By Jo Close, Army Community Service Financial Readiness ProgramFebruary 1, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The first of the year brings both the promise of new beginnings and the burden of self-improvement.
Fueled by the nostalgia of the holidays and armed with a year's worth of regrets, some 45 percent of Americans decide to make New Year's resolutions each January, according to research from the University of Scranton.
We all certainly have our share of vices, especially as they relate to money. So it's unsurprising that financially themed promises for improvement tend to be among the most popular resolutions made each New Year.
THOROUGHLY REVIEW CREDIT REPORT
Thanks to the availability of free credit scores, most people have an idea of what their credit is doing. However, this thought process is flawed as there are many components that are in the credit report that the score does not reflect. As many as four people have a credit report that contains an error. This is your chance to identify any errors that you wouldn't find if you are just getting the score.
IDENTIFY FINANCIAL GOALS
Before anyone can make progress toward financial goals, they need to be identified. What is important to you? What goals do you have for the next year? Buy a home? Repay your auto loan? Go back to school? Discuss financial goals with your spouse early on, to develop what you both want.
TRACK YOUR SPENDING, AND MAKE A REALISTIC BUDGET AND STICK TO IT
In determining how to set up a budget, one key is to track your spending for 30 days. During this tracking period, you will be able to identify any leaks. These leaks can sometime hide themselves as daily trips to the gas station, trips to the coffee shop or excessive dining out. Once your tracking period is over, gather your bills from the past few months and make a list of all your recurring expenses. Then rank them in order of importance, with true necessities such as housing, food and health care obviously taking the top spots. After that, you can simply cut from the bottom of your list until your take-home exceeds what you plan to spend. Finally, keep track of your ensuing monthly spending to make sure you're abiding by your budget.
ADD TO YOUR EMERGENCY FUND
Roughly 54 percent of Americans do not have a rainy day fund, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. While we recommend ultimately building a fund with three-six months' worth of living expenses, it's important to understand that won't happen overnight. If your emergency fund is not fully funded yet, chip away at it over time. We recommend starting with the goal of adding 10 percent of your monthly income to your savings over the next year. And once you've adjusted to this new component of your budget, it can become habitual, and you will start saving more and more.
FAST TRACK DEBT PAYOFF AND AUTOMATE
Instead of saying, "I'm going to repay all my debt this year," commit to fast tracking the payoff process. That may mean contributing an extra $50 per month to your debt bill. Most online repayment interfaces will let you automate that extra payment, so you don't have to think about it the rest of the year. You can also automate goals that you may have. However the key is to do it now -- while you're feeling motivated -- so it doesn't get lost in the year-long shuffle.
BOOST RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTIONS
If you are looking to save more for retirement, commit to boosting your Thrift Savings Plan or 401K contributions -- with the maximum contributions for TSP being that of $18,000. If you have an IRA, the maximum contribution is $5,500.
For more information on ACS financial readiness, call 255-3765.