Happy New Year! The beginning of 2020 is the right time to review financial strength, make goals for the future, and do a financial clean-up.But first, some questions: Looking back at 2019, how would you define your money management skills, and what financial milestones did you achieve? Any regrets? All of us conduct our finances differently. What is your "money personality?" Are you a saver; a spender? Do you have a steady income and healthy retirement plan, or are you enslaved by debt? What drives your financial decisions?Whatever your answers are to these questions, all of this should include a plan. Developing goals and sticking to a plan will enable you to achieve financial success. Commit to doing more than talking the talk; try walking the walk. Aspire to build better financial habits in 2020.The following are some things you can do starting now to improve your financial health and set yourself up for success. You won't have to go to the gym or go on a diet, but you'll need to adhere to these simple tips to get your personal finances in better shape.Just remember, moving forward often requires change:REVIEW YOUR FINANCES
• Are you on track in meeting your 2020 financial goals, or do you have specific areas of improvement you need to focus on?
• Any major changes you need to consider: bills, expenses, insurance, investments, debt and or savings?
• Are you prepared to file for the 2019 tax time? Will you have already spent your expected return by the time you get it?
• The big one -- Are you saving enough for retirement?GET ORGANIZED
• Figure out what's getting in your way: What's preventing you from achieving your objectives?
• Vow to compare your financial plan monthly.
• Consider downloading a financial app to stay on track.
• Automate your spending -- pay bills directly from your checking account.
UPDATE YOUR BUDGET
• A budget is a must. It is a plan for saving and spending your money. It enables you to say where you money should go versus being controlled by your money. Take the time to zoom in on how you are spending your money.
• Define your expenses:
• Fixed expenses remain constant each month: mortgage/rent, car payment, cell phone bill, etc.
• Variable expenses fluctuate monthly: groceries, fuel and utilities
• Periodic expenses are costs that occur on an irregular basis. This might include insurance, taxes, automobile maintenance, birthdays or Christmas.
• What can you change or reduce to free up more income to work with? Just remember, you usually can't make changes on fixed expenses, so focus on your variable spending.
• Minimize what you are spending. Comparative-shop for the best bargains on things you purchase monthly, such as groceries, household goods or beauty supplies. Compare prices for car insurance, internet and cellular providers. If cable costs are too high, this might be a good time to consider other sources, such as Netflix or Hulu. Learn how to make good coffee at home and avoid spending $7 every morning at coffee shops.SET CLEAR GOALS
• Develop a clear vision -- Where are you financially? Where do you want to be next year; or in five years, or 10 years?
• How can you achieve your financial goals, such as paying off debt, contributing to your TSP, applying more toward your retirement goals, or saving 3-6 months toward emergencies?
• The first step in moving in a positive direction begins by making money management a habit. Create a good financial behavior.CHECK YOUR CREDIT
• With all the scams and identity compromises that occurred in 2019, it pays to be safe versus sorry. Review your free credit report online from the three major credit reporting agencies: Trans Union, Equifax and Experian.
• Look for mistakes or negative entries that could stay on your report seven years, such as unknown addresses; employers -- even where you never worked -- accounts you don't recognize or previously closed, and inaccurate balances.
• Check your credit score.
• Consider the impact that not paying your bills on time and having too much credit has on your score. Lenders take credit scores seriously. Your score may be preventing you from obtaining a loan with a reasonable payment. Good scores get better interest rates.CHRISTMAS IS OVER -- IT'S TIME TO PAY OFF THE DEBT
• Credit card interest is a killer. Aspire to get your Christmas debt paid in three months or less.
• Free up income in your budget to get other debt paid off sooner than later. The quicker you pay it off, the more you will have in your budget to work with, and the less you will spend out of pocket on silly interest and fees.
• The stress from paying debt will be reduced once you begin adhering to good financial habits. The little steps and choices you make on a daily basis will ultimately contribute to your bottom line.
• Avoid carrying a balance. You can still use credit, just pay it off every month.
NOTE: If you had a credit card with a $1,000 balance paying the 2% minimum payment each month, and never put another item on the card, it would take 13 years and cost $935 in interest. You would pay as much in interest as what you originally owed.BOOST WHAT YOU ARE SAVING FOR RETIREMENT
• Save more. Bump up your contributions.
• Remember the impact of compound interest and how money grows over time.
• Vow to save a minimum of 15% toward retirement. Consider bumping up future savings when you receive a bonus or pay increase.
• Consider setting up a TSP -- one of the largest retirement plans in the world. Take advantage of the tax benefits you can receive.Financial success doesn't just happen, it takes discipline, dedication and change. If you are not where you want to be financially, resolve now to do better this year.To help in advancing your knowledge on financial matters, don't forget about the Military Financial Touchpoint-Milestone resources provided by Financial Readiness at the link below.The Financial Touchpoint-Milestones include: PCS, Promotion, TSP Vesting, Pre- and Post-Deployment, Marriage, Birth of a New Child, and Divorce among others. The link provides training materials, checklists, budget sheets and useful tools in helping link "your career and life milestones," making the most of financial knowledge.
To receive answers to personal financial questions or financial assistance, call the Financial Readiness Department at Army Community Service. Financial counselors are available to provide financial education and individual counseling to the Fort Knox Military community. For more detailed information about services or to schedule an appointment, call 502-624-5989.