While 2014 is in its infancy, it’s already time to get some financial footing.
Looking for some tips to get you there? Cathey Dewitt Dunn, of womenmoneyandpower.com, says you can start with "baby steps" through a 12-step program.
Instead of taking on the overwhelming challenge while looking at it with a year's time. Instead, Dewitt Dunn suggests breaking it down to one simple financial goal each month.
In January, she says start saving, even if it’s a little here and there.
"Perhaps start taking your lunch to work or dining in a little more at home," she said. "You’d be surprised how much money you can save in a month."
Continue saving during the following months. Meanwhile, the February assignment is to make a budget (not the kind in your head — one that’s actually written down).
"If it’s not written down it almost didn’t really happen," Dewitt Dunn said.
Dewitt Dunn said you can start with a budgeting tool provided on her website. She says it’s important to get a realistic and written idea of how much you’re spending so you can start trimming.
"In March, we need to look at putting our budget on a diet," she said. "We probably need to look at cutting back and doing things differently so we can save more for our retirement future."
By taking monthly steps. most of us can do a much better job of setting ourselves up for the years to come, Dewitt Dunn said.
Here are Dewitt Dunn’s recommendations by month:
January: Put your debt on a diet
The first step can be the hardest. Think of one or two items where you can cut back to save some cash. Examples: Bring your lunch instead of buying. Skip the coffee run. Or invite friends over instead of going out to dinner.
February: Create a budget
Every family should have a budget to make sure they stay on track. Click here for a budget worksheet to get started. Include all your expenses — fixed and variable.
March: Put your debt on a diet
The average American household has more than $15,000 in credit card debt. Focus on paying your bills on time, prioritizing your payments and don’t be afraid to ask your credit card company for a lower rate.
April: Save, Save, Save
April is a great month to work on your savings. Start by putting away as much of your tax return as possible. The goal is to put at least 10% of your earnings into savings - both short and long-term savings.
May: Financial spring cleaning
Take a good look at your assets - is there money in an old account that should be moved? Do you have money in a low-interest savings account that could be put to better use? Make sure you have a well-thought out financial plan and you are maximizing savings for retirement.
June: Protect yourself
With severe weather season approaching, now is the time to make sure you have the insurance policies that you really need. Look at your homeowners, renters and auto insurance, but don’t forget life insurance as well. Being underinsured can put your family and your finances at risk.
July: Check your credit reports
One in five people have errors on their credit reports. I advise my clients to check their credit reports once a year and dispute any errors they find. I’ll make it easy - click here to get your free report now.
August: Is your bank hurting your budget?
Take some time to shop around for a bank that better fits your needs. Consider what fees you’re paying and the accessibility to ATMs. There are lots of tools online that will help you compare different banks. Click here to get started.
September: Get organized
Keeping all of your financial paperwork in one place can help you stay on track with your financial goals. If possible, move your documents into an online system, or keep a file with tabs for bank statements, retirement paperwork and credit reports. Remember to keep important documents like birth and marriage certificates and social security cards in their own separate file.
October: Create a holiday shopping budget
Setting a budget will help you avoid using credit cards for your gifts, which often carry high interest rates. I recommend starting your shopping early so you can spread out your holiday purchases across several paychecks in October, November and December.
November: Get on the same page
It's so important for adult children and their parents to be on the same page financially. The Thanksgiving holiday may seem like a strange time for that discussion, but it may be the only time the whole family is under the same roof. Click here for a checklist of important financial information that you should make sure to discuss.
December: Look to the future
This is a good time to take a look at your financial progress over the last year and start planning your financial goals for 2015. What were your successes? Any failures? Writing down your goals makes them more concrete and easier to track throughout the year.