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Refresh Your Finances for a New Year

A new year offers the chance for new beginnings. While it’s true that you can improve all year, and start new projects in any month you desire, we humans tend to want to have a time that we can designate as “the beginning.” The start of a brand new, unspoiled, year is often such a time.

As a result, the new year is a perfect time to refresh your finances. You haven’t made any money mistakes in the new year, right? So, why not keep that going by putting systems into place that will help you improve your financial situation this year?

Organize Your Finances

One of the best things you can do is to get your finances in order. If you aren’t using some sort of financial/budgeting software, start. If you are using this type of software, evaluate it to ensure that it meets your needs. You don’t even have to give your account information away to use this software; I use Quicken on my computer — entering items manually, or scheduling them automatically. I’m still just old school enough not to want my financial software to have access to my accounts.

The important thing is that you have a system in place to help you manage your money, seeing where it is going, and what is coming. I schedule in my fixed transactions at the beginning of each month, as part of my spending plan, so that I have a better idea, at the outset, of what is available to me for spending.

Organizing your finances is about more than just setting up your software, though. Consider other methods of organization. Set up folders now, and throughout the year you can file away receipts for tax purposes. You will save time later, and you will know exactly where to go to reference certain tax-deductible expenses. Now is also a great time to set up paperless finances [3] to help you run more efficiently.

Automate Your Finances

Another way to refresh your finances at the beginning of the year is to automate them. Do you want to save more money each month? Automate the transfer to your savings account so that it happens each month without you thinking about it. Set up direct withdrawal for your bills so that you aren’t scrambling to get the checks out on time each month, or struggling to remember to log in and pay your bills electronically.

Increase the amount of money taken out of your paycheck for your retirement account, and consider other ways that you can automate your finances [4] so that everything flows easily.

Commit to Regularly Checking Your Finances

Once a week, I do a quick check of my accounts. I log in to make sure that everything appears accurate (looking for fraudulent charges and mistakes), and I enter receipts from that week into my personal finance software. I also look ahead to the bills that need to be paid in the upcoming week. While most of my bills are taken care of automatically, some of them, like the payment for my son’s piano lessons, need to be addressed regularly. It takes me 10 to 20 minutes each week to stay current. Once a month, I set aside an hour and reconcile all of my account statements. I have regular times to do this, on regular days of the week, so that it is sort of like a “job.”

Decide to set aside time regularly — whether it’s each day, each week or each month — to do a quick check of your finances, and make sure that everything is running smoothly. That way, you will avoid surprises, and you will keep your finances organized.

(Photo: BasicGov [5])