This is a special post written in collaboration with David Bakke, a long-time contributor for Money Crashers, one of the leading personal finance blogs online.
With the holiday season behind us, the new year is at the forefront of most people’s minds. Now is a good time to put together a financial plan for the coming year.
There are a number of financial tips and strategies that will help you have a financially successful year:
1. Review Your Finances
Review the financial aspects of your life to see where you can trim and save.
Monthly Bills: Take a look at your monthly bills to see if there are services you don’t want or need. In particular, consider a cheaper cable TV package or a cheaper cell phone plan. If you are currently paying for home telephone service, consider eliminating your landline altogether. Reducing these bills by just a few dollars per month will really add up over the course of a year.
Insurance: Contact your auto insurance provider to see if you qualify for a cheaper auto insurance premium, and review the policy deductibles to see if you are eligible for any savings. If you are currently paying for private mortgage insurance and the balance on your loan is around 80% of your home’s value, contact your lender to see if you can avoid paying private mortgage insurance altogether. In general, look for ways to save on all insurance policies without sacrificing coverage.
Credit Reports: You can request credit reports up to three times per year for free—once from each of the three consumer credit reporting companies. It is very important to review your credit report on a timely basis to make sure it’s accurate and up to date. Check for old credit cards that you have closed that may still be on your report. And of course, check for any negative reports. If they don’t belong there, file a dispute and get them removed. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized site to check your credit report for free.
2. Find One New Way to Save
There are endless ways to save in your everyday life. However, if you try to implement many of these all at once, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Rather, focus on one new way to save before moving on to the next strategy.
You can plan to focus on saving home energy costs. Set up a home energy audit through your power company, which is free, and follow their recommendations to reduce energy expenses. Other ways to consider saving money include eating out less, reducing clothing purchases, or saving money on groceries by learning how to extreme coupon.
3. Commit to Paying Down Your Credit Card Debt
If you are currently carrying credit card debt, now is a great time to commit to paying it down. The best way to start is to follow one simple rule: if you can’t afford to pay for something by the time the bill comes in, don’t buy it. After that, calculate how much money you can save in other aspects of your finances (after reviewing your finances and finding one new way to save) and earmark this money for your credit card bills.
If you carry debt on a high-interest credit card that you can’t immediately afford to pay down, see if you qualify to transfer that debt to a card with a lower interest rate. Even if you do qualify for a new low- interest credit card you will have to pay a balance transfer fee. Make sure the amount you’ll save in interest payments will make up for this fee.
Know your rights with credit card companies and don’t be afraid to shop around for the best options.
4. Review Your Retirement Portfolio
If you haven’t started saving for retirement, now is the perfect time to start. If you have already started saving, review your portfolio. Analyze where your money is invested and re-balance it between stocks and bonds, if necessary. Or if a particular security or mutual fund you own has consistently underperformed its benchmark, get rid of it and purchase a more solid investment in the same category.
You may want to consider committing a larger portion of your income to retirement. Additionally, consider opening a Roth IRA to complement your employer’s 401k.
5. Set Financial Goals
Decide for yourself what you want to accomplish financially next year, write it down, and decide how you are going to reach your goals.
The Consumer Action Handbook can help you find more ways to save with tips about understanding credit, preventing identity theft, filing a consumer complaint, and many other financial and consumer protection topics to help you plan for a successful 2012.
If you have had a stellar financial year, congratulations! If you made some mistakes, simply set yourself up for success next year by following these tips. With a little planning and forethought, you can positively impact your finances in the coming year.
What suggestions do you have for improving your finances in the new year?