Q: I’m working on my financial resolutions for the start of the new year and wondered if you could offer a place to start. — Jayne (via Twitter)
A: Jayne, my guess is that you already know where to start. Each year, American’s make pretty much the same (financially-themed) New Year’s Resolutions with the best of intentions. They are:
1. Save more money each month
2. Reduce monthly spending
3. Pay off credit card debt
4. Build an emergency fund
5. Save more for retirement
This tells me that we know what to do. But much like eating better and getting more exercise, we lose momentum ... often within a matter of weeks.
To avoid losing that momentum, take advantage of this New Year’s honeymoon or grace period to put some things in motion that will help you achieve these goals even after the excitement wears off.
For starters, go to your financial institution and create a separate sub-account of your savings into which a portion of your paycheck (at least 10% please) will go. Your bank or credit union should do this automatically for you. Entitle it “Credit card debt,” “Emergency fund” or some other important savings goal that will help remind you to keep your hands off of it.
Next, go to HR at your place of employment and make sure that your paycheck is being direct deposited for you. While you’re there, also make sure that you’re contributing at least the amount of your company match to your employer-sponsored retirement plan. Your company might only be contributing 3%, but again, 10% is a good starter goal.
Finally, make a household budget if you haven’t already, print it out, laminate it, and staple it to the ceiling above your bed. OK ... maybe don’t do that. But do laminate it and put it somewhere where you have no choice but to look at it regularly. The fridge door is OK, but it may be too easy to take down; and the more often you look at it, the more likely you are to stick with it. Good luck!
Q: I’m trying to save money on food this Christmas by shopping at ... non-traditional places. My wife is convinced I’m going to kill our family with expired food. How do we resolve this issue? — Jerry (via Facebook
A: Jerry, your use of the word “non-traditional” is actually scaring me a bit too. Are you dumpster-diving behind Dillons or something??
Seriously, I applaud you looking toward food as a way of saving money. The average American household throws away about 1 pound of food per person per day. And that’s just what we eat at home.
Dept of Commerce stats say that we spend just under $4,500/year on food eaten at home. But about 20% of that is wasted. So we’re throwing out $900 each year. And while some of it is undoubtedly on the moldy soup that got shoved to the back of the refrigerator, much of it is food that could have been saved. There are entire grocery stores and non-profits dedicated to saving and offering food that is still good, but that the “typical” consumer won’t buy. Apples with a few defects. Milk that has hit the “sell by” date. Canned, boxed or dried foods where people misinterpret what the “Best if used by” date means.
Now, not being a food column, I’m not going to start sharing how to salvage old produce or repurpose doggie-bag meals. But there are significant financial savings to be reaped by sustainable purchasing, conscientious storage, and educated and outside-the-box usage of foods that too many of us don’t take the time to consider around busy holidays.
Jerry, I’m going to settle this debate by asking both you and your wife to do some quick reading from trustworthy sources about the specifics of whatever it is that you’re doing. I, for instance, recently learned that orange juice needed to be refrigerated. I ignored the people who told me that because they claimed in the same breath that ketchup did as well, but turns out they were right about the OJ. There is plenty for us all to learn, and plenty of money to be saved by doing so.
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— Eric Litwiller has spent the last nine years of his professional career helping people achieve their financial goals through the use of budgets, retirement vehicles, and estate planning options. He is a firm believer in the importance of using earthly riches to fulfill a mission of Christian stewardship. Eric is not a licensed financial planner.