More of Getting Financially Fit for 2013

Last week I promised that we’d talk about some specific small steps you can take to change your finances around. Why small steps? If it’s too big, your sub-conscious mind will revolt against huge goals which seem impossible to reach.

You’re not going to lose 60 lbs, but you can lose a pound a week. You won’t run the marathon this summer, but you can go for a 15 minute walk each day. You also won’t be debt free by March, but you can start on that journey with one step at a time.

Resolve to say no: Whether it’s to yourself when it comes to spending, to your kids, people at work, or anywhere else. It’s the one word that’ll change your financial life and overspending.

Set yourself a credit limit for the next month. Pick a dollar figure below which you’ll pay by debit card or cash. Maybe $20 or $30 bucks – that’s it. Anything below that, you’ll pay with real money, instead of running up debts. It’ll become a great habit and will cut down your credit card balance in huge ways.

Take your credit cards out of your wallet for two weeks. You don’t need them just to go to work and home. That way the temptation and impulse spending is gone. Take a $20 bill and hide it in your wallet or purse for an emergency. If it’s really for an emergency you’ll still have it in there in six months. With credit cards we spend 12 to 18% more than paying by debit card or cash. When you don’t have them on you, you can’t overspend.

Keep your car for another year. If you believe a cool car is a status symbol and a must-have, you’re doomed to be in debt for decades to come. Not to mention that almost 50% of people trade their vehicle and STILL owe more than it’s worth. The goal should be to drive a reliable vehicle that doesn’t have payments with it, which are killing your chances to save, or to get ahead financially.

Annual bills kill your budget, but they’re not a surprise. You know they’re coming – but you don’t have the money to pay them. Open a savings account and add up what you’ll need for next years’ Christmas bills, your property tax and car or home insurance. Divide it by 12, and put that amount away monthly. A small amount each month is doable, a huge bill sets you back months.

Pay off one bill. Minimum payments buy you another month – nothing more, and it’s treading water. Credit cards and debts are not your friend. They’re financial dream killers, suck money out of your pocket, and add a ton of stress to your life and your relationship. Take your smallest bill and put every dollar you can towards it while paying minimum payments on everything else. When it’s gone, you know it’s not coming back. If you want – and you should – take the next smallest and focus only on it. This step-up plan will get you debt free in less than half the time. It’s an entire section of the It’s Your Money book and will change your financial life forever.

Test drive these six suggestions for the next two weeks or the rest of the month. It’s not overwhelming and it’ll be easier than you think. Then you can choose to carry on with some or all of them for another month. By that time, it’ll be habit and part of your life. If nothing else, at least resolve to make this the year where you spend more time planning your finances than your vacation.

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