Rick Emerson, author of Zombie Economics, says some New Year's Resolutions really should start now! You'll find more information the Zombie Economics website.
"The Resolution Starts Now": Dealing with financial situations we typically put off until January 1st.
1) Don't wait to make a change
It's human nature to link personal changes with calendar changes. Like hitting a snooze button, we're often tempted to revamp our habits "later": next week, next month, or on January first. But as we all know, that snooze button can be dangerous - when you finally get up, you're further behind, even more rushed, and, worst of all, still not rested. It's the same with personal finance. Getting ahold of your bills or your spending will be easier now than in six weeks. Save yourself additional stress, additional time, and additional money by starting that change right now, because a year from now, you'll wish that you had started today.
Remember: if something's important enough to be a New Year's resolution, it's important enough to be today's resolution.
2) Keep track of recurring charges
One of the things that companies count on is information overload. You have so much data coming at you all the time -from email, snail mail, Twitter, Facebook, texts, phone calls- that it's easy to miss automatic, repeating charges...sometimes for a few dollars, sometimes for more. Things like video or music services, website or software subscriptions, or monthly maintenance charges on a charge card you don't even remember having. These can be a serious drain on your finances, especially because they happen without your help - you set them up once, and they keep billing you, month after month. To make it worse, sometimes these charges don't look like anything you recognize on your bill: they show up as "Reg Fee Process" or some other generic name.
- It's a good idea to go through your bank statement -which you can get free online or from the bank in person- and highlight anything you don't recognize. You can Google the name and find out what it is, who it is, and whether you even need it.
- There are also a number of free, secure tools which will help you identify questionable or recurring charges - BillGuard.com is one such service, and there are others as well. As always, make sure you research these tools before using them.
3) Shop early
See if this sounds familiar: it's December, dark, cold, and you're downtown, in the middle of rush-hour traffic, because you have nineteen people left to buy for and seven hours in which to do it. And, you're surrounded by everyone in the western hemisphere, because they also put it off until the last minute.
We've all done this, and we all know it causes stress. It also costs you...in gas or transportation, in time, and in your purchasing: when you wait too long, you often end up "punting" on gifts, which means paying more than you'd planned on something you didn't really intend on buying.
Spare yourself this misery and the financial pain that goes with it. Right now, you have the gift of time. Use it wisely, and it cuts your other costs across the board. Remember: Zombie Economics doesn't mean forgoing your holiday shopping, but it does mean doing it the right way, and not giving yourself additional stress or debt in the process.
4) Auto-pay, auto-pay, auto-pay.
For fixed-amount costs, especially the smaller ones, set them up as automatic payments. This helps you avoid late fees and, if you're like me, it circumvents your own laziness, so you don't come home and find the lights have been turned off.
5) Make yourself accountable to someone.
Find someone you trust...maybe someone who knows you fairly well...and arrange to meet with them every week or once a month and talk about your recent financial choices, good, bad, or neutral. You can lie to yourself, but it's amazing how much harder those lies can become when you have to say them out loud, especially to someone you respect.