Question: I want to set some financial goals for 2014. What are some of the best ones that will help me improve my finances?
Answer: The New Year is a great time to start fresh and begin putting your finances in order or back in order. Here are some financial goals for 2014.
* Make a budget and follow it. Develop a monthly budget by determining all income, expenses and debt. If you're not sure where to begin, try a free online budget tool, such as www.onlinebudgetadvisor.com. Creating a monthly budget and sticking to it will help you identify where your money is going each month and will help you control spending.
* Track your expenses. If you're not sure what some of your monthly expenses are, a good way to figure it out is by tracking all of your expenses for 30 days. This includes large expenses, like your gas and groceries and also small expenses, like stops for coffee or vending machine snacks. Tracking monthly expenses will help you identify areas in your budget where you can or want to cut back.
* Reduce spending. After you have tracked your expenses and have identified exactly where your money is going each month, look at an area where you want to cut back. It could be grocery expenses or eating meals out. Come up with a strategy to accomplish it. It may be shopping at discount grocery stores or planning meals in advance to avoid the temptation of eating out regularly.
* Check your credit report. Checking your credit report should be a routine activity once a year or once every four months. All consumers are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year. The only place to get your truly free credit report is through the website, www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling toll free 1-877-322-8228.
It's important to routinely check your credit report for several reasons. The first being to ensure you're not a victim of identity theft and the information that is on your credit report should be on there. You also want to make sure the information on your credit report is accurate. Errors could be costly. If you believe there is inaccurate information on your credit report, contact the credit bureau in writing and include proof that the disputed information is incorrect. The credit bureau is required to investigate your claim and respond to you in 30 days.
* Establish an emergency fund. Plan a way to set aside some money for emergencies. The money you set aside each week or each month has no specific purpose, except to help you when the unexpected happens. The funds cans be used to cover the cost of a car or home repair or go toward a bill when your regular income falls short. An emergency fund will help keep you from putting the whole expense on a credit card or taking out a loan when the unexpected occurs.
* Check your insurance coverage. Make sure you have adequate life insurance for any one dependent upon your income and disability insurance to cover you in the event you are injured and lose your income.
* Save for retirement. Consider ways to begin or increase your retirement savings. Look for options on where to start saving for retirement; or if you are already setting aside money, figure out a way to increase your savings in 2014.
Making your finances a priority in 2014 will improve your chances of achieving financial stability.
Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). For more information about the agency's services, please visit www.advantageccs.org or to access the free online budgeting tool go to www.onlinebudgetadvisor.com. If you have money or credit management questions, you can email Ms. Murray at email@example.com. Please provide your name, address and daytime telephone number with all inquiries. Ms. Murray tries to reply to all inquiries but, because of the volume of questions she receives, cannot always respond.