By Michelle Godfrey

Financial Readiness Program ManagerThe start of a new year is a great time to develop short- and long-term financial