New Year, New Financial Strategy

If things didn’t go so well for you finance-wise in 2018 (or even if it did), you can turn it around with the new year.  The beginning of a new year is always a great time to think about your money in a new light. Here are some tips to help you get started moving toward a financially healthy 2019.

Take Inventory

A new year is always a great time to take an inventory of the state of your finances from the past year.  What worked for you? What didn’t work? Look at every aspect of your budget, accounts, debt (if you have any) and your 2018 goals and see where you stand in each category.  From there, you can formulate plans for 2019 to stay on track.

Check Credit Report

The beginning of the year is a great time to check your credit report. Checking it the same time each year can be a great reminder to see where you stand with your credit.  Depending on what you find, you can use that information to help make goals and plans for your finances for the year.

Write and Post Your Goals

We’ve talked about the importance of setting attainable goals before.   However, it’s equally important that you write them down and put them somewhere where you can see them regularly.  This will keep your mind on the goal and help you to not get off track.

These are just suggestions on how to get your year started on the right foot financially.  Even if you are far from where you need to be with your money, the first step to success is recognizing where you are and finding the starting point to help you go forward.

Financial Goals to Make in the New Year

As 2019 rapidly approaches, it’s time to start thinking about your financial future.  What would you like to achieve financially in the upcoming year? At first, that seems like a silly question–most people just want to make more and save more.  However, you might find broad goals like “make more money” to not be very effective when it comes to actually accomplishing them. If you take the time now to sit down and write out really specific financial goals, it might help you focus on what actually needs to be done instead of just hoping it will happen.  Here are some specific goals that tend to be popular when thinking about the new year.

Save for Retirement

Instead of just having your goal be “save more to my retirement,” think about how much you would like to save.  If you currently only save 2% of your paycheck to retirement, then make it your goal to save 5% in 2019. If you would rather do your goal in terms of amount, make it a specific dollar amount you want to save like $2000 or $5000.  Whatever you do, just make sure that your goal is an improvement upon the past year. It doesn’t even have to be a huge goal, just something better than this year that you feel you could accomplish in the new year.

Add More to Savings

Much like saving more to your retirement fund, a goal of simply saving more probably won’t motivate you to actually save more in 2019.  You need to make a specific goal of how much exactly you would like to save next year. Again, make it your goal to have the amount be bigger than you did the previous year.  If you saved $2000 this year, make next year’s goal to save $3000. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, just as long as you actually have a specific goal to work towards. Having a real number to work towards will be more motivating and help you reach your goal quicker.

Stick to Your Budget

Maybe some of you don’t even have a budget–if that’s the case, that should be your number one goal of the year.  But instead of just saying, “I want to start a budget,” make it your goal to start and stick to your budget each month.  Yes, some months may get away from you, but if you have it your goal to stick to it each month vs. just having a budget in general, you will be more likely to utilize that budget more efficiently.

Tackle Debt

Many people list tackling debt as their number one financial goal in the new year.  That’s great! However, instead of just saying you are going to “tackle debt” make very specific ways you are going to do so.  For instance, your goal can be, “I am going to reduce my debt by $____ amount.” Or, your goal can be paying off a specific credit card, reducing your student loans by a certain amount, or even just sticking to the debt snowball method.  With debt repayment, the more specific the goal, the more likely you are to succeed.

Whatever your financial goals are in the new year, it’s important to make sure that you have a detailed plan for achieving these goals.  The more detailed the action plan, the better. Without a plan, you will find that you won’t have much success with your goals–even if you are extremely motivated to complete them.  So make your plans before the new year begins and you will be well on your way to having a successful 2019!

Online Holiday Scams to Avoid

It’s the holiday season, and it’s a time when the scammers like to come out of the woodwork.  In recent years, holiday scams have become notorious for targeting online shoppers and people who frequent social media.  Here are some of the major scams that you need to be aware of this time of the year.

Fake Notifications

Every year, more and more people do their holiday shopping online.  This makes them a prime target for online phishing scams. Some of these can come in the form of fake shipping notifications.  In this scenario, someone disguises their email to read and look like a legit company and wants you to give them information to get updates about your purchased item.  These can be tricky because at first look they look real. To keep out of trouble, always know what you have purchased and what company is responsible for shipping the item.  If it is a company you have never heard of, delete the email immediately. Remember, real shipping companies don’t need your personal details to track your package.

Dual Websites

Another phishing scam that can be popular during this time of year when online shopping is at a high is one where someone makes a phony website that looks just like a legitimate website of another company.  If they can get you onto the fake website instead of the real one, they can get all of your information you enter including your address and credit card information. To be sure that this scam does not happen to you, the first thing you need to do is check to see if the web address starts with http or https.  If it has the “s” you will know the site is secure and your info is likely safe. Another thing you can do is to hover over any links on the page to see exactly where they go–if the linked page looks like it takes you off the main site, you might be on a fake page.

How Will You Pay?

