While many have committed to getting physically fit in 2018, others have decided to get fiscally fit. According to Statistics Portal, a website that provides studies and statistics from over 18,000 sources, 37 percent of Americans have decided that 2018 is the year to cut up the credit cards, stick to a budget and maybe even start saving for retirement.
It’s a lofty goal that, if kept, can bring about numerous benefits, including peace of mind.
“Being in debt can seriously affect a person’s emotional health,” said James Garino, a retired Athens State University economics professor.
He pointed out that debt won’t go away instantaneously, especially if there is a limited or fixed income involved, but it can be done.
The first step, he said, is creating a budget.
“Seeing how much you spend, how much you owe and how much you bring in really opens the eyes,” Garino said. “Once you know where you are at, you can better plan where you are going.”
The simplest method involves entering and tracking expenses and income on an Excel spreadsheet. Smartphone apps such as Wally or Mint expand your budgeting capabilities. Wally allows users to manually enter their expenses and provides alerts when a financial goal is met or a bill is due. Mint builds your personal budget based on your banking account transactions and provides tips on how to save on monthly bills.
Once you have the budget set, there are a number of ways to handle your debt.
Randy Price, a financial advisor at Edward Jones in Athens, said the next step is paying off the most expensive debt first.
“Tackle the debts with the highest interest rates first,” he said. “If you are paying 20 percent interest on a credit card and pay it off, then you are saving that 20 percent.”
If you have multiple cards and your credit is scarred, debt consolidation is a good option, according to Shannon Comer, branch manager at 1st Franklin in Athens.
“Basically, it simplifies things, taking multiple payments and rolling them into one single payment,” Comer said. “That way, people aren’t so overwhelmed.”
While some financial experts suggest consumers pay off their highest interest credit cards first, simpledollar.com recommends the “snowball method,” especially for people who carry multiple balances.
It works like this: Look at all of your debts and determine which is the smallest. Pay it off first, as quickly as possible, while paying only the minimum balance on the rest of the cards in your wallet. Once that debt is paid off, add the amount of that payment to the payment of your second-smallest debt. Continue this cycle, until you’re debt-free.
Put the credit cards on ice.
“Deep down, a lot of credit card spending comes down to self-control,” Garino said. “The next time you go to the store, ask yourself, ‘What am I buying? Do I have to have these new shoes? Can I go without?’”
Garino advised for those in debt to remain firm with themselves.
“You have to say to yourself, ‘I am going to reduce these balances,’ even if that means not going out to eat or buying what you want,” he said.
Once the resolve is there, look into changing the money invested in habits. For example, a daily latte at Starbucks can add up to more than $1,500 a year.
Garino said that instead of investing in the temporary, people serious about getting financially fit should take that money and put it into a savings account. The benefits are numerous.
“First of all, if you build up a cash reserve, you will be able to use that money when life emergencies hit,” he said. “And it allows you to save for big purchases, vacations or retirement.”
Amanda Thompson of Huntsville said she set up her checking account so that money is automatically transferred into her savings weekly.
“The amount increases weekly by just a small amount,” she said. “If I make this payment first, then I can use the rest for fun stuff, but I always pay myself first.”
Price said the earlier people start setting aside a portion of their income for retirement, the better. He regularly visits local colleges to teach students the principals of money management.
“I show them how a person who starts investing right out of college will outpace the person who waits, often having enough to retire at a much younger age,” he said. “But I don’t want anyone to think they are too old to start investing. It’s never too late.”
He said there are numerous investment options out there, but he favors mutual funds.
“The best and most conservative investments are mutual funds, because they consist of a lot of different investments,” Price said. “They give you protection, because one stock may go down but another one will go up.”
Price also said that over time, those investments perform better than other options, such as bonds or a certificate of deposit.
However, if in doubt, find someone who isn’t.
“The key is to do it,” he said. “If you are not knowledgeable about how to build wealth, you need to find someone who is.”
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