As you are mulling your resolutions, think about paying closer attention to your personal bottom line in 2016.
“A new year obviously represents hope, but the holidays highlight a lot of frustrations as well,” said Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension resource management specialist. “The beginning of the year is a good time to sit down, look at some of your financial behaviors for which ones do or don’t work well, and possibly set some new goals for yourself.”
Here are five financial habits to incorporate into your routine in the coming year.
Try using financial software. Relying on financial software like Quicken, QuickBooks or Microsoft Money can make it easier to keep track of your personal finances.
“Between the convenience of direct depositing checks, online bill pay options and the constant use of debit and credit cards, it’s easy for people to get out of touch with their money,” Osteen said. “Entering figures into a software program and seeing a balance can help people clarify their spending habits.”
Document your belongings. With cell phones, tablets and other technology, it is easier than ever to make a record of your personal belongings, either through pictures or video.
“As you go through each room identifying items, indicate dates of purchase and approximate values,” Osteen said. “You can upload the video or photo files to your computer, but be sure to make backup copies. Also, one copy should be kept outside the house or in some sort of cloud storage in case the residence gets destroyed.”
Set up a monthly budget. Knowing how much is going into your bank account and how much is coming out each month can relieve a lot of stress. It also can help you better manage surprise expenses.
“After identifying your sources of income and regular expenses, track your spending for a month. This will allow you to set as realistic budget as possible,” Osteen said. “Don’t forget to factor in irregular expenses such as car insurance, birthdays or school tuition. Add these up and divide by 12 to get an idea of how much to set aside each month.”
Develop a savings plan. No amount is too small to save. The important thing is to establish a habit and maintain it. As a starting point, build a savings cushion equal to three to six months of living expenses then consider other short-term and long-term savings goals.
“In addition to creating a ‘rainy day fund,’ think about some short- and long-term savings goals such as a vacation or a college fund for your children, then map out a strategy to accomplish those goals,” Osteen said.
Check your credit report. Every consumer has the right to receive a free copy of his or her credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. If you space them out every four months, you can monitor your credit activity throughout the year.
“Taking the action to protect yourself is one of the easiest ways to avoid a major hassle as the result of identity theft,” Osteen said.
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