With a new year comes new hope and a will to achieve all those things which were either put on hold or deemed too ambitious. At the top of most people’s resolution lists – besides the inevitable ‘join the gym’ entry – is likely to be a desire to review personal finances.
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The build up to the holiday season is an exciting, if expensive time, and with family budgets being stretched to breaking point, there really is no better time to take stock and work on a personal financial plan for the new year.
I’ve got some good news: your finances will stretch further than you think. All it takes is a little time, positive thinking and brutal honesty. Are you ready? Let’s dive in…
1. Create (And Stick To) A Budget
Successful businesses survive by creating and adhering to budgets. Your personal life is no different and, while the thought of breaking out a spreadsheet may seem a little over the top, it could be one of the best things you do. Try it; list all of your income and outgoings and see what you’re left with at the end of each month. If you’re spending more than you earn (or sailing dangerously close to the edge), go through your expenditure with a fine tooth comb and be brutal. What do you need? What’s a luxury? Start making cuts and stick to it for the next twelve months.
2. Use Credit Sparingly
You may think that you’re stretching your finances by leaning on credit cards, but nothing could be further from the truth. Credit cards breed debt, unless settled in time and offer far too tempting an option when you fancy buying yourself a new TV. Try this: ask a friend or spouse to hide your card for three months and see if you miss it. The likelihood is you’ll think more carefully about every purchase you make.
3. Prioritize Critical Bills
If you don’t pay your mortgage, you may lose your house. If you forget to pay your phone bill, you’ll get a reminder letter a week or so later. All bills should be paid, but those which are secured against property and essential services such as electricity should always be paid first.
4. Be Wary Of Bargains
A new year also ushers in a raft of sales on the high street. Don’t be drawn in if you’re feeling the pinch after Christmas. Many ‘bargains’ are far from that and may simply be old stock t
he retailer is trying to clear. Besides that, ask yourself the same question you posed when doing your budget: do you really need that new jacket?
5. Review Your Vehicle Usage
If you rely on a car to get around, there’s a couple of things you can do which will help stretch you finances. Firstly, work out if any of the journeys you undertake could be done via other means. Ideally, jumping on a pushbike will have a very positive effect on your bank account and keep you fit at the same time. Secondly, keep a keen eye on petrol prices and suss out where you can get the cheapest juice – don’t settle for the first station you come across.
There’s an awful lot more you can do to make your finances stretch further, but the strategies above are relatively easy to implement and will offer the greatest impact. If I could pick one above the others, it’d be hiding those credit cards; forget three months – why not try the whole year without plastic?