt (10 percent) rounded out the top three.
If you are looking to create a budget or get out of debt in the new year, BBB has tips and tools to help you get on the right track to a better financial future:
•Calculate your income. You can’t properly set a financial resolution unless you know what you’re working with. Calculate your monthly net income, which is after taxes, so you can set a clear budget with exactly what you are bringing home.
•Track your spending. Whether you prefer an app on your phone, computer software, or simply a notebook to jot down your expenses, keeping track is critical. It helps you see where you are actually spending your money, rather than where you think you are.
•Categorize your spending. Create categories based on necessities (housing, utilities, food, transportation) and luxuries (entertainment, dining out, travel). If you have credit card balances, student loans, car payments or other debt, make “debt reduction” one of your necessary categories.
•Set up a budget. Once you have an idea where you are spending money, you can set up a realistic budget. There are free online tools to help you, so there is no need to spend a lot of money. Be cautious of scams, however, and never share personal identifying information (PII) unless you are sure of the site’s legitimacy.
•Pay down debt. One method is to pay off the credit account or loan with the highest interest rate first (the “ladder method”). Another is to pay off the smallest balance first so you feel a greater sense of accomplishment (the “snowball method”). Use whichever methods works best for you. The important thing is that you are doing it. Also, call your credit card company and ask if they will lower your interest rate. Some lenders will agree just to keep you from transferring your debt to another lender with better terms. If you shave even a few percentage points off of your rate, it can save you thousands and help pay down your balances faster.
•Pay bills on time. Consider online bill-paying that eliminates writing checks, buying stamps, etc. Automatic payments can be scheduled ahead of time and can help you avoid late fees and penalties for missed payments.
•Save for the big things. Big purchases, such as vacation or holidays, can easily blow your budget. Avoid going into debt for these expenditures by saving up ahead of time and only spending what you are able to save. Many banks and credit unions offer savings clubs that might help.
•Save for emergencies. Emergencies – car or home repair, unexpected medical expenses, job loss – can blow your budget. Financial experts suggest an emergency fund of 3-6 months’ living expenses. If that is too ambitious, start smaller and build up.
•Contribute to your retirement. Make sure you are contributing enough to your 401k plan to get the full matching contribution from your employer. If you get a raise at your job, try and put that extra money aside into your retirement account. You were able to survive on that income for this long, so you won’t miss that extra cash and your retirement account will greatly benefit.
•Keep track of your credit score. Credit scores are used by lenders to make decisions about whether or not to offer you credit, and what those terms (interest or down payment) will be. Your credit score is a decision-making tool that lenders use to help them anticipate how likely you are to repay your loan on time.