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If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a close look at your financial wellness, it’s time to spend a few hours looking at the details of your budget and credit score. Financial “spring cleaning” can happen any time of the year. This is an evergreen season for good reason: Consumer debt among Americans is rising at an alarming rate. A typical American household has an average combined debt of $139,500, including payments due on cars, mortgages, and credit cards. Perhaps even worse, 69 percent of Americans reported having less than $1,000 in savings, and 39 percent had no savings at all. No matter what your financial situation, here are some tips on how to stay on track financially.
The first step to any deep-cleaning project is decluttering, so take some time to whittle down the expenses in your life that might be adding up. Some strategies to cut costs include installing long-lasting CFL or LED light bulbs, cooking meals at home rather than going out to eat at restaurants, and cancelling memberships to clubs or gyms that you don’t go to. Late fees on bills also mount, as do dry cleaning all your clothes, or even buying lottery tickets, which, you’ll notice, almost none of us ever win. Identify what you need to be happy and comfortable, ask yourself if it causes you more anxiety than it’s worth, and then cut out everything else that remains.
Next, it’s time to face the big green monster under the bed: Debt! Americans’ overall debt hit a sky-high record of $13 trillion in 2017, way up from the previous record of $280 billion in 2008. On average, Americans under 35 owed $67,000; people aged 45 to 54 owed $134,600; and those over 75 owed $34,500. If you find that you have problems controlling your spending, here are a few habits you should try to adopt:
● When you go out, leave your credit card at home, and only take the cash you need.
● Figure out what triggers your spending, and then steer clear of provocation.
● Set a budget for as many areas of your life as you can – groceries, social activities, vacations, etc. – and strive to always stay under your goal. Having a goal of being under budget rather than meeting it will help you stay on track.
If those tips don’t help, talk to a financial expert about debt settlement, management or consolidation options.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this whole process, though, is to adopt regular savings methods. Those might include downsizing your living space, carpooling rather than driving by yourself, and simply unthreading what you want from what you need. Another effective strategy is to set aside a percentage of your paycheck, whether it’s five, 10 or even two percent – whatever works for you will eventually add up. Arrange with your employer for your savings to come out automatically so that you don’t even have to think about it.
Recovering from Hardship
All too often, our financial wellness takes a dive as a result of a physical or emotional health issue. Life events like surgery or a substance abuse issue can take a huge toll on our bank accounts, so it’s important to take whatever additional steps necessary to find our way back to stability. For example, if you’re recovering from surgery, you can start by working with your care providers to set up payment plans and applying for disability or other financial assistance; if you’re recovering from addiction, you should write out a new budget to reflect your healthy lifestyle and work with your creditors on negotiating the payback of any debt you incurred while you were using.
If you’re still feeling lost about how to clean up your financial act, don’t hesitate to reach out to a specialist – most banks and credit unions offer financial consultations to their clients for free. Whether or not you work with a pro, you can put yourself on firmer financial ground by cutting your costs, managing your spending and building up your savings.