Unless you’re an accountant or a financial advisor — or you’re one of those super organized people the rest of us wish we could be — you probably don’t dedicate much time to making and tackling a financial to-do list.
But the state of our personal finances makes a big difference in our well-being. Money matters are one of the top things married couples argue about — and even divorce over. Managing your finances better will bring more harmony to your marriage and family — and give you greater peace of mind.
So even if you get heart palpitations whenever you check your bank account, make the decision that this new year is going to be different. While you’re making other lists and checking them twice this month, create a financial to do-list for the coming year. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you can take it step by step. Here are some items to consider adding to your list:
Check your credit score
Financial advisors always suggest that you check your credit score at least once a year and examine your credit report for any errors that may be affecting your score. Because the last thing you want when it comes time for a new mortgage, a new car, refinancing, obtaining a loan, is to disocver your credit score is not what you thought. According to some advice in the New York Times, you can get a free copy of your credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com.
Review your recurring charges
Financial planner Lauren Lyons Cole, writing for Consumer Reports, points out that small charges can go unnoticed but add up quickly. She reports that people spend $512 on average every year in unwanted subscriptions alone, according to data from Truebill. Cole recommends perusing your most recent credit card statements and eliminating any subscriptions you can live without. Also, check for fees for services you know longer use or need, and do the same with your bank accounts in case you have recurring charges there as well. Cole recommends free apps like Truebill and Trim to help review, cancel and receive refunds for recurring charges.
Make a plan to build your savings
According to financial guru Dave Ramsey, an emergency fund is the first thing you should save for — because a job loss or crisis often comes when you least expect it. If you have that already, why not plan to contribute a little each month to a vacation fund or education fund for your kids, or to your general savings? It doesn’t take much to start adding up and before you know it you’ll be able to take the family to Hawaii, or the Poconos, or wherever you want to make special memories.
Make a plan for paying down debt
This is the second most important thing to do, according to Dave Ramsey, in terms of getting yourself to a better financial place. Which of your debts have the highest interest rates? Start there. Can you transfer some of your higher interest credit card to a lower interest card? Can you pay a little more each month this year?
Create a budget
Needs and priorities are always changing so even if you have a budget, it’s a good idea to take a fresh look and make adjustments. Never had much of a budget? Do not fear. If your lost as to how to go about it, check out software programs like Mint.com or You Need A Budget and here’s a list of current budget-making apps for your smart phone.
Negotiate insurance plans and services
You can often negotiate better rates for auto, life and medical insurance, as well as for phone, cable and internet services. You’ve got nothing to lose by asking.
Plan for home-improvement projects
Consider your home improvement projects for the upcoming year and mark your calendar to take advantage of sales that come up at different points of the year — there are often great sales right after Christmas and it’s a good time to make those bigger expenditures.
Review or create retirement savings plans
It’s a good idea to make sure everything is in balance in terms of the investments you have and your expected retirement age. Lauren Lyons Cole, in her Consumer Reports article, talks about that here.
Decide where you’re going to give
Would you like to be more generous in the new year? It helps to be international about how and where you’re going to give. Many churches now have electronic funds transfer [EFT] programs so you don’t have to rummage in your purse for change while sitting in the pew on Sundays. Decide what charities you want to help this year, and how much you can afford to give, and then make a plan for it.
Why 73% of Donations Go to Religious Organizations