New Year’s resolutions – don’t they seem as though they’re made to be broken?
It’s a discouraging thought, but what if you were able to buck that trend in 2007? To increase your chances for success, here are a whole bunch of money-related resolutions that most of us can’t afford to break.
If you follow through on just one or two of these, you’ll unavoidably improve your bottom line in the New Year.
1. Slash the incidentals. Carefully read through one of your credit-card statements, staying on the lookout for ongoing monthly fees that you may have utterly forgotten about. Cancel any club memberships you don’t use and magazine subscriptions you don’t read. And if necessary, resolve to stop spending hard-earned money on lottery tickets.
2. Pay yourself first. This is a good time for an honest self-analysis: What have your saving habits been like in the past year? If it seems like all the money you make falls straight through your fingers and gets gobbled up by bills and other expenses, think hard about a reasonable amount you could start to view as yet another monthly bill. Could you handle one more $50 bill? How about a $200 bill? Even if you can only handle one more $15 or $20 bill, that’s better than nothing. Start squirreling that money away for yourself, pronto.
3. Decide where to put that ‘payment.’ If you plan to sock money away for several years until you reach a specific savings goal, your “pay-yourself-first” money could become automatic contributions to a mutual fund or other stock-oriented fund. If you need the money to be more liquid than that, consider an online savings or money market account that gets linked to your current checking account. Many of these online-only accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and pay annual percentage yields between 4 percent and 5 percent or even higher, as opposed to paltry yields of about 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent for traditional savings accounts. To find such an account, go to Bankrate.com (www.bankrate.com), find the “Compare rates” section on the home page, select “Checking & Savings,” and then “MMAs/Savings Accounts.” (Just keep choosing MMAs and savings accounts as you click through.)
4. Pay ahead on your mortgage. By paying an extra $100 a month toward the principal on a $150,000, 30-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate of 6.5 percent, you’ll save more than $51,000 in interest and be able to retire your mortgage nearly seven years early. An extra monthly payment of even $20 or $25 can make a surprising difference. Granted, you’d stand to benefit more if you could invest that extra payment in an interest-bearing account offering a guaranteed higher rate of return than your mortgage rate. And paying off your mortgage early means you won’t have the tax benefits of home ownership for the same number of years. But if you’re after the psychological benefit of owning your home outright and spending far less on interest over time, then the extra-payment approach is the way to go.
5. Shed credit-card debt. Of course, the best way to avoid creating problems for yourself in 2007 is to use your credit cards cautiously and sparingly, always being sure to pay the entire balance off in full and on time each month. But if you’re already in a serious credit-card pickle as 2006 winds to a close – as millions of people are – try this: Transfer your credit-card balances to a card with a lower interest rate ASAP. You’ll save $730 if you transfer a $2,000 balance from an 18-percent card to an 8.25-percent card and then pay off your balance at a rate of $50 a month. Better yet, transfer balances to cards with rates of 0, 1 or 2 percent and concentrate on paying them off entirely while those low rates last.
6. Say goodbye to late fees. If you keep finding yourself getting hit with extra finance charges because your credit-card bill is regularly due before you’ve received your paycheck, call the credit-card company and ask to have your due date changed. It might take a few months for this change to kick in, but it’s well worth the wait.
7. Take your last puff. Depending on the wallop packed by the “sin taxes” where you live, you could save more than $2,000 a year if you go from being a pack-a-day smoker to a non-smoker. You’ll also qualify for significantly cheaper life-insurance rates after you quit.
8. Max out your retirement savings. Contribute as much as you can to a 401(k) or 403(b) tax-deferred retirement plan. You’ll get an automatic tax break, plus your employer may match part of your contribution – often 50 cents for each dollar you contribute for up to 6 percent of your pay. If your employer doesn’t offer this benefit, open a traditional individual retirement account or a Roth IRA and start saving anyway.
9. Review your estate plan. Do you have a will or a living trust? If not, get that taken care of this year! If you already have such documents drawn up, make sure they’re up to date. This is especially important if you recently had children or if kids might be in your future – but no matter what, these are vital steps for everyone to take regardless of their marital or family status.
10. Analyze your workday expenses. Instead of eating in restaurants every single day, bring your lunch to work from home as often as you can. Take your clothes to the dry cleaners early to avoid paying extra for same-day service. If it’s feasible where you live, try commuting to work by bus or by another form of public transportation. It could save you money and give you added reading and relaxation time.