New year a good time to examine finances


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The queasiness from too much partying may be rough, but your stomach may really turn when the credit card statements and evidence of financial trouble start pouring in.

Money management experts say the start of a new year is an ideal time to try to come to terms with financial difficulties, and they have several key suggestions.

Make a list

Two, actually — one of your income and one of your necessary expenses of food, shelter, clothing and transportation.

Judy Collins, education director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Gainesville, said the lists help people understand how much money they will have left over every month to pay down debt or to spend on nonessential purchases.

Collins said it's important for people to track their spending.

"They have to have a budget. They have to do certain things to keep it on track, and tracking expenses is a good thing," Collins said.

Shop around

Look for ways to cut expenses by, for instance, finding a bank with lower fees or brown-bagging lunch rather than eating out.

The money saved may seem small, but it can add up over time if you save it rather than spend it on something else.

"You can put $5 to $6 in your pocket every day by bringing your lunch to work," said Brenda Williams of the Alachua County Cooperative Extension Service. "A lot of it is just awareness. A lot of people don't know where their money is going and if that is where they want it to go."

Pay off the cards

The interest on credit card debt is stifling for many people who have run up big charges.

While it may be impossible to pay off the accounts at one time, develop a plan to pay them off gradually by setting aside money every month.

"We have options. We're making choices. So what are some of those choices we can do?" Williams said. "Yes, it may be a little inconvenient for a while, but that is a great way to get our expenses under control. Then we are in charge of the money, rather than the money in charge of us."

Start saving

Many businesses make saving for retirement easy with 401(k) plans through payroll deductions. Even 20-somethings just starting a career should start saving for retirement.

Bank savings accounts for emergencies or long-term, big-ticket items such as appliances are also recommended.

"Pay yourself first. I don't care if it's a dollar a paycheck — put it in that account," Collins said. "Put it in there and don't touch it. You are going to have to sacrifice."

Attitude adjustment

Develop an attitude of wanting to tackle the finances and stick to it.

Williams said the entire family should be involved, even children.

"They need to understand why certain decisions are being made. Then everybody can pull together," she said. "It's first attitude. Then awareness — what are the actual figures? Gather the information to make some good decisions. Then do some goals and planning."

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