Top five ways to take charge of your money in 2012
Now is the time to take control of your finances and get in financial shape for 2012.
It's 2012, do you know where you money is?
It's no trivial question. For most households, money comes in and goes out almost simultaneously and keeping track is like trying to count cars going in both directions on a 16-lane stretch of highway.
With a little time and effort, however, you can take charge of your money now and by this time next year, you might be surprised at what you've accomplished.
Read on for the top five things you can do to take charge of your money in 2012:
1) Learn from the super rich: As a portfolio manager at Raymond James Ltd. in Vancouver, Jeffrey Sandler earns his money advising wealthy people about how to make their money work for them.
"They're all free spirited and loving life but they recognize money as a vital resource," he said. "And they watch their money every month with more care than most people would give them credit for."
Job #1 in taking control is to pay attention to the small stuff, starting with creating a budget. Sure, you may know how much you spend on the big stuff — the mortgage, car payments, gas, food, insurance, and phones — but how much are you spending on the little things? They all add up. Make a budget. Stick with it, and this is the really important part, check back every month to reconcile what you actually spent with what you budgeted. Do it for six months and be vigilant. You'll be amazed at the impact on your spending.
2) Max out your credit card: Huh? Don't most personal finance advisors tell you to cut up your credit card, like that lady in the TV show? What Michael Kulbak, director of business development at the Certified Management Accountants Ontario professional development arm, actually means is, use your credit card for almost all your spending and pay it off in full every month. We'll repeat that last part in case you conveniently skimmed over it: Pay it off in full every month. No exceptions.
"It will give you a record of every transaction and allow you to track your budget," he says. "And, if you get a dividend card it will pay you back two per cent of your purchases over $2,500. I'm getting $700 back this month which is nice at this time of year."
Oh, and one more thing: Read your statement line by line. You never know when there's been a fraudulent transaction or if you've unwittingly signed up for a recurring monthly charge.
3) Get out of debt: Mortgage aside, there are few excuses for having debt — before you acquire anything else, get that monkey off your back. "Do you really need a car?" asks Sandler while Kulbak suggests getting a line of credit to pay off your credit card balance is one of the smartest moves you can make.
"The people with second and third mortgage are living too high a lifestyle and will crash," warns Sandler. "Anything with a high interest debt that isn't tax deductible has to go."
4) Build a lifeboat: Your budget should include money diverted into a savings account, say both Sandler and Kulbak. "This is money you're not going to touch," says Sandler. "It's your lifeboat in case you or your spouse lose your jobs."
The lifeboat should consist of three to six months of pared-down living expenses, able to cover the essentials of mortgage, heat, hydro, taxes and food and it should be liquid or at least easy enough to get to but not too easy to dip into for everyday expenses.
5) The future arrives today: They say time flies. It does and if you haven't started saving for retirement yet, you're already late.
With the demise of company pension plans which guaranteed a monthly payout during retirement after a set number of years of service (Defined Benefit Plan), you're on your own with what's called a Defined Contribution Plan. In the latter, the company matches what you put away every month into your own RRSP.
"The forced saving really does work," says Kulbak. "It's painless if you just take $25 or $50 off each cheque."
Even then it's not enough just to hand your nest egg over to the local bank branch and expect them to diligently manage it for you.
"Get educated on investing," says Sandler. "Spend some time at the library or go online and invest eight hours in learning. Those hours could be worth tens of thousands of dollars 20 or 30 years from now when you go to retire."
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