Kerri Cook: A New Year’s Resolution For Your Pocketbook – January 10, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

About now is the time of year you are thinking about making that New Year’s resolution. You also might think that just as quickly as you make it, it will be broken.

Regardless, the fresh start that the New Year brings, beckons us to at least make a go of it, right? Right.

Maybe you’ve wanted to lose a few pounds, eat better, live healthier, finally quit that nasty smoking habit, or cut back on the beers. Perhaps you want to learn to play the guitar, spend more time with your partner, get yourself and your life more organized, or volunteer for a worthy cause.

2012 could also be the year to get your finances in order. Sure, it’s not the sexiest resolution out there. It’s not as obvious as fitting into a size 2. It won’t clean out the junk from that back bedroom closet. And money management won’t teach you how to play an awesome lick on bass guitar, but it may just turn your life around.

Sure, our New Years’ resolutions are sometimes broken, but if you want to make “financial prosperity” your resolution this year, here are some tips for trying to do just that:

Take a look at your credit report. You want to know where you’ve been in order to know where to go in the future. Your financial history is there in your report and you can get one from each of the three credit bureaus, for free, once every year at

To get your score you’ll need to pay a small amount to purchase it, but it will be worth it to see what it is that any creditors, lenders, and employers are seeing. You can also contact your local credit counseling agency for a credit report review.

If you’ve got mounting debt, start paying it down. This will take a lot of discipline because this means that first you’ll have to stop using the credit cards. You might need to cut them up, lock them away or bury them in the back yard.

The earlier you start dealing with debt, the quicker you’ll stop living beyond your means.

Pay yourself first. Each month try to sock away 10 percent of your pay into some kind of savings. Having a “rainy day fund” is essential for any unexpected expenses in 2012. You may need to trick yourself into saving.

Put your saving plan on autopilot. Set up an automatic deposit into your 401K or 403b plans at work or through a mutual fund. Give yourself rewards for saving money. Use free websites like that help you take a look at the big picture.

Create a spending plan. Begin by tracking your spending habits and then make decisions about how you want to make changes. Get the buy-in of everyone in your household and come up with a monthly plan that you can all strive to stick to.

You will also want to evaluate along the way and continue to find ways to ultimately save some money.

Investigate a refinance or loan modification on your mortgage – interest rates are extremely low right now and you could potentially save yourself a few hundred dollars each month if you are eligible to change the terms of your loan. Contact your lender, mortgage broker, or friendly, local credit counseling agency to inquire.

Take advantage of a tax refund: Use any money that you are anticipating getting back next year wisely. Pay off credit card debt. Make an extra payment (or two) on your mortgage. Invest in your retirement or a 529 college savings plan for your kids.

Maintain your home or vehicle—finally replace the leaky faucet in the bathroom or get new tires for the family car.

By February you may have fallen off the bandwagon with your diet. Maybe you’ll succumb to buying another pack of cigs. Hey, guitar wasn’t really the right instrument for you anyway. But wouldn’t it be nice to have your money in check for 2012?

Here’s to the best intentions and the plans that really can come true!

Kerri Cook works with members of the community on their spending plans and offers money management advice at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the North Coast (CCCS), an accredited non-profit organization in Arcata.,