(ARA) – Becoming better at sticking to a budget is a common New Year’s resolution – and one of the hardest to keep. Yet becoming financially fit in 2011 is more important than ever for many American families still struggling with the lingering effects of the economic downturn.
New Year’s is a perfect time to make a fresh financial start. Post-holiday bills and can inspire you to become more financially fit. Financial planners agree that following some basic steps – like setting priorities and taking stock of expenses and income – can give you the best chance of keeping this important New Year’s resolution.
More people than ever are now aware of a once-overlooked source of “extra cash” – their spare change. The average coin jar can weigh anywhere from 1 to 40 pounds, depending on the mixture of coins. Cash in your coins and you’ll find one “weight-loss pledge” – lightening your coin jar – is easy to keep.
Here are some basic tips for getting financially fit in 2011:
* Define your financial priorities for the coming year. Is your goal to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt? Increase your retirement savings? Establish a college fund for your children?
* Recognize the difference between needs and wants. Most of us have far more wants than we could possibly finance. Plan to pay for the needs first. Assess just how much it costs every month to fund your family’s basic needs, including housing, food, utilities, health care, etc.
* Gather up all your monthly bills and make a list of what you pay toward each.
* Collect receipts for a few months. Every time you spend money – whether it’s for groceries, going to a movie, dining out or buying a pack of gum – keep the receipt. Use them to create a list at the end of the month to show you where your pocket cash is going.
* Similarly, take stock of all your available sources of income, including your salary, spouse’s salary, bonuses, etc. Did you know that the average American household has approximately $90 in loose change lying around? This is found money you can add to your savings, put toward paying off holiday bills or use for immediate purchases. Gather up your change and take it to a Coinstar Center, found in retail locations across the country. You can count your coins for free when you place the value of your change onto gift cards or certificates from national retailers like Amazon.com, Lowe’s, iTunes, Starbucks and more. Visit www.coinstar.com to find a location near you.
Create a budget
Once you know how much money you have coming in and going out every month, create a budget based on your priorities and past experience. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do without. For example, if dining out is a big expense every month, you may be able to trim it down, but probably shouldn’t eliminate it from your budget all together.