Don't put it off any longer: January is the perfect time to get your finances in order.
Canesha Funderburke, financial education coach at the Financial Capability Network (FCN)—a United Way program—offers tips to take control of your money and your life in 2017.
Her motto: "There's nothing to fear. You don't have to have a vast knowledge of finances. You just have to get in the habit of doing it."
1. Create a spending plan. If you already have a budget, now is the time to update it. If you don't have one, Canesha shares some guidance to get you started:
- Add up the money you have coming in each month: your wages and your spouse's, as well as any alimony, government assistance, or other income.
- Determine how much you spend each month. If you have online banking, pull the prior month's statement, as well as any credit card statements. If not, take a month to write down every penny you spend.
2. Make payments on time. This includes everything from credit card and loan payments to rent and utilities. Late payments can damage your credit score and your ability to get a loan in the future. Canesha recommends putting your due dates in your spending plan, as well as tracking them in your own scheduling system, whether that be a planner or your phone's calendar.
3. Save, save, save. January is a month of diets, and Canesha recommends going on a spending diet. Try to cut out as many expenses as possible for the first few months, and save that money instead. You'll quickly see the difference it can make.
If you have credit card debt, stop using those cards, at least for a few months, while you get things under control. People tend to think of credit as backup money, when it's actually borrowed money you have to pay back with interest.
4. Set short- and long-term goals. Canesha knows that it's hard to keep your eyes on the prize and stick to a budget. But if you set goals for yourself, such as paying off one credit card or building a certain amount in savings, and track your progress toward them, you'll get a sense of accomplishment and well-being that you might usually get from spending on luxuries.
5. Consider one-on-one financial coaching. The Financial Capability Network offers FREE and unlimited financial coaching sessions to moderate- and low-income individuals, which you won't find anywhere else in the area. Canesha typically meets with clients once a month after an initial get-to-know-you session. She helps clients with:
- Creating a monthly spending plan
- Pulling credit reports
- Creating a plan to pay down debt in the appropriate order
- Calling creditors to negotiate debt settlements
- Building credit
- Connecting to financial institutions for loans (auto, home, and debt consolidation).
"Each person's financial needs is like a different puzzle," says Canesha. "Not everyone is going to have the same plan. I enjoy putting together the pieces of each individual's puzzle."
6. Attend a Financial Fitness Boot Camp. The FREE boot camp at FCN helps people strive for financial freedom through money management skills. This in-depth program teaches financial planning, money management and budgeting, and credit counseling.
The next boot camp is January 24 - February 14 on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
7. Download the Financial Fitness Checkup app for your smartphone. With this free app, you can take a quiz measuring your financial fitness, use financial calculators to set a budget and savings goals, watch videos on money management, and sign up to meet with a financial coach.