It is important to set goals for your wallet, check up on them and change them throughout the year. So while you are thinking about making a fresh start to the New Year, take the time to complete and assess the three tasks below. If one doesn't apply to you, go to the next. Each month, we will check up on these goals and add more goals for you to achieve.
Start with contributing the minimum amount your employer will match. If they don't have a company match, start by contributing 5 percent. Each month, increase your contribution by 1 percentage point. The small increases make it easier to adjust your living expenses each month. After a while, you will realize you aren't missing the money when it is just increments of $25-$50. If you are lucky enough to have a big paycheck, you should increase your contribution to the 2014 maximum of $17,500.
Note: You should check to see if your employer's plan allows you to contribute specific dollar amounts or if it only lets you contribute a specific percentage of your salary.
Do you have an eight-month emergency fund? This is money you'll need in an emergency (i.e., health issues, divorce or unemployment). Keeping this amount in an emergency fund will allow you a cash cushion if something should happen. This is not for taking a vacation or paying for your kid's college — it is for you until you are back on your feet. Even if you are married, it is a good idea for each of you to have an emergency fund. To calculate the amount you need for eight months, add up all the expenses you would need to cover to live a bare-bones existence (yes, this means no cable, no trips and no dinners out). That will give you the minimum you need to have in an emergency fund. It is typically between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on where you live. (Rent is pricey in big cities.)
You need people on your side in your journey to financial independence. You need your family and friends rooting for you and not telling you to spend. Have a talk with your friends if you can't afford the big dinners that end up with the group splitting the bill evenly and you paying for double what you ordered. Tell your family you need to pass on presents for birthdays until you can afford them. No one wants to see you struggle, so open up and talk about it — they will understand. If they don't, you might need to reassess your friendships, too.
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