It’s easy to find yourself in financial trouble, especially in bad times. Residents in the Tampa Bay area have been especially vulnerable to the housing and employment challenges over the past few years. The good news is that you have the power to make smart decisions and put yourself back on solid financial ground.
1. Be honest. Many people make unrealistic budgets. Save all of your receipts and note your bill payments for one month before sitting down to create an honest spending plan. You may be surprised to discover how much money you spend on nonessential items.
2. Resist the urge to splurge. If you find yourself contemplating a major purchase or impulse buy, force yourself to wait. Chances are the feeling will pass. If it doesn’t, you’ll enjoy the purchase more if you save for it and pay cash.
3. Shop the sales and eat at home. Plan your meals around sale items and use coupons whenever possible, but don’t buy things you don’t regularly use just because they’re on sale. Make a list and stick to it.
4. Review your insurance coverage. Make sure that you are receiving every possible discount from your current carriers and get quotes from new ones. Invest in medical insurance. A catastrophic injury or illness could devastate you and your family.
5. Freeze your credit. Stop charging and close any unnecessary credit accounts. Make a conscious effort to pay down outstanding balances. If you keep one card for emergencies, remove it from your wallet and keep it in a safe place.
6. Don’t get more house than you need. Rent or mortgage payments will likely take the biggest bite out of your budget. Moving to a neighborhood that is beyond your means will only add unnecessary stress.
7. Make financial health a family affair. Keep everyone on board with the new budget. Rein in over-spenders and close joint credit accounts. Never co-sign or act as guarantor for another person’s debt.
8. Start saving. Have a small dollar amount deposited directly into your savings account every pay period. Even a small savings “cushion” can greatly reduce financial anxiety. Save all pocket change in a coffee can or jar. It adds up quickly.
9. Invest wisely. Just as you wouldn’t take your life savings to Las Vegas, you should stay away from high-risk stocks, junk bonds or other questionable investments. If you have a 401k or other retirement account, keep your savings in a balanced, moderate-growth portfolio.
10. Put money in its place. People often spend out of boredom. Look for inexpensive entertainment alternatives. Play board games instead of buying the latest video console and borrow books and movies from the public library. Most zoos and museums offer free admission one day a month. Take the kids to the beach or the mountains instead of a theme park.