The first quarter of the year is a great time for reflection. And your money is no exception: Think about where it’s been, where it’s going, and, most important, where you want it to go. Whether your finances had a stellar year or took a hit, take a minute to check in and see where you want to go next. Here are 10 questions to get you started for a better financial year.
1. How much debt am I taking into 2016?
Tally up what you have left to pay on your student loans, any outstanding credit card balances, and your mortgage (if applicable). Take a long, hard look at this number. It’s better to know it than not know it. Make this number a key part of your action plan for next year.
2. How much did I save last year?
If you automate deposits into your savings account, this should be easy to calculate. (If not, here’s your incentive to do it.) Take a look at your savings account and consider what’s there: Could you have saved more? Did you plan to have more? What stopped you from meeting your goal? And if you don’t have a savings account — or a savings plan — make one.
3. What’s my credit score?
First of all, know what goes into your credit score — and then check your number free online. Check your credit report, too, and make sure any debts you’ve accrued this year are accounted for and that no one has taken out lines of credit in your name. Remember: You get one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus a year: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
4. Am I getting the most out of my credit cards?
Take stock of what your credit cards have given you this year, like great rewards, lower interest rates, or cash back. If your cards haven’t provided you with any of those perks, consider upgrading to a different card. If you have a card that’s dragging you down with high annual fees, think about closing it — provided you know the consequences of doing so. Make sure you know the best way to use your cards and that you aren’t inadvertently hurting your credit.
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5. How much money will I make this year? Can I make more?
Whether you’re a full-time employee or a one-lady business, consider whether there are ways you can grow your income. Is there some sort of side gig you can take on? Could you be a consultant? If you work a 9 to 5, would a switch to freelance be more lucrative? On the other hand, is it finally time to shut down professional projects that are draining your resources?
6. What do I want to save for in the next year? How will I accomplish that?
Set financial goals, like saving for a down payment on a home, paying off a certain amount of debt, or putting a specific amount in savings. Figure out what strategies you will put in place to save, such as making lifestyle changes or automating with apps.
7. Did I stick to my budget? If not, why not?
If you blew off your budget this year, take time to troubleshoot. Maybe your goals were unrealistic or you didn’t have a budget at all. Now’s the ideal time to make one, or get started with an app or two.
8. How will I budget this year?
Once you know what has (or hasn’t) been working for you, look ahead toward optimizing. Maybe you’re ready to switch from a simple pen and notebook to an app, or vice versa. Maybe you’ve learned that you perform better on a less stringent budget and or that you actually need more structure. If you’re newly partnered (or married), this may involve merging finances — or simply merging financial goals.
9. How much money is in my emergency fund?
You have no idea what the new year could bring: sudden health crises, unexpected layoffs, or a downturn in business. Make sure your emergency fund (about three to six months of living expenses) is robust enough to take care of you if need be. And if not, make it a priority to establish a healthy fund. If you need some incentive to save, make it fun with these hacks.
10. What are some poor money habits I can squash?
Think about some areas in your daily (or monthly) life where you can save — or stretch your dollar. If you’re living beyond your means, know where to rein it in. Eating out at work? Make lunch. Tempted to go buy new clothes? How about revamping your old ones instead? Know the red flags if you think you’re in financial trouble and decide to make a change.
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Original article source courtesy of Koa Beck of Market Watch.