Getting Financially Fit For 2008

The good news: It’s a new year! The chance to start over, to resolve to do better, to do more, or in the case of your payments and all that interest – to do a lot less.

The bad news? It’s likely that you’re already broke! How is that? Well, we spend more than 120% of our disposable income, half of us have no savings and almost 70% of us don’t make RRSP contributions. Why? Because every dollar we earn goes to make a long list of lenders really really rich, and there’s simply nothing left at the end of the month.

So when it comes to making some commitments about our debt, credit and all those bills, perhaps we should think small to make sure we set ourselves up for a win, and not a sure-fire let-down. But small doesn’t mean pointless, small just means some little steps you can actually keep, that’ll pay off big for 2008.

If you need additional motivation, remember that every $100 you don’t pay out making lenders rich is really about $150 or more. Why? Because you earn gross income, then all the deductions and tax come off your pay, and it’s only the net income that you have left over to pay bills.

So here are some more points, continuing our list from last week:

6. Set yourself a credit limit. If you won’t leave your credit cards at home for at least 90 days – pick a dollar figure below which you’ll pay by debit card or cash. Maybe $20 or $30 bucks – that’s it. But anything below that, you’ll spend 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. After all, look at your statement. Almost all the charges are for pretty mickey mouse amounts that add up in huge debts – twenty bucks at a time.

7. Destroy your line of credit cheques and unhook the account from your bank card. Your line of credit was set up for emergencies and not for monthly bills. It’s too tempting to use the account if there are cheques around. Because when you use a line of credit for a monthly bill – the next bill will be here in thirty days, while you’re paying the last one off with interest over a year or more!

8. Close your overdraft. I know – it’s like being hooked on drugs. It’s so convenient and always there and you can’t live without it any more. Well, that’s what the banks were counting on, and where they make a huge amount of their profit. But it’s killing you. Just a $1,000 overdraft will cost you between $200 and $300 in interest and fees. It’s a one-time pain to cancel the overdraft, but it’s worth it.

9. Change to a credit card that isn’t a credit card. We’re now averaging three credit cards each, and it’s rising, while card issuers keep upping our limit to make sure we have much less chances of paying them off every month. With no grace period and over-limit charges, it’s a recipe for spending a ton of money needlessly. Get yourself an American Express Green card. That’s not a credit card – it’s a charge card. At the end of the month, there are no payments to make – the balance has to be paid off in full. Oh sure, the first month that’ll be painful. But after that, you’ll watch what you’re charging pretty carefully, and you’ll never ever have a credit card balance again. What’s that kind of financial freedom worth?

10. Contact the credit bureau to get a free copy of your credit report. Almost all lenders now base your interest rate on your credit report and its credit score. So you have to know what’s in there and whether there are errors on your file. The how-to is in the It’s Your Money book and will take under five minutes. Less than 30% of us ever look at our file and that can easily cost us two or three percent on everything we borrow. After all, knowing is always better than hoping.

11. 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 – that’s financial suicide when you take your extra debt and just roll it over to the next new car with interest for another five or six years. It makes things worse – much worse. And your car will never increase in value. So the goal should be to drive a reliable vehicle that doesn’t have payments with it which are killing your chances to save or get ahead financially. Imagine a couple of years without car payments and the huge financial advantage you’ll create for yourself. And remember: Those $400 car payments are actually more than $600 in gross earnings. If you can’t get a $600 raise this month – here’s a way to get it – you’ll just be giving it to yourself!

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