If you were to take a financial snapshot of 2012, what would it reveal?
If zero balances on credit card bills, responsible spending and healthy contributions to your RRSP were the highlights of your financial life last year… congratulations! You don’t need to read this at all, just keep up the good work.
But, if you are like many Canadians and your 2012 was about struggling to get a handle on debt, existing in overdraft and uncertainty about your financial future, then perhaps you need a different approach for the new year.
To kickstart a financially prudent 2013, here are seven actions you can take to improve your net worth:
1. Aggressively pay off your credit cards. It may sound obvious, but many of us are content to let our credit card balances languish, as the interest piles up, and up, and up. Make this the year you pay off those cards, slowly but surely, and if you need inspiration, check out these success stories at Blogging Away Debt and Little Lamb Wants to Be Debt-Free.
2. Take a credit holiday. You can’t very well pay off your cards when you’re still racking them up, so put away your plastic for a while. Decide to go without credit for a week, two weeks, a month — then see how you did. You may be surprised that it wasn’t nearly as awful as you imagined it would be. You might end up with less stuff, but you’ll doubtless enjoy seeing your credit card balance say put.
3. Talk finances with your mate. Many of us are loathe to talk money with our loved ones, but in order to get a handle on debt, it’s essential to talk to your significant other about their financial goals, priorities and weaknesses. It might be a difficult conversation, but it beats figuring out how to deal with overwhelming debt later on.
4. Save up for something. Buying on credit has become a perfectly acceptable way of life for most of us. We need something or want something, so we put it on our credit card and pay for it later. Jot down an item or two that you really, really want – perhaps a weekend getaway or a pair of shoes or a new videogame. Then, instead of throwing the purchase on a card, save up for it. Don’t buy it until you earn the money. As a bonus, it may make you more selective about your purchases.
5. Find your personal budget-busters and cut them out. Coffee, muffins, magazines, pricey work lunches, impulse buys we wear once and then shove to the back of the closet – everyone has their money-wasting vice. For some, these little luxuries help us keep more substantial spending in check. But try chopping a few of these splurges out of your life and assess the outcome. You might prefer the feeling of an extra $100 in your pocket at the end of month to your daily caramel macchiato.
6. Consider some bigger changes. It’s easy to recognize the little things we waste money on. But perhaps it’s time to take a look at the big picture. Are you a two-car family that could do just fine with one vehicle? Could you be renting out a basement apartment? Do you really need to take that annual vacation down south? If debt is seriously hampering your life, it might be time to make a major change.
7. Contribute to your RRSP. You have until March 1st to contribute to your RRSP and get credit for it on your 2012 tax return, so see if you can scrape together enough to purchase one before the deadline. And while you’re at it, begin a direct-deposit account for next year’s RRSP fund. Your retirement-aged future self will thank you for it.
Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.