Every year at this time and especially with the down turn in the economy, we should re-evaluate our spending and look for ways to be more frugal. It may be a discouraging thought to some, although what if you are able to buck that trend in 2011 and increase your chances for success? If you follow through on just one or two of these, you’ll unavoidably improve your bottom line in 2011!
Shed credit-card debt. Of course, the best way to avoid creating problems for yourself in 2011 is to use your credit cards cautiously and sparingly, always being sure to pay the entire balance off in full and on time each month. If you’re already in a serious credit card mess, as millions of people are — try transferring your credit card balances to a card with a lower interest rate ASAP. You’ll save $730 if you transfer a $2,000 balance from an 18-percent card to a 8.25 percent card and then pay off your balance at a rate of $50 a month.
Say goodbye to late fees. If you keep finding yourself getting hit with extra finance charges because your credit card company and ask to have your due date changed. It may take a few months for this change to kick in, but it is well worth the wait.
Cut your incidentals. Carefully read through one of your credit card statements, staying on the lookout for ongoing monthly fees that you may have forgotten about. Cancel any club memberships your don’t use and magazine subscriptions your don’t read.
Pay yourself first. This is a good time for an honest self-analysis. What have your saving habits been like in the past year? If it seems like all the money you make falls straight through your fingers and gets gobbled up by bills and other expenses, think hard about a reasonable amount you could start to view as yet another monthly bill. Could you handle one more $50 bill? How about a $200 bill? Even if you can only handle one more $15 or $20 bill, that’s better than nothing. Start squirreling that money away for yourself, pronto.
Analyze your workday expenses. Instead of eating in restaurants every single day, bring your lunch to work from home as often as you can. Do not spend money in a restaurant for expensive drinks, tea or coffee. Water is usually free, even the refills. Label and refill the bottles of water you use for your family instead of buying new ones. Take your clothes to the dry cleaners early to avoid paying extra for same-day service. If it’s feasible where you live, try commuting to work by bus or by another form of public transportation. It could save you money and give you added reading and relaxation time.
Review your estate plan. Do you have a will or a living trust, and the proper medical and durable powers of attorney? If not, get that taken care of this year! If you already have such documents drawn up, make sure they’re up to date. This is especially important if you recently had children or if children might be in your future — but no matter what, these are vital steps for everyone to take regardless of their marital or family status.
Where are you with your retirement plan? Contribute as much as you can to a 401 (k) or 403 (b) tax-deferred retirement plan. You’ll get an automatic tax break.
Pay ahead on your mortgage. By paying an extra $100 a month toward the principal on a $150,000, 30-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate of 6.5 percent, you’ll save more than $51,000 in interest and be able to retire your mortgage nearly seven years early. An extra monthly payment of even $20 or $25 can make a surprising difference. If you have not explored refinancing your home it is very important to look at this NOW. Some home owners can qualify for 3.%% to 4% interest rates. See if you are one of those. You might also look at a 15 year mortgage instead of a 20 or 30 year mortgage.