Ballooning credit card debt? Expensive kids? Large mortgage? Feeling in over your head? Read below for five steps to help you build your financial muscle.
Every day: Record purchases
Keeping track of every dollar spent may seem like a hassle – every pack of gum? every trip to the gas station? – but with the range of high and low tech options, there’s no excuse not to do it. Jeffrey Schwartz, the Toronto-based executive
director of Credit Counselling Services of Canada, says the exercise is an important eye-opener that can help you plan your budget. “You’re going to be able to identify areas where you can cut back.”
Every pay period: Put 10 per cent of your pay into savings
The key to easy saving is making sure it’s invisible. You’ll be contributing a steady amount to an account you won’t touch and the money will be taken out before you even notice it was there in the first place. You can set up a plan with your bank to siphon off 10 per cent each paycheque – but feel free to start at a mere 5 or 6 per cent to ease into things.
The best invisible method for a heavy debit-card user: Take advantage of bank programs that allow you to round up every retail purchase to the next $5 or $10 benchmark. Say you are charged $22 at a grocery store for toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant. When you go to pay, the total is rounded up to $25 or $30. The extra money goes straight to a savings account.
Every month: Tackle one major debt
You could spend the rest of your life making the minimum payments on your outstanding debts – and lose thousands on interest along the way. Instead, pick one to tackle each month, and put whatever extra you can into paying it down.
Every month: Find a new discretionary expense to cut or scale back
You hear about the “latte factor” – the way that daily specialty coffee can set you back $1,000 per year – but that’s not the only discretionary expense that’s draining your bank account.
You might consider your bundled telecom-service package a fixed expense, but there’s a lot of trimming you can do in that department. For instance, get rid of the unlimited texting plan if you only send 100 messages each month. Unbundle your services and shop around to different providers.
Every year: Reassess your credit-card and bank-account choices.
You can cut up your credit cards, freeze them, or hide them under the couch, as dozens of personal-finance books will advise you – but that’s extreme. You don’t need to use it often, but a credit card is a near necessity, Murray Morton,
a Toronto financial planner, says. You need it to book a hotel room, rent a car, etc. Have a credit card for an emergency or to establish credit but pay off your cards each month and look at the type of cards you have.
Depending on your lifestyle, it’s best to get a credit card with no fee that has an attainable rewards program. No point in getting a credit card with a hefty annual fee and a rewards program that is hard for you to obtain.
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