[The following is a post by John Terrell, a personal finance and money saving enthusiast with a background in the mortgage industry]
A New Year signals the arrival of a new realm of opportunities and possibilities. Have you laid out your financial-related resolutions for the 2014 year yet?
Regardless of whether or not you’ve finalized the resolutions on your list, described below are 3 solid financial goals/resolutions to consider working in to this year:
1. Set a Goal to Establish or Bolster an Emergency Fund
The first item on our list of worthwhile financial resolutions relates to an emergency fund. If you’re not familiar with this type of financial account, it essentially is a place where your store anywhere from 3-12 months’ worth of your families expenses in a cash, or cash-equivalent account for short term emergencies needs. And, no, “emergency,” does not mean that buying a last minute birthday gift!
So, do you currently have an emergency fund?
If not, there is no time like the present to start contributing to one since the funds in this account will enable you to have a safety cushion in the event of an unexpected event so that you don’t have to rack up balances on your credit card.
If you do have an emergency fund, have you taken the time to analyze if you have an appropriate balance in the account? While the general rule of thumb is 6-9 months’ worth of expenses, it is often prudent to actually run a simulation analysis of the exact cash needs that your family would incur if a disaster were to arise and you lost your income.
2. Streamline Your Credit Cards
Another good financial resolution for the New Year is to analyze your current credit cards and credit card debt, if you are currently carrying a balance. For example, if you have good credit and a high-annual fee credit card currently that doesn’t pay any benefits, now might be a good time to look in to getting a cash back rewards credit card instead. In addition, if you have a fairly small amount of credit card debt that is being charged daily interest at a high rate, you might also want to investigate a credit card with a 0% balance transfer offer.
3. Create a Value-Based Financial Plan
The last financial resolution on our list today is to lay out financial goals for the New Year that are in line with you and your family’s life values and dreams vs. planning for only materialistic purchases/goals. This will ensure that you are using money in a way enables you to really get the most out of life.
Photo: LadyDragonflyCC – >;<
According to the USDA Consumer Price Index, food costs are expected to increase 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, affecting the prices of everything from groceries to fast food meals to entertainment venue snacks. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get around increases in the prices of certain foods. It is important to remember that it is always cheaper to eat at home than to dine out. You can tailor your weekly menus to coupons and store circulars to save a significant amount of money on the food that you buy.
Airlines have been doing all that they can to squeeze more people into each plane and make each flight as profitable as possible. In 2014, many airlines are planning on increasing the price of airfare to most destinations, with the exception of traveling to Europe. You can also expect to see higher fees for items like checked baggage, extra legroom, and in-flight meals.
The new car category is expected to see price increases from nearly every manufacturer this year. According to Zigwheels.com, BMW is planning on increasing the prices for its new cars by 7 percent to 10 percent, while Nissan will raise the prices of its cars by 2 percent to 4 percent. Many car buyers are opting for cheaper options, such as certified pre-owned models, to make the price and car payments more affordable on their budget.
You can also expect the price for shipping items to your home or to other people to increase in 2014. The U.S. Postal Service has already announced that the price of a first class stamp will rise 3 cents to 49 cents and that the costs of their shipping services will increase by nearly 2.4 percent. It would not be unlikely for the other large shipping providers to follow suit. To combat the significant costs of shipping items purchased online, you should take advantage of the free shipping offers provided by many internet retailers.
Mint.com was one of the first budgeting apps released to the public and remains one of the most popular. The app allows you to import the information from your financial accounts to help you keep track of your net worth and gives you advice on how to improve your finances. The app also allows you to create a budget based on your income and expenses from previous months and automatically categorizes your transactions once they hit your bank account. Instead of taking the time each day to track your transactions by hand, you have them all in one convenient place where you can view them at your leisure. While Mint is one of the most comprehensive tools on the market, you will need to go in occasionally to manually categorize transactions that the program could not categorize correctly and account for any cash spending that you do.
Level Money is one of the newest budgeting apps to come onto the market and is one of simplest apps to use. This app allows you to track your spending without having to manually enter your transactions into a ledger. It automatically calculates your projected income for the month and subtracts your recurring bills and a general 7 percent savings rate, leaving you with a set amount of money that you can spend on other things during the month. Because the app is connected with your accounts, every time a transaction hits your account, it is subtracted from the amount of money that you have available to spend.
Billguard is another budgeting app that you should consider using. It uses a spending analytics tool to give you a snapshot of your monthly spending and allows you to compare spending across all accounts with the previous month. The app also provides you with personalized savings alerts to help you increase your net worth and searches the Web for coupons that you are most likely to use based on your past spending. Billguard has not yet been released but will be available for the iPhone and Android in February.
There are often two ways to file your information to receive your rebate for a holiday gift you purchased: by mail or online. Sending the information through the mail increases the chances that your information will get lost or misplaced at the fulfillment center. Filing the information online using an app or website operated by the company offering the rebate ensures that your information will be received by the company and will often offer ways to track your rebate status online. If you notice anything incorrect or confusing, you should be able to contact the fulfillment center using the telephone number provided on the website.
Make A Copy
If you are required to send in documentation as proof of making the purchase, make a copy of the documents before you send the originals to the rebate processing center. It is important to retain copies of everything that proves that you made the purchase and submitted your information for the rebate so that you have them if anything goes wrong. If you do not have easy access to a copier, you can take pictures of the documents with a smartphone or digital camera and store them on your computer until they are needed or the rebate has been received.
Don’t Miss The Deadline
In most cases, you have a set amount of time to send in your information to receive your rebate. Any claims sent outside of the established time frame will not be honored by the rebate processing company. While the best way to ensure that you send in the information on time is to send in the rebate as soon as you can, this is not always feasible because you do not know if you will need the receipt to return the gift. Make sure you document the rebate deadline in a prominent place so you will not miss the date and lose your chance to receive the money.