This year, learn how to budget, pay off debt, and stay on top of your financial goals
Make this the year that you get on top of—or even ahead—of your money. “A new year not only means a figurative fresh start, it also means a new financial cycle as far as legal and corporate entities are concerned, which gives you a tangible opportunity to take new steps to get your finances in order,” says financial expert Pamela Yellen, author of THE BANK ON YOURSELF REVOLUTION. The best way to whip your assets into shape? Avoid what Yellen calls “slacker goal setting”: vague, unspecific goals like “I want to save more” or “I want to spend less.” Instead make super specific, meaningful money goals—like the ones outlined here. Ready to firm up your bottom line? Read on. (Then, check out these 16 Money Rules Every Woman Should Know by Age 30.)
Gain a Financial Future
We should all know by now to expect the unexpected, right? Too many of us, though, aren’t financially prepared for what that might entail. If you don’t have one already, create a rainy day fund. Sock away as much as you can to make sure that you have cash available in case of things like a medical emergency or a major home repair.
How much should you put away? Yellen suggests putting into practice the 40/30/20/10 Saving Rule. “Basically, this means putting 40 percent of your earnings toward spending, 30 percent for short-term savings (things you may need in the next 6 months to a year, such as a vacation, taxes, or new furniture), 20 percent for long-term savings (your emergency fund), and 10 percent flex money to use for “wants” (like that new to-die-for clutch!) Break out a calculator and determine how much money from each paycheck goes where, then commit to divvying your monthly earnings up accordingly each month, says Yellen.
Burn Off Debt
The anxiety of debt is inescapable. It’s always there, no matter how much you ignore it, eating away at you—and your financial freedom. You’ll never be on top of your finances unless you get out of the red and into the black. So bust your debt gut by starting to pay more than the minimum on your credit card payments. By just increasing the monthly payment of $37 to $47 each month on $1,500 worth of debt, you could save over $1,200 in interest payments and pay off your debt nearly 10 years sooner.
Tighten Your Budget
No more spending money willy nilly. Track your spending and set up a realistic budget easily with an account on Mint.com. Also, set incentives and consequences for spending and saving your money. Setting up a savings goal on GoalPay.com can help to keep you accountable, because your friends and family can actually pledge money that you’ll get if you reach your goal.
Having a hard time living within your means? Look at every expense and figure out a way to cut it—bring lunch to work instead of buying it, opt for drugstore lip gloss instead of department store brands, and break up with your Starbucks habit. (Check out our Save vs. Splurge: Workout Clothes and Gear to see what's worth the big bucks.) And Yeller suggests that you can also stay accountable by bringing people into the boat with you. "Have a monthly family finance meeting on the same day each month, or choose a friend or family member who you share your goals with and commit to reporting your progress to them," she says.
Tone Your Retirement Savings
Ladies, it’s high time you review your retirement plan. Use a retirement calculator, like this one on Bankrate.com, to determine if you’re on track to have enough come retirement time. Check in with your plan’s financial advisor to make sure that your asset allocation (how your money is invested) is appropriate for your goals. Also, be sure to examine the fee structure of your 401(k). “There are many hidden fees, and you want to be sure that you are aware of how well your plan is working for your needs,” says Yellen.
Work Out Your Wallet
“Make a commitment to think before you spend,” says Yellen. “Learn the difference between a need and a want so you aren’t running up debt buying things that don’t serve your true needs.” Instead of focusing on spending, focus on saving—if you start socking away 10 percent from each paycheck to enjoy fun things like a dinner out or a new outfit, your budget will already be prepared for these costs and you won’t be creating new debt. And that’s worth it’s weight in gold.