A CLEAN SWEEP FOR THE NEW YEAR
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League-Your Money Matters
Happy New Year! The hectic holidays are over. The slate has been wiped clean and I'm ready to take on the world. Each January I am filled with the strongest urge to start fresh and get organized. The best part of this annual clean sweep is how much money I'll save when I'm finished.
First select the 1997 calendar of your dreams. If you pick something you don't really like, chances are you won't use it for long and essentially waste money. Next, start planning vacations now. By making travel arrangements this far out you're sure to save big on everything including airline tickets, car rentals and hotel accommodations.
Consider your magazine and newspaper subscriptions and renewals for a moment. If you currently subscribe, write down the renewal dates in your planner so you'll remember to keep that bill in mind for future budgeting. If you don't subscribe now, think back to how many times you bought that magazine off the newsstand. Subscription costs are often discounted 50% or more. You might already be spending that much, without enjoying your favorite publication on a regular basis.
Jot down other renewals such as: auto, home or renter's insurance; safe deposit boxes, club/gym memberships; P.O. boxes, etc. Place them in the overview section of your calendar so you remember to budget for those costs now. Then there won't be surprises with only 30 days to scrape up the money.
The early bird catches the worm, so why not do your spring cleaning a little early. Clean out your files and develop a financial filing system for the year. Include files for checking and saving account statements, receipts for tax deductible items, canceled checks, etc. As you're cleaning, separate all of the past years receipts and statements and sort them into the appropriate categories for your accountant. This saves time for your accountant and money for you.
Keep the cleaning frenzy going and wipe the dust off of your exercise equipment and give it a thorough inspection. Sell the pieces you never use; this is the best time of year as millions of people have just resolved to start exercising again!
End your New Year's cleaning with a shopping spree. Really, I mean it. Return and exchange holiday gifts right away. Otherwise, the receipts will be lost, the store won't carry that model anymore, or worse yet the gift will end up in your closet never to be used again. Use this time to take an inventory of household items you need or older ones that need replacing. End-of-the-year sales are a dream-come-true for bargain hunters.
Take a moment to compare rates between long distance carriers and credit cards. There are more companies out there than you think and often times the companies offering the lowest rates are the least advertised. Therefore you may not even be aware they exist. To receive a listing of the best credit card deals available send a check for $4 to Bankcard Holders of America, 254 Branch Drive, Salem, Virginia 24153. To compare phone companies send a self-addressed stamped envelope with check or money order for $5 to TRAC, P.O. Box 27279, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Get the whole family involved this year. There will be good days when you'll want to share the feeling and bad days when you'll want the support. In both instances, children and under-involved spouses will have a greater appreciation for all that you do.
I've saved the best for last. Make it your most important resolution to establish your financial goals for the year. Begin by paying yourself first. Have a portion of your paycheck automatically deducted into a savings account and/or retirement plan. After a while you won't even miss the extra few dollars. Next list all of your debt, highest interest rate to lowest. Pay those with the highest rate first. Sit down each month and check on your progress. You'll feel terrific as each bill is paid off. You'll be reminded when balances are stagnant from new charges or only making minimum payments. Tailor this plan to your families lifestyle; add the extra facets as necessary.