January is a tough month when it comes to finances. We're feeling the strain of holiday spending and credit card bills need to be paid.
To help ease some of the sting here are a few tips to help you start the year off on solid financial footing. Try making the following resolutions for a more secure, budget-wise 2012.
Introduce no-cost treats
Treating ourselves is fun. It makes us feel good and it's nice to let others know you care, but not all treats (whether for you, your kids or your husband) need to cost money. Think about fun, creative ways to show your family you love them (and pamper yourself). Bake a batch of cookies or other sweet treat for the kids, organize a family trip to the park to play in the snow or head to a museum or other attraction at off-peak times or during the week when discounted entry fees are offered.
Create a budget – and stick to it
The most important step you can take towards a more financially secure year is to create a budget and then make a concerted effort to stick to it. Start by taking a detailed look at all of your monthly bills – rent or mortgage, day care, car payments, electricity, Internet, etc. Tally it up and that's the amount you absolutely have to pay, meaning those funds can't be allotted anywhere else. From there, decide on a reasonable amount to spend on your other needs – food, gas for the car, pet food, etc. This can either be a weekly or monthly budget, depending on what works for you, but think of that amount as your allowance. Once it's gone, it's gone, so spend wisely.
Make a note
This only works if you eliminate the "wants" or the things that seem necessary but really aren't – your morning latte, weekly dinners out, manicures. These things, while nice perks, should be treats, not daily or weekly purchases.
Limit what you put on credit
Credit cards are convenient and can come in handy when you need something important but don't have the cash on hand. But getting dependent on your card (and using it for everything) can put you on a slippery slope towards debt. Just as you have a monthly spending budget, put your credit card on a diet. This year, have a limit to how much you can put on your card. Unless something unexpected happens and you absolutely have to use it, once you've hit your limit, that's it until next month. Go as low as possible and try not to use the card at all if you can. The limit isn't meant to be crossed if you can stay under it – it's there as a guideline. The less you put on your card, the easier it is to pay it off regularly.
Save for something significant
Rather than spending on impulse buys or things you don't need (do you really need six pairs of black pumps?), choose something significant to put your money toward. If you have a goal in mind – a new car, a dream vacation – you'll be much more likely to save your money rather than spending on frivolous items. Decide as a family (or couple) what you want most and work together to make it happen by this time next year.
Use lists when you shop
This one might seem like a no-brainer but it can be easier than you think to buy more than you need once you're at the store. No matter where you go – from the corner store to the mall – have a list and factor in your weekly or monthly budget. This means that if you want to have a dinner party for 10 this weekend but food for four is all that's left in the budget, when you head to the grocery store, scale back your shopping list to account for what you're able to spend. The more focused and organized you are, the easier it is to save and avoid over-spending.
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