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Financial fitness for the New Year

Marie Havenga • Jan 6, 2019 at 4:00 PM

It's the time of year for fresh starts and resolutions, so now is the perfect time to take stock of your financial fitness.

It's time to open your mind, close your wallet and get a fresh jump on money management, saving and investing.

Here's how:

Smart supper spending

You can save money simply by spending less.

Make it a habit to plan your meals around what's on sale at the grocery store and not what you're craving at the moment. Sales fliers rotate, so you'll likely never get sick eating only on-sale items.

If you're dining out, look for restaurants that have daily specials that match the day it is.

Or plan ahead and buy a Groupon or Living Social Coupon, or, save year round with an Entertainment Book and free accompanying app.

It's also smart to scarf up gift cards around the holidays for restaurants that you frequent. The restaurants often offer holiday promotions that give you bonus gift cards to spend. Some of the best I bought this year were spend $50 in gift cards, get $50 in coupons for future dining. Can't beat that!

Ditch the drinks

When you're dining out, instead of ordering sodas or alcoholic beverages, opt for free ice water.

Ask for a couple of lime or lemon wedges for added flavor.

If you're a family of four, and sodas cost $2.50 a pop, that's $10 off your dining bill right there, not including tax. If you dine out even once a week, calculate that over a year of dining out (including fast-food restaurants), and we're talking nearly $600 in savings.

Smarter spending

Just because you want something, it doesn't mean you need it.

And just because you need something, it doesn't mean you have to pay sticker price for it.

If there's an item you need, take your time and shop around. Search online for coupon codes, search price comparison sites for your best deal, search your newspaper classifieds for a used version of what you need and don't hesitate to post a “wanted” ad, either. You may just find a match with a seller wanting to unload the item you need.

Co-exist with credit cards

Credit cards deserve respect.

Like my parents, I've made it my golden financial rule to never charge anything I can't pay off in full when the bill comes due. Because of this commitment, I've never paid a penny in credit card interest.

Because I've never had to pay credit card interest, I'm in no danger of falling into spiraling credit card debt.

Instead of using credit cards to buy things you want but can't afford, use them to pay for things, while your money stays in the bank for an extra month or more earning interest until the bill comes due.

Then, pay the credit card off in full each month. Better yet, save yourself the price of a stamp and set up an automatic payment plan through your bank.

Better budgeting

Thanks to new technology, even budgeting and keeping track of expenses has become easier.

Check out apps like Mint, YNAB and GoodBudget.

They allow you to set spending limits and automatically categorize purchases for you.

Sever the cord

If you're tethered to expensive cable bills, it's hard to get ahead. There are many other options out there these days with streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Amazon and more.

You can download Kodi and other apps to your PC or Amazon Firetvstick for almost unlimited viewing options with no monthly fees.

And don't forget the best option of all for live television – an indoor or roof antenna. Depending on your location, you should be able to pick up many stations. We live off of Fruitport Road on Petty's Bayou in Spring Lake Township, and with a cheap indoor antenna can pull in 13, 15, 17, 29, 35, 41, 54, 64 and all of those stations' substations. We recently added a roof antenna for under $100 and can now receive channel 3 (CBS) and channel 8 (NBC) which means we can watch a lot more NFL football games.

Cold, hard cash

If you're a loose canon with a credit card, your debt-to-income ratio is probably way out of whack.

To fix this, cut up your credit card and use the old-school method of budgeting.

When you get your paycheck, go to the bank and cash it. Ask for small bills.

Put the money into envelopes labeled for what the money is to be used for, such as gas bill, cell phone bill, gasoline, groceries, dining out, miscellaneous and savings.

If you stick to the program, you'll quickly see what areas are sucking down your resources and hopefully ways you can adjust more money into the “savings” envelope.

Simple savings

There's no greater way to save for retirement than taking advantage of your employer's 401(k) plan.

Many companies will match your contributions, up to a certain amount.

This is like scoring free money for your golden years.

But don't stop there. If you can afford to max out your contribution, it's in the best interest of your future self – the one is is relaxing on a sunny beach in the tropics, sipping umbrella drinks.

If you can't max out, at least increase your contribution this year. Even a 1 percent increase can pay huge dividends later in life.

And don't forget, even if you contribute to a 401(k), you're still entitled to fund an IRA. Roth IRAs make great investment tools because even though you don't get a tax deduction for your contribution, you can withdraw all your earnings later in life, tax-free.

And if you have a solo gig or money from self-employment, you can set up your own individual 401(k). Several mutual fund companies offer this option, including Roth 401(k) options which allow you to contribute up to $18,000 a year of net income, $24,000 if you're 50 or older.

Make more

The flip-side of saving more money is making more money.

With the internet and ride services such as Uber and Lyft, it's easier than ever to pick up some extra income.

Think about what you're good at and how you can monetize your interests and talents. Can you make crafts? Write reviews? Advertise your handyman services or drive people around town?

It's a new year. Now's the perfect time to start a new venture.

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