Q: I’d like to focus on improving my finances in 2023, but there are so many areas that need attention. Where do I start?
A: The start of a new year is a wonderful time to make important changes in your financial life. Lucky for you, you don’t have to go it alone. I will walk you through some financial improvements you can make this year and continue to guide you through this new venture.
I’ve broken down some of the most popular financial resolutions into concrete steps.
Build a budget
Why it’s crucial: Creating and sticking to a monthly budget will force you to be accountable for your spending while giving you a clear idea of your financial reality.
In 3 steps:
- Track your spending over three months.
- Using a spreadsheet, a pen and paper or a personal finance app like MX Money Management (in your online banking), divide your expenses into categories, such as mortgage, groceries, etc. Use an average of the last three months to set a reasonable spending limit for each category.
- Going forward, track your spending and be sure to stick to your preset limits for each category.
If your budget reveals your monthly income doesn’t cover your expenses, or you find you’re overspending in any area, look for ways to cut back.
Get out of debt
Why it’s crucial: Carrying long-term debt can mean paying exorbitant amounts of interest for years on end. It can also devastate your credit score.
In 3 steps:
- Make a complete list of all your outstanding debts in order from smallest balance to largest.
- Review your monthly budget and look for ways to cut back. Alternatively, you can look for ways to increase your monthly income.
- Work on paying off your smallest debt with the money you trimmed from your budget, or with the extra income you’re pulling in. Once you’ve paid off that debt, move on to the second-smallest. Repeat until you’re completely debt-free.
How Abilene Teachers FCU can help: If you’re carrying multiple high-interest rate debts, consider taking out a personal loan to simplify things. This way, you’ll only have one low-interest loan payment each month. It may even reduce the total amount you’ll pay each month. Speak to a representative at Abilene Teachers FCU today to discuss this option.
Why it’s crucial: According to the Federal Reserve, 50 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 expense. Living without a safety net means a relatively small, unexpected expense can throw off your finances and force you into debt. Aside for paying for emergencies, savings can help fund your long-term plans, goals and dreams.
In 3 steps:
- Review your monthly budget to identify your biggest spending traps. Then, find ways to cut back, such as shopping with cash only, cancelling subscriptions you never use or initiating a “financial fast” one weekend each month, in which you spend no money.
- Use all money saved to open an emergency fund and a long-term savings fund at Abilene Teachers FCU. It’s best to focus primarily on your emergency fund until you have 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses stashed away. Start with a goal of $500-$1000 and work your way up to the 3-6 months’ worth so you don’t get overwhelmed and quit before you even get started.
- Set up an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings accounts so you never forget to feed your savings.
Maximize your retirement contributions
Why it’s crucial: Many workplaces offer to match 401(k) contributions. These contributions aren’t taxed and they come off your paycheck, which is taxed, making participation an excellent decision. Your 401(k) withdrawals will be taxed in the future, but the compound interest your fund will accumulate until then will more than offset this cost.
In 3 steps:
- Speak to an HR representative at your workplace to find out about your current 401(k) contributions.
- Identify how to best maximize your 401(k) contributions going forward.
- If you have any other retirement funds, such as an IRA or a Roth IRA, also review your contributions to determine if you are making the maximum funding allowed.
I hope these tips help you meet your money goals this year. Together, we can make this the year you take control of your finances and start working towards a financially comfortable future.