Financial freedom is easier with plan

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You stopped going to the gym three weeks ago. You have yet to call your mom once a week as promised. And that attic won't organize itself.

Don't even get started on your lack of financial discipline.

Even if all of your New Year's resolutions are down the toilet, experts say there are small ways to get back on a financial track.

THINK LONG-TERM: Examine what you want down the road, whether it's saving for retirement, getting out of credit card debt or buying a new car.

"It makes it easier to give up that latte if you know you'll get the beach house sooner," said Bobbie Munroe, a certified financial planner and owner of Fraser Financial in Atlanta.

Prioritize your current expenses, without listing the actual costs, said Bob Laura, the president of Financial IQ, a financial planning firm out of Farmington, Mich. This helps you realize what you truly value, whether cable television or your mortgage. Then you can cut less important items at the bottom.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: "Make resolutions in manageable bites," Ms. Munroe said.

Setting broad, unspecific goals won't help, she said. For example, create a target savings rate and a plan, say, socking away $1,000 in six months.

Mr. Laura recommends you pick the one thing you hope no one discovers about your financial situation and resolve to fix it, whether it's credit card debt or not starting your kids' college savings account.

BABY STEPS: Not everyone can just give up the daily coffee or the restaurant lunch cold turkey.

If you don't want to stop dining out, for example, try drinking water - which is usually free - and save a few bucks each time, Mr. Laura said.

Make sure that special something, such as an espresso, doesn't become a need instead of a want. Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner at Touchstone Financial Guidance in Decatur, Ga., and a spokeswoman for the Financial Planning Association of Georgia, recommends cutting back the coffee or dining out to a couple of times a week. It will feel as though you're treating yourself.

If you simply must have that espresso? Trade, Mr. Laura says. Give up something else that day to make up for the extra $3 you spent.

ACCOUNTABILITY MATTERS: Find someone, whether a trusted friend or a professional, to hold you accountable to your goals and coach you, Ms. Munroe said. Try to avoid spouses or family members because it can get ugly.

Don't let your friends or family talk you into spending more than you should.

"Whatever your resolution is, hang out with people that are supportive," she said.

DON'T BE A WORRY WART: Sometimes that voice inside your head is helpful. Sometimes it just gives you an ulcer. If you get off track, don't use it as an excuse to quit.

"If you do make a mistake, analyze what happened and get over it," Ms. Munroe said. "Guilt will not help."

Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or laura.youngs@augustachronicle.com.

QUICK AND DIRTY WAYS TO SAVE


- Pick a particular bill, say $1, $5 or $10. Each time you see it, set it aside and put it away for savings, recommends Bob Laura, the president of Farmington, Mich.-based Financial IQ. It's an easy and creative saving tool.


- Pick a price point, whether it's $25, $50 or more. If you see something over that amount, sleep on it for 24 hours, Mr. Laura said. If you still want it, then go for it.


- Set up automatic deposits into a savings account, says Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner at Touchstone Financial Guidance in Decatur, Ga., and a spokeswoman for the Financial Planning Association of Georgia. You'll save without even trying. Take advantage of your 401(k), which also helps you automatically save. If you get a raise, increase your contribution - you'll never even feel it.


- Make a list before you shop, said Bobbie Munroe, a certified financial planner and owner of Fraser Financial in Atlanta. If you stick to that list, you'll avoid making impulse purchases.


- Keep a financial diary to track expenses, but try doing it for just one typical week so it doesn't seem time-consuming, Ms. Munroe recommends. You can take it a step further and track one specific category, Ms. Cuthbert said, such as restaurant dining to see just how much take-out is costing.


- Keep the savings where you can see them, Ms. Munroe said. Whether it's a fat wad of cash in your sock drawer or an online savings account, people like to see the fruits of their hard work. Seeing the results with your own eyes is encouraging.

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