12-step financial resolution plan
Good on us! The majority of Canadians make New Year’s resolutions. But oops, most have given up keeping them by February. This year try my 12-step financial resolution plan. One goal per month is the ticket to success.
January: RRSP smarts
Coming soon! RRSP season. Time to get up close and personal with your retirement account. Go to http://www.morningstar.ca/ and look up each fund or ask your advisor to do so. Any that rank three stars or less over three and five years should be tossed. But you may have to pay deferred sales charge fees so weigh that against holding on to stinky funds.
February: Vacation account
With better weather beckoning it’s time to siphon off some vacation money into a separate account so your summer holiday doesn’t end up on your credit card. You’ll need a budget. There are a number of templates available such as the Microsoft Office Vacation Planner. If you can’t save up enough in five to six months for a getaway, downsize your plans.
March: Start shopping
My gift shopping begins in the spring. I pick up small items whenever I see a great sale. Last year, a store closeout netted half-price artisan sauces and vinegars. I stocked up and had an inventory of inexpensive but high quality presents. It’s so much easier finding great gifts at a good price when there is no last-minute shopping pressure.
April: Fridge scrooge
Every year Canadian households throw out hundreds, even thousands of dollars in spoiled food. This month, vow to eat through your fridge. Try two magnetic chalkboards — one for the fridge and one for the freezer — with some general categories listed such as leftovers, veggies, sauces, meat and so on. Have family members jot down meal ideas based on what’s available. You’ll be amazed as your grocery bill shrinks and mealtime stress is reduced.
May: Check your score
An annual credit checkup is an important part of a healthy financial life — especially if you intend to have a major purchase such as a home. Go to TransUnion or Equifax. It will cost about $25 for a full report. If your score is below 700 make a plan to improve it by paying bills promptly, reducing your available credit and ensuring you pay more than the monthly minimum on all credit cards.
June: Exercise on the cheap
As summer approaches change your exercise routine. Instead of expensive fitness memberships, biking, walking, running and hiking are cheap, family friendly activities. Adding them into your weekly routine helps develop money saving, calorie burning habits.
July: Farmers market savvy
Summer farmers markets offer a chance to buy local food. Contrary to what you might think, prices are often lower than in stores, especially for organic produce. By shopping during the final 30 minutes, BOGO (buy one, get one free) offers abound, as farmers would rather reduce prices than haul their products home.
August: Put by
Now that you are a farmer’s market veteran, use this month to learn the satisfying art of putting food by. Canning and preserving is actually quite easy and a super family activity, especially if you frequent U-Pick farms. Eating home canned peaches or pickles in January is sublime. If possible, visit farms on Thursdays or Fridays for the best choice before the weekend rush.
September: Kid literacy
Teach your children money skills by giving them some responsibility for household finances. Involve them in grocery shopping, give them an allowance and allow them to buy their own clothes according to a budget. Children as young as five or six can learn good spending and saving habits if you provide the opportunity for them to participate.
October: Be charitable
All too often we wait until December to make charitable donations. That month is full enough and it can be hard to make a good decision when pressed for time and attention. Giving is so much more pleasurable when the charity is something meaningful to you and your family. Talk to your children about how and where they would like to give. You may be surprised at their ideas and passions.
November: Be an early elf
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday now a Canadian event, it’s a great time to shop for major presents on your holiday list. However, before you hit the stores do some planning with a list and an Internet price comparison search. Try ShopBot, Nextag or Shoptoit.
With your finances in better shape and holiday shopping completed, give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy this month knowing that you can make a great deal of progress on any goal if you break it up into small, achievable steps.
Happy New Year to everyone!