If ever there was a time to strive for improving your personal finances, 2010 is that year. So this January, consider making these 10 worthwhile financial New Year’s resolutions – and sticking to these commitments in the months ahead.
1) I will improve my credit rating.
The economic downturn and credit crunch have highlighted the importance of achieving and maintaining a great credit rating. Having poor credit not only puts you at risk of getting rejected for things such as mortgages and auto loans. It also means you’ll pay more for car insurance and life insurance, and could hurt your chances to get a new job or receive a promotion on your existing job.
The Payoff: Having excellent credit can help you earn or save hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime because you’ll improve your career prospects, and get the best loan rates and terms on an array of financial products and services.
2) I will file my taxes early.
Not many people actually enjoy the process of filling out their taxes every year. But it’s the law, and most of us do have to file a federal income tax return annually. Why stress yourself out (and your accountant) waiting until the very last minute to get this task done? Instead, set a goal date well before April 15 to submit your tax returns to the IRS.
The Payoff: Getting this chore accomplished early will give you peace of mind, help you avoid crowds at the Post Office, and also get a check back early from Uncle Sam if you’re due a refund. Owe the government? Filing early – or at least on time – will help you too as you’ll avoid late fees and penalties.
3) I will learn about one new area of personal finances.
Money-management is a huge arena. Nobody knows everything there is to know – even financial “experts.” Pick a subject that you can benefit from gaining additional knowledge. Maybe it’s something in the area of insurance; or perhaps you could stand to bone up on the process of investing. Whatever the topic, devote time each month to increasing your financial acumen in that area.
The Payoff: Becoming more financially literate will empower you and help you avoid making economic mistakes due to ignorance or lack of knowledge.
4) I will eliminate excessive debt.
Unfortunately, most Americans are saddled with way too much debt. Excluding their mortgages, U.S. consumers collectively owe about $2.5 trillion on car notes, credit cards and other personal loans, according to the Federal Reserve. When debt of any kind becomes unmanageable – whether it’s your home loan or your credit card bills – it’s time to knock out those excessive obligations.
The Payoff: By slashing your debt, you’ll save tons of cash in finance charges and avoid the trap of living paycheck to paycheck.
5) I will establish an “emergency” fund.
A fundamental principle of good financial planning is to have an “emergency” fund or a “rainy day” account. No matter what you call it: the purpose of this extra cash is the same. It’s to tide you over in the event something unexpected happens. The unforeseen event could be something as minor as your car getting a flat tire, or as major as you losing your job. Whatever the circumstance: when you have an emergency fund equal to three months’ worth of your living expenses set aside, that money can help cushion any financial blow you might experience.
The Payoff: Even starting small, and putting away whatever you can afford each month until you amass $500 to $1,000, will help you cover many emergencies without having to resort to paying for things using credit cards. As you keep saving, over time your emergency fund will eventually reach your desired target.
6) I will make and stick to a budget.
Many people’s cash flow problems and worries about money are rooted in one simple fact: they don’t have a budget. Create a budget that properly tracks your income and your outgoing expenses to make sure you’re living within your means and not over-spending in any particular area.
The Payoff: A well-defined budget will help you see where you money is truly going and give you more control over your finances.
7) I will invest more for the future.
When times are tight, and you’re focused on paying today’s bills, it’s tough to think about putting away money for the future. But doing so is critical to your long-term financial health. Plus, by making certain investments for the future, such as your 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan at work, you may be able to eligible to get matching funds from your employer.
The Payoff: Investing now for the future can help you retire sooner. Even if you retire at age 65 or later, your Golden Years will be more comfortable if you took the time to build a nice nest egg.
8) I will share my resources based only on my values and finances, not out of guilt.
Donating money to others – or even loaning money to family and friends – is an admirable act of charity. But only when it’s consistent with your beliefs, and only when you can afford it. Avoid giving away money to the point where it negatively impacts your own finances or causes you emotional turmoil.
The Payoff: Giving to others, when done right and for the proper reasons, gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
9) I will draw up a will.
About 70% of Americans don’t have a will, according to a recent survey by LegalZoom.com. Besides creating a budget, few things in the world of personal finances evoke so much procrastination as making a will. But having this essential estate-planning document is a cornerstone of good financial planning.
The Payoff: Creating a will allows you to scratch off a major “to do” item on your financial planning checklist. It will also help safeguard your family in the event of your death.
10) I will get financial help where needed.
There’s no shame in asking for help when necessary, and especially for financial help when required. Think about the economic problem areas in your own life, or the aspects of your finances where you struggle financially, and reach out to a reputable, qualified professional who can guide you in those areas.
The Payoff: Getting financial help can put you back on the right track. It also means you’ll no longer bear the burden of fixing your economic problems all by yourself.
These are just 10 suggested financial resolutions. But don’t be limited to these ideas. Any commitments you make to enhancing or protecting your finances are likely to be valuable financial goals — worthy of your time, energy and effort in 2010.