It's 2013 and you're probably thinking, "another year, another set of New Year's resolutions I won't keep." But if bolstering your finances is one realm that could use some attention, now's the moment. Your New Year's resolutions don't need to be drastic and shouldn't seem impossible to keep. In fact, they should fit your life relatively painlessly.
Before making a game plan, consider what money-related actions you took in 2012 that turned out well and what can be improved upon. But don't harp on your mistakes, suggest Scott and Bethany Palmer, the duo known as "The Money Couple" and coauthors of the The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language. It's much more productive to prepare for 2013 with realistic New Year's resolutions.
Monitor your spending.
To get a handle on your finances, top your list of New Year's resolutions with a commitment to document every cent you spend in January. This ledger will provide a true picture of where your money is going and will help you make more informed decisions about where to cut back, the Palmers explain.
Improve your Credit.
It might sound like a lofty New Year's resolution, but it is possible. The first step is to claim your free credit report at the only legitimate site: www.annualcreditreport.com. In the U.S. everyone has the right to retrieve a free copy of his or her credit report once a year, but only about four percent of reports are claimed each year, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com. Next, find out what your credit score is for free at CreditSesame.com (data from Experian) or CreditKarma.com (data from TransUnion). With your credit report and credit score in hand, you can thoughtfully make spending adjustments.
Protect yourself from fraud.
Use a free credit monitoring service such as CreditSesame.com, which tracks changes on your Experian credit report and notifies you if indications of fraud pop up. Ulzheimer notes that fraud is typically a low-tech crime that involves people snooping and taking information from your mailbox or trash. You can prevent this by stopping credit card offers from arriving in your mailbox. Federal law states that everyone has the right to remove their name from credit card mailing lists. Go to OptOutPrescreen.com to stop credit bureaus from selling your name to credit card issuers.
Talk it out.
If you and your significant other share a joint bank account, make discussing your finances often another New Year's resolution. The Palmers recommend scheduling a 45-minute money talk once a month. Allot 15 minutes to savings and debt, 15 minutes to your money needs, and 15 minutes to your future as a financially fit couple.
Be honest with yourself and your partner.
Talking openly about your finances will help you and your significant other identify and deal with the good and the bad. "Money secrets – we call them financial infidelity – can be as devastating to a relationship as sexual infidelity," the Palmers say. "They are a violation of trust and can be almost impossible to overcome unless you are willing to be honest with each other." Make a New Year's resolution to tell your partner if you've made any recent or long-past financial missteps, be they big or small.
Accept that you will make mistakes.
Bravo for wanting to take charge of your finances, but an error in judgment here or there is inevitable. Avoid adopting an all-or-nothing attitude. One blunder should not deter you from reaching financial security. If you blow your budget one month, use this misstep as an opportunity for personal growth.