(BPT) - Did you retire the checkbook and register years ago? Do you now pay your bills automatically? If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be in the dark about your account balance(s) and exactly where your money is going. One or more skeletons could be lurking in your financial closet. Oh, the horror!
Fear not this Halloween season. Let's get you to a healthier, happier place. It's time to reverse the ghastly trends bewitching your finances and scare up some cash for life's next big moment.
1. Prioritize for less trick or more treat.
To get the most out of your money, you need priorities. Start with a list of core expense categories: home (mortgage, repairs, utilities), health (meals, gym, medical), vanity (clothing, hygiene), entertainment (movies, sporting events), travel, commute (car loan, gas), savings and miscellaneous. Organize as many expenses as you can under these. When one doesn't fit, boot that skeleton and it won't spook you any longer. Now, order the categories from most to least important. When money is scarce, priorities help you to reduce or cut an expense altogether. Here's a budget tracker to help you get started.
TIP: Any system you create or adopt to eliminate distractions and better sort through the numbers will increase your ability to make sound financial decisions.
2. Look into your haunted habits.
Pull aside the cobwebs on your checking account and closely examine the ghosts of intentions past. Maybe it's a gym membership you no longer use, or perhaps you're spending too much on a hobby. Here's one that can really haunt cash flow - dining out too often. It's easy for new expenses to creep in, stay too long and burden you. Some begin as an investment in a good thing, but then life happens. Be honest - you won't finish all you start. The wind shifts and so will you.
TIP: By facing the realities, you can re-align your spending with your greatest wants and needs.
3. Don't get spooked.
Financial habits form easily. While some can be difficult to reverse, few things are as frightful as a shrinking account balance! Be strong and level with yourself. Which expenditures can you continue to afford? Which need to be retired? Calm those eerie voices in your head that won't leave you alone. You should be doing this. You could be there instead. The calling may be medical expenses, a bigger car to accommodate the kids, a much-needed home repair or a vacation.
TIP: As Benjamin Franklin warned, "Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today."
4. Be patient, but be constant.
Depending on the amount of money you're trying to scare up, it could take months or years to save, so start now. Monitor progress and hold the course dutifully. The ghosts that once haunted your cash flow probably lingered for months (if not years). Saving money often takes time, and while the impact of your new financial priorities could produce an immediate bump, most will take longer to deliver. Some experts in supernatural phenomena recommend you clean your house regularly to discourage ghosts from returning. Some believe ringing a bell is a good practice.
TIP: Set alarms in your phone to encourage regular reviews of expenses and other sound financial habits.
5. Live peacefully and prosper.
The hard work has been done - you faced the ghosts, weren't spooked, retired them and got your financial house in order. Congratulations, you chose the future over the past! Now, go forward with renewed energy.
Here are a few suggestions for the cash you've scared up:
* Open or boost a savings account.
* Take on a certificate with a yield.
* Invest in a money market fund.
* Enjoy that vacation you've wanted to take.
* Contribute to your retirement savings.
* Get a head start on home improvements before the spring.
"You rarely hear anyone say, 'I started saving for retirement too early in life,'" says Kevin Driscoll, vice president of advisory services at Navy Federal Financial Group. "If you start saving earlier than later, you'll be financially healthier throughout your retirement years."
TIP: Align your money closely with short and long-term goals to reduce anxiety and enhance your well-being.
Money matters are so much more than a series of cold numbers. How you manage your financial house can bring warmth to your life or haunt your cash flow. Here's to taking a few sound steps toward scaring the horror from your finances.
"Invest in your future today and reap the rewards of financial freedom later," says Thomas Racca Jr., manager in Navy Federal's Personal Finance Management division. "The choice is ultimately up to you. If you work hard at following these steps, then you can achieve your personal goals and also enjoy the journey along the way."
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