Start 2017 With a Financial Cleanse
Learn more about Michael on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
Do you feel like you’ve lost control of your finances recently? Maybe you went overboard during the holiday season, or you’ve become lax in monitoring your spending.
Whatever the reason, here are some steps to reset your financial baseline in 2017.
Track your spending for the next 30 days
This exercise is as painful and time-consuming as it sounds. I’m listing it first because it’s the most important step. If you execute just one item on the list, do this. My wife and I did at the beginning of last year and we’re still seeing benefits.
The practice of tracking will make you more focused and frugal when it comes to spending money. You can compare it to a person tracking all of their calories or recording the weight they lift at the gym.
Assess all recurring subscriptions
Many people use at least one subscription service, such as a gym membership, styling subscription, wine club, meal delivery service, credit monitoring service or video streaming app. There’s nothing wrong with holding these subscriptions as long as you know how many you have and are receiving the value you expect. Ask yourself whether you’d join now if you weren’t already a member.
Save your annual raise
Often, merit increases go into effect and bonuses are paid in the first quarter. Make a habit of increasing the amount of your paycheck that goes to savings every time you get a raise. You can do this by increasing your 401(k) contribution percentage or the amount you send to your taxable investment or savings account.
Renegotiate with vendors
This is a tactic from my experience in corporate finance. Every year, we’d list all of our vendors, assess the value of each and try to renegotiate better rates. We weren’t always successful, but our efforts always resulted in savings. I recommend you do the same with your personal vendors. Consider your cable, internet and phone service as a starting point and get more creative from there.
Book your 2017 travel early
If you aren’t a planner, this can be tough. However, you might already know a few weddings or family events you’ll need to travel for this year. Bite the bullet, open your calendars and book a few months ahead of time. Look for no-fee, refundable options when possible. Some airlines have better policies than others, and most hotels let you cancel without a fee up to a few days in advance.
We often travel to Chicago to visit my wife’s family. If we book a few months out, we can usually fly for less than $200, but if we wait until the month before, the tickets can easily cost $500. This adds up fast when it happens a few times per year. Now we book earlier and use an airline that allows for flexibility.
Record your charitable giving
Setting up a tracking system for charitable contributions is simple but beneficial. In the past, I’ve tracked the big-ticket charitable contributions, but failed to capture several small ones. If you have a process at the beginning of the year, you’re more likely to remember everything for the charitable deductions on your tax returns.
Taking this one step further, clean out your closets and purge items you no longer need. Get a receipt for your donations. More charitable contributions tracked equals more money in your pocket when you file your tax returns.
Check your credit
It can take some time to remove inaccurate information from your credit report. Request a copy of your credit report now to ensure everything looks correct. If you wait until a company is performing a credit check, it will likely be too late to report an error, which could lead you to receive higher interest rates or loan denials.
Keeping your finances under control takes time and effort. It’s easy to veer off track for a few months, especially during the holiday season. Now is the time to reflect and recalibrate for a healthy and prosperous 2017.