Do you want to feel as if you’ve lost 10 pounds? Get your financial life in order. Here are five easy-to-make and easy-to-keep New Year’s resolutions for protecting your wallet.
1 | START GOAL-SPECIFIC PLANS
Think about what you want to accomplish in 2018 and how you can save to get there. Maybe you want to take a vacation or make a down payment on a new car. Whatever it is put your savings on auto-pilot.
“Out of sight, out of mind. Divert funds into the savings category automatically and regularly,” says Clare Wherley, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Lassus Wherley in New Providence. “Getting funds out of a ‘spending’ pot reduces the urge to use it.” Having an objective increases anticipation for something positive at the end of the road and enhances the satisfaction of reaching the goal. Contact your bank and ask that a specific amount be regularly diverted from your checking account into a savings account. Better yet, if your employer offers it, have money from your paycheck directly deposited into a savings account. Then, don’t touch it!
2 | TRACK YOUR SPENDING
“Budget” is a dirty word to lots of consumers, but knowing what you spend is the most effective way to make changes to your financial life. There are plenty of apps and other tools that can help. “Creating a budget doesn’t have to be a difficult and time-consuming task when transactions can be easily downloaded and categorized to get the process started,” says Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge. Mott likes Mint.com, a free budgeting app that she says is one of the easiest to set up and maintain. “For those who prefer to have more control over the categories and want a variety of reports related to their spending and budget, Quicken is a good solution,” she says. Whichever tool you choose (remember a small notebook also works just as well), resolve to pay more attention to every penny you spend. Like those $5 lattes. When you see you’re spending nearly $100 a month on coffee drinks — that’s $1,200 a year — you may start brewing your own.
3 | LOWER YOUR BANKING FEES
Take a close look at your bank accounts and find better deals, such as checking and savings accounts that don’t charge monthly maintenance fees or require minimum balances. Begin by looking online at sites such as BankRate.com, and don’t forget online banks and credit unions. They offer some of the best no-frills accounts.
4 | LOWER YOUR INTEREST RATES
If you carry a balance on your credit cards, now is the time to review your options. Make a list of your cards and their interest rates. Then, call each card and ask the representative to lower your rate. If you have a good payment history, you’ll find they’re often quick to say yes. “Lower interest rates translate into savings on the amount of interest paid on outstanding balances and will result in reduced payments,” Mott says. “If you are successful and your payment amount decreases, think about maintaining the same payment level you were making to help pay off the outstanding balance more quickly.” If your lender says no, don’t give up. Try your other cards, and ask each if they have a zero-percent interest balance transfer offer.
5 | CALL AN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY
No one wants to prepare for their death, but if you don’t, the state will decide what happens to your minor children and your property. Even if you have all the documents you think you need, review them on a regular basis because, well, life can change and you need your documents to keep up with you. For example, someone who has adult children may see their kids get married, divorced, encounter a medical problem or issues with drugs or alcohol. Each of these events makes you look at the world a little differently, says Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton. “If your child gets married, how do you feel about giving your child’s spouse money if you pass?” Lynch asks. “If a child has a problem with alcohol, do you really want to give them access to money with no restrictions?” An estate planning attorney will help you craft your documents to ensure your wishes are clear. If you wait to make updates, it could be too late.
By Karin Price Mueller
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