By Sheryl Smolkin
As the old year draws to a close, many people resolve to reduce stress by getting more sleep, working out more often and eating a healthy diet. But for others, the financial pressure of taking from Peter to pay Paul is what keeps them awake at night.
If they could only find ways to get their finances under control and be sure that their family is properly protected, their anxiety level would plummet. If you fall into that category, here are some resolutions you can make to improve your finances, free up cash to save for longer term goals like retirement and give your family more financial security.
- Write it down: At the end of a month, do you have any idea where your money went? If you tap your credit or debit card each time you buy a cup of coffee, fork over $20 for every baby shower at the office and bring home take-out three days a week because you are too tired to cook, it’s not surprising that your bank account is running on empty half way through the month. Make a note in your phone or on a spreadsheet of every dollar you spend for a month and you will be able to identify money wasted that could be saved instead.
- Use cash: It may sound old-fashioned, but if you withdraw a set amount of cash each week to cover transit, lunches, coffee, dry cleaning and other miscellaneous expenses, you will spend much less than if you use your debit card or your credit card to pay for every small expenditure.
- Avoid credit card debt: Credit cards are a wonderful convenience if you pay them off every month and don’t have to pay interest charges. However, if you do accumulate credit card debt you could be paying as high as 20% or more on your outstanding balance which compounds every month. Furthermore, if you do not make minimum payments on the due date, you may lose your “grace period” and interest will begin to mount from the date of purchase of each item.
- Pay off high interest debt: If you owe money, resolve to pay off high interest debt as soon as possible. In some cases you may be able to borrow money on a lower interest line of credit to pay down higher interest credit card bills. You may also be able negotiate with creditors to accept a fixed amount each month. If you are stressed because of your debts, struggling to make your minimum payments, and need a plan to get your finances back on track, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society provides free, confidential debt solution services.
- Pay yourself first: Waiting until the end of the month to direct money into savings is not a productive strategy as by then, the cupboard is typically bare. Decide on the amount you want to add to SPP, your RRSP, TFSA or unregistered savings every month and have the funds automatically transferred. After a few months you won’t even notice the difference.
- Re-think your needs: Do you still have one or more landlines although every member of your family has a cell phone? Do you really need cable TV when all you have been watching is Netflix? Are two cars a necessity or a luxury if you are on a convenient public transit line? Will the party be more fun if you buy a new dress you may never wear again? There are loads of ways to cut corners without significantly compromising your quality of life.
- Review your insurance: Is your family protected in the event of the death of you or your spouse or both? Your workplace benefits may include some life, disability and health insurance, but is it enough? Understand your employee benefits and augment them where required. Critical illness insurance can provide peace of mind if you succumb to a listed condition and suddenly have unexpected bills.
- Talk to your partner: If you have a partner or a spouse, talk regularly about your finances. Make sure you both have access to each other’s computer passwords and any bank or investment accounts that are not joint. If you think managing your finances now is a problem, imagine if only one of you is left behind to provide for the family with no understanding of family finances and where important documents are kept.
- Teach your kids: None of us were born understanding the value of a dollar or knowing how to manage money. Children learn from their parents. Give them an allowance or pay them for doing chores above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. Establish what they are responsible for paying for out of their own money. Don’t be afraid to say, “It’s too expensive,” or “We can’t afford that.” As your children get older and get part-time jobs, require that they save a portion of everything they earn towards their post-secondary education. Encourage them to donate time and money to the charity of their choice.
- Make a will: Having an up-to-date will is essential to ensuring your estate is distributed as you intend it, and that your death doesn’t create a legal and administrative burden to your family. If you die without a will, a court will appoint someone to administer your estate and distribute the assets according to a formula set out in provincial estate and family laws.
Also see: Financial New Year’s resolutions