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Posted January 5, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Resolve to improve your finances in 2013 ... bit by bit

By Karen Poff

Each new year many of us start out with good intentions of making great improvements in our lives. Yet, a month or two into the effort, we find ourselves back into the old routines wondering why we "failed" again.

Life improvements don't happen just because the date on the calendar changed from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1. They happen because day by day we make a choice to do something, even little things, a bit differently. Our good decisions day by day turn into month by month. Then, we discover that a year of small choices has produced the change we desired.

So instead of focusing on 365 days of change, I'm encouraging you to focus on one day of change at a time. If the goal of improving your financial situation in 2013 seems impossible to reach, just think about one small thing you can do today and build upon that for a brighter tomorrow. Here are some examples:

Save something from every paycheck before you pay any other bills. Put it into a separate account, perhaps even at a different bank where it will be less accessible. Have it transferred automatically from your checking account into your savings account. Have your employer split your paycheck into two different accounts, if they offer that service. Do whatever you have to in order to make sure that it happens every time. When you are tempted to skip savings "just this once," remember that your final goal is reached bit by bit.

Pay your bills on time. Timely payments account for 35 percent of your credit score. Bills paid on time don't incur late fees or interest charges. If you don't have a good system to organize your bills, create one. Write it on a calendar. Use a financial notebook or filing system. Set up automatic payments through online banking. Do whatever it takes to make sure that the bills are paid on time, every time.

Use credit only for things that will you will still be using long after you finish paying for them. Yes for the three-year car loan or the 30-year mortgage loan (when you can afford the payments). No for the fast food, latest-style clothes and accessories, movies, video games, etc. Leave your credit cards at home. Freeze them in ice if you have to (waiting for them to thaw will give you time to think about that impulse purchase). Do whatever it takes to make sure that credit does not rule over you. When you are tempted to use credit for non-essentials "just this once," remember that your final goal is reached bit by bit.

Choosing just one or two small things to do differently bit by bit throughout the year will help you achieve the improvement you desire. If you need some more ideas, consider participating in our Managing Your Money series in 2013. For more information, you can call me at 540-459-6140, e-mail me at kpoff@vt.edu, or call your local office of Virginia Cooperative Extension. You can also "friend" me on Facebook (Karen Poff Extension). Happy New Year!

Karen Poff is a senior extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, which serves the Northern Shenandoah Valley. She specializes in family financial management. She has worked for VCE since 1987. She holds a master of public administration degree from James Madison University and has been certified by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education as an accredited financial counselor. Email her at kpoff@vt.edu.

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