It's the end of the year and you are not even close to finishing your Christmas shopping. Just looking at your unfinished To Do list is making you cringe. How in the world are you supposed to even start thinking about next year's finances? Geez, lady, are you crazy?
No, not crazy, but I'm hoping that with a little nudge, you'll be able to get a jump start on improving your finances in the new year. Here's a list of simple things to get you started now, so you will already be in the habit when Baby New Year arrives.
Flex Accounts: Make sure you have depleted your flex account before it's too late. Also reevaluate your information and increase/decrease your amounts as needed.
End of Year Medical Receipts: Gather all medical receipts for your accountant because you may qualify for a tax break. Ask the pharmacy and your physicians for a print out if locating your receipts becomes too difficult. Think: braces, medications, canes, medical equipment, etc.
Drop off Donations Now: If you're planning to get rid of old clothes, household items, toys or lawn equipment this is a great time to do it and, happily, you will be given a receipt for your taxes.
Start saving one type of money: Select one kind of money and vow to set it aside every time it crosses your path. Ones, fives, all change or just quarters, whatever you choose. Just make sure you get it out of your wallet and put it some place you won't be inclined to dip into. It's the most painless way you'll ever save and you can use it for debt repayment or perhaps for an irregular expense such as auto insurance. At my house, we have several of these in place. The Giving Jar and The Vacation Jar (which isn't intended to pay for the entire vacation but for and extra special outing or dinner while on vacation or possibly a fun day trip) are used by the whole family. We each have our own piggy banks/jelly jar and the individual gets to use those funds at their own discretion.
Bank the raise. Have your payroll department to deposit your raises into a separate savings account. You're already living without it and the money is available if you really, really neeed it.
Run your appliances wisely: This is another almost too easy kind of thing to do I tend to lower the thermostat considerably when the kids are at school and I can offset the temperature drop by strategically using my appliances. You would be surprised how much heat your dryer and oven generate. Let me be clear: I'm not sitting around waiting for subzero temps to dry a load of towels but I'm mindful of keeping the indoor chores in line with the outdoor temps when I can and the savings have been very noticeable. Who knew making sugar cookies for Christmas would lower the power bill? Score!
Deposit reimbursements: Many employers reimburse you for specific expenses such as mileage, meals, professional membership dues and bus passes. Consider adding these to your savings account if you don't need them in your checking account. I've got a friend who travelled for his job and was reimbursed for all the mileage he incurred. He used the reimbursements to make his car payments and used to joke it was the truck that ACME Electric paid for. He drove that truck until it literally fell off the wheels, so double score for him!
Use those Gift Cards wisely: Don't be disappointed your Christmas bounty included gift cards to big box stores. Find a website to swap them out or better yet, just go stock up on necessities. Everything may be so expensive nowadays, but you'll be surprised how much toilet paper you can get for that $100 gift card.
Improve your Lunches: Forget the puny brown paper bag and a piddly PB and J. And don't even think you're going to eat this way for five days a week. Go out and get yourself a nice lunch box (I like the kind that store in the freezer) and a simple thermos. Slice up last night's roast beef and put it on some nice rye or thick hoagie bread. Add your favorite spicy or flavored mustard and pickles. Throw in some leftover salad and add some Greek yogurt on the side. How about some leftover chili? Shredded cheese (the nice kind) and some croutons packaged on the side will make a great topping. You aren't trying to do this every day and you aren't buying tons of expensive ingredients so by setting reasonable and tasty expectations you can save a great deal money. And time. Who wants to spend their lunch hour waiting in line for a greasy burger and cold, limp fries when you can have a great meal that is free!
Be smart and use your smart phone: Set your smart phone calendar to alert you 3-5 days before a bill is due. Late fees can run anywhere from $20-$100 (yes, you read that right and no, I'm not going to name names,) If you're going to pay out an extra $20 per month use it as an extra debt payment instead of a late fee.
Get a shredder: Financial security includes protecting what you have before some thug steals your identity. All you need is a shredder, cardboard box, one trash bag and very gross leftovers. Put your unneeded documents in a cardboard box. When it's full, sit down with a shredder (they're fairly inexpensive) and start shredding away while listening to some tunes or watching tv. Once that's done, fill the trash bag with your financial confetti and any gross trash you have: the cat's litterbox deposits and anything in the fridge ready to be tossed out works fine. Nobody, not even a thief, is going to want to try puzzle piecing your wet, stinky bank statements.
Look around you: You probably don't realize that some of your wealthy looking friends are just that --wealthy looking. They appear to be living the good life but are up to their eyeballs in debt. Now look around you again. You come in contact with a lot of people who look like they are living the good life even though they make exactly what you make. How is that possible? Because they are smart with their money and their purchases. Watch and learn. They're are tons of ways to get what you want without paying full price. I recently paid $25 for a $50 gift card at the laser tag center for my teenager by simply signing up at one of those local promotion websites. Ask around and pick some brains. Learn from those who are living the good life.
Do it the Old School Way: Check out credit unions for Christmas Club accounts. See what stores have layaways (yes, they're back!). Turn in your cola cans at the recycling center for a few pennies. Get creative.
Do it the New Way: Look online to see where you can sell your old electronics or which stores will take your old cell phone as a trade in toward your new one. It may be a good idea to check out the online yard sales to see what's out there. You may find something you need or get an idea of what is the current hot seller.
Set reasonable goals: If the thought of obtaining debt freedom or having a year's emergency fund is so daunting you can't even get started, then reset your goals to something more reasonable. Perhaps having a goal of paying off that $150 credit card balance or puttting aside one weeks' income is more manageable. Once you achieve that, you're going to feel empowered and ready to climb a little higher up your financial ladder.
Money matters aren't easy. If they were, we'd all be sitting on a huge pile of savings with not a financial care in the world. Take very small steps, especially if you're afraid of failure or have the all or nothing frame of mind many of us do. With each step, you get a better understanding of what you are capable of and how far you've come.
A word of caution. Never try everything all at once. Pick a few things and master those skills one at a time before moving forward. This isn't a race. You are building a strong foundation for your financial future to rest on.