Valdosta Daily Times

January 6, 2013

Budget Diary: Create a new “you”

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — It’s a new year, my dear budgeteers, and that means you can start fresh in the making of a new “you.”

Forget about your shameful escapades of New Year’s Eve, a new day has dawned and I don’t believe in psychics (I also don't believe in dinosaurs, I’ve seen the science and I don’t buy it . . . Bonus points if you know where this is from) but I do believe I see a future filled with fiscal responsibility that will show you the money!

So step up, buckle down and follow my advice per usual to make 2013 a budgeteer-tastic year!



1. Count your dollars like calories.

According to Ryan Seacrest, the number one New Year’s resolution was to lose weight. I source him because Ryan Seacrest is the foremost authority on everything. I mean c’mon, he practically invented the Kardashians.

Anyway, research has shown that if you keep a food diary habitually without fail, it will help keep you honest and keep your diet on track.

Why not apply that same rule to money? Whether you use a pencil and paper or an app on your iPhone, make sure you know where your money is going.

I keep track of my money on a free app called Expense Tracker — Spending Free. It is essentially an electronic check register. I input my income, and deduct every penny I spend under various descriptions.

Those expenses can be looked up in your history and even analyzed in graphs so you can see where the majority of your money is going.

Through this app, I learned that I was spending way too much money eating out. So, this year, one of my resolutions is to cook more (and healthier, of course).



2. Save money like your life depends on it.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas all packed into a two- month span, it can be easy to drain what little money you have saved.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to kick your saving into gear. My number two resolution is to save more money.

I used to treat my savings account like a bill and I would pay into it every check. But with traveling to Chicago over Christmas, having an in-law get married, Christmas presents, Thanksgiving and birthdays of three family members, my savings quickly dwindled.

This year, I have vowed to always pay into savings every pay check even if I can only afford to put in $10. I have also set goal points for myself. I know how much I want to have saved in four months, six months, a year, etc. It’s always easier to work for something when you know what you are working towards.



3. Get your debt in check.

Vow to make this year the year you get your debt under control. I know that it can seem overwhelming to lay it all out, but knowing how much you owe is step number one.

I know that a lot of you have student loan debt, but leave that debt out of your initial plan. Let’s face it, there’s a big difference in paying off $3,000 versus $60,000.

Go through all your credit cards, store credit cards, personal loans and medical bills. Make a list of how much you owe on each one.

Next, look at the interest rates. The debt with the highest interest rate is the debt you want to pay off fastest. Go through and work out how much you can afford to put towards each debt amount.

Remember, in order to put a dent in anything, you need to be making over the minimum payment.

Once you get everything in perspective, set a fool proof plan for yourself with goals. Know that in “x” amount of months you want to pay off “y” amount of debt.

Often times, when you develop a plan, that will help resolve the stress that your debt causes.



4. Don’t try to be a smarty pants.

You may think that you know everything about money, but the fact is that if you’re not Clark Howard, you probably don’t know as much as you think.

When me and Cameron were thinking about buying a house, we went and talked to a broker. He ran our credit, went through all of our debt and told us how much of a down payment we needed to save and how much debt we needed to pay down.

If you really want to get your finances in check, go talk to a money manager, your Certified Public Accountant or even your bank. My bank has people that will talk to you about money free of charge, and many other banks offer the same services.

Even if you aren’t able to invest money or play in the stock market, it’s always a good idea to get a snapshot of your financial reality so you can paint a picture of your financial future.



5. It takes two to budget.

If you’re married or in a serious relationship, it is important to realize that budgeting your finances cannot be done alone.

So much stress and arguing can come from money and often, it is the reason that many couples get divorced or break up.

Whatever rules you devote yourself to, your partner needs to devote themselves to as well.

Me and my hubby talk about finances often and so we are always on the same page. When we first got married, it was overwhelming and difficult and we fought about our debt all the time.

But now, we make bill charts together, we pay our bills together, we look at our debt and map plans together. This way, there is never any finger pointing or blaming because we have both taken responsibility for our debt and our finances together.



6. If you ask, you may receive.

Often times, you can feel stuck in your financial situation. However, you shouldn’t ever lose sight that to a bank and a credit card company, you are a company. They work for you, not the other way around.

If you’re not happy with your interest rate, call and ask for it to be lowered. If you don’t like your bank, change. Sure, you may not always get the answer you want, but if you never ask, the answer will always be no.

Sure, these tips will not make your financial woes vanish into thin air, but they will help make the new year a little less stressful. Happy New Year!

Follow me on Twitter @VDT_Brittany and like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrittanysBudgetDiary.

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