Another scam to look for when holiday shopping is the type of payment you are asked to make.  If anyone asks you to make a wire transfer, use a third party or any other form of payment that can’t be traced or reversed, then it’s time to get out of there.  If they are asking for an unusual method of payment, you can be sure that something is not right with the transaction.

Real or Unreal?

Many people like to ramp up their charitable giving during the holiday season, and with that comes a lot of people trying to scam their way into your wallet by setting up fake charities.  If someone calls you and asks you to make a donation over the phone–don’t do it. Always do your research and know the charities you wish to give to. Look up their websites and make sure they are legit before you give them a dime. Once you know which organizations are legit or not, make a list to keep track of those you would like to give to so you will be less likely to be scammed next year.

The basic way to ensure you don’t get scammed online or in the real world is to be aware of your surroundings.  If something looks fishy, it probably is. If you don’t feel comfortable entering your information on certain websites or over the phone–don’t.  Trust your instincts when you see red flags and protect your information. Only then will you be more likely to have a worry-free holiday season.

Stay Out of Debt This Holiday Season

As the holidays quickly approach us, it’s time to take a look at our finances and holiday spending.  One of the ways you can be sure to have a stress-free holiday is to not go into debt buying Christmas gifts.  If you don’t have the money to buy gifts this year, you shouldn’t charge things on your credit cards just to have something to give.  However, with the right planning, you can stay debt-free and give your loved ones something special for the holidays. Here are a few tips that will help you have a debt-free Christmas.

Budget and Plan in Advance

As with most tips to staying debt free, the first thing you must do is make a plan.  Figure up how much money you will need for gifts, events and food this holiday season.  Write down that total amount and divide it by twelve. The total is the amount of money you need to save each month to meet your budget by Christmas.  If you start to plan for the holiday season in January, you won’t have to stress about not having enough money at the end of the year, which is a contributing factor for debt.

Make Your Gifts

If you find yourself in the situation where you didn’t plan ahead and money is tight, then consider hand-making your gifts instead of going out and spending a bunch of money.  The act of giving gifts during the holiday season is just to show your loved ones that you care about them. This can be done through inexpensive homemade gifts like baked goods or crafts.  Remember it’s the thought that counts. Check out Pinterest for some homemade gift ideas.

Sell Things for Cash

If crafting isn’t for you, don’t worry!  There are ways to make some extra cash if you need money for gifts.  The easiest way to do this is to sell items you no longer want on platforms such as Ebay, Craigslist, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace.  You can sell old clothes, books, electronics, kitchen appliances, baby items, etc…there’s a market for most items in your home. Selling those items will give you enough cash to buy gifts if you find yourself in a bind at Christmas.

Pay Off Cards

If you use credit cards for any reason (like gaining rewards points for purchases), it’s important that you always pay off your cards completely when the bill is due.  If you don’t, you will be incurring interest, which will end up costing you a lot of money in the long run if left unattended. If you pay off your cards in full, you won’t have to worry about outstanding debt.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can stay out of debt during the holiday season.  Check out some of our other blog posts in the archives for more debt management tips.

Tips for Using Credit Card Rewards

On this blog we have talked about the dangers and pitfalls of credit cards, however not all credit card usage is bad.  If you are the type of person that can use self-discipline with credit cards, then it might be beneficial for your finances to consider cards that give rewards back just for using them.  Not all rewards credit cards are the same, so if you are interested in making credit card rewards work for your budget, there are a few things to consider.

Find What Works

When you start to look at all the rewards cards that are available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  These days you can probably find any kind of rewards you want. There’s cards that offer cash back, air miles, gift cards, free cruises and more!  Doing research and figuring out what kind of rewards you are interested in before applying for the card is best. Don’t apply for a card with air mile rewards if you never travel.  If cruises are your choice of vacation, then apply for a card that lets you build points towards free trips. The point is, find a card that fits your lifestyle.

Cash Will Always Work

For most people, the rewards card that works the best is always one that offers cash back.  This type of card is especially good for those who are on budgets and need a little wiggle room.  You can find cards with up to 5% cash back on certain purchases. Little by little all those purchases will add up to a nice little bonus check when you cash them in.  Again, do your research and find a card that fits your needs and will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of cash back points.

Just Use One

To get the most out of your rewards card, you will need to run all your spending through that one card.  This is where the self-discipline part comes in–you will have to pay off the balance every month in full.  This way you will avoid interest charges, and you will rack up points fast to get the most rewards. Use the card for every purchase you make, just like you were using your checking account.  Just make sure you keep immaculate records so that you won’t overspend and not be able to pay if off the next month. This is the fastest way to get the most rewards.

Keep Track of Everything

When you use a rewards credit card as your main tool of purchasing, you will need to make sure that you keep track of absolutely everything.  Not only do you have to keep track of your spending, but it is important to keep track of any changes to your credit cards terms and conditions or how long you have until your rewards points expire.  The rules are different for different cards, so you need to read the fine print and know exactly what you are getting into and keep track of any changes you see.

Using credit cards to gain rewards can be a very nice addition to your income if you play the game properly.  Following these tips should get you started off on the right foot.