By Gina Marinelli, Refinery29
Excuse our eye rolls, but reserving the New Year for finally organizing our lives or simply making a change for the better is far from ideal. We appreciate the symbolism of a fresh year and new start, but all too often, those plans don't pan out. And, if you're struggling paycheck-to-paycheck in April and your social life is making you sad in August, then we say waiting is not an option. So, before the holiday hoopla kicks off, we're resolving - right here and now - to get our acts together. And, we brought in the big guns.
Tackling our bank accounts, we went to one expert who helped us re-evaluate a few key areas. With her help, we've rounded up clever tips for finally getting our lives in order without the pressure of the New Year lingering over our heads. Read on, get started, and don't be surprised if everyone's asking you for advice come January 1.
Organize: Your Money
.NIX THE UNNECESSARY
You work hard for your money, and frankly, you deserve to treat yourself to weekly drinks with the girls, an annual vacation, and all those SoulCycle classes. But, it's starting to add up. Von Tobel says the solution can be found right at home. "You may think your budget is as lean as possible, but there are always tips and tricks that can help you free up some extra cash," the financial-planning pro says. Re-evaluate how your money is spent in your home, and explore the alternative - and perhaps cheaper - options. "For example, the average U.S. household spends $2,000 per year on electricity, but studies estimate that 10% of your electric bill pays for power you aren't even using. There are ways to avoid this, like making sure you don't have any 'vampire electronics' plugged in, wasting energy (cell-phone chargers fall into this category, for example)." Von Tobel's advice is to find the best deals on those boring (or, rather, necessary-but-boring) items such as utilities or cable, so as to pocket more of your hard-earned cash for things you truly enjoy.
RELATED: More Ways To Organize Your Life
.GET A GAME PLAN
Finding a two-bedroom for a reasonable price may give you a thrill now, but you have dreams of signing a deed in the next five years. So, instead of setting yourself up for a purchase you can't quite afford, Von Tobel stresses that we must make a plan. Consider your down payment - that's 20% of your new, dream house's price - and make adjustments, as necessary, to begin saving up the cash. This preparation is the most important step, our expert says. "If you buy a home that you can barely afford and then something happens to your income, you will be stuck in quite a stressful situation."
The good news: If you set a five-year plan, you still have some time to improve your financial status before you sign on the dotted line. And, don't forget your credit score (i.e., check it now!) to ensure it's in a solid place for when you're ready to apply for a mortgage. Bonus: Save an extra few bucks with Von Tobel's suggestion for a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
.MAKE IT PERSONAL
It's a proud day when you realize that you not only have enough money to live comfortably, but you're even pocketing a little extra. "I firmly believe that investing your money is one of the smartest ways to grow it over the long term," Von Tobel tells us. "It's all about putting your money to work for you." Per our expert, first and foremost, you should make sure your finances are thriving (this means that you're debt-free, you're regularly saving for retirement, and you have backup funds in case your investment flops), then move on to making a selection. "Ultimately, investing is personal," she says. Do your research on the companies you believe in, and be willing to commit at least five years, as the market tends to be "unpredictable."
.SPLURGING IS A GOOD THING
Go ahead. Read that again. Spending a little more than usual is a good thing, and it's even better when done properly. Thankfully, Von Tobel has filled us in, just in time for the season's bonus checks and a little extra pocket change. "Before doing anything with that sweet holiday bonus, put the bulk of it out of sight (and straight into your savings account) until you decide what you want to do with it," she wisely tells us. "Though this isn't the most exciting way to spend the extra cash, you'll want to use 90% of that bonus toward your financial future. Start by putting it toward any outstanding debt. Then, look to your emergency savings and retirement accounts."
Once that's covered, the remaining 10% is dedicated entirely to the purchases that make you happy, she says. That pair of Acne boots, a color and cut at a fancy salon, or hitting the slopes for a weekend getaway may never feel sweeter.
.CREATE A FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK
While all of our bank accounts may look different, Von Tobel claims there's one common goal we can set for 2014. "Get organized!" she says. "Creating a financial framework is definitely feasible to accomplish and implement." Begin with establishing a separate e-mail account, she advises, to keep track of your statements, set calendar reminders for your monthly bills and other financial responsibilities, and - her personal recommendation - use tools like the LearnVest Money Center that help you consolidate and manage financial responsibilities and goals in one place.
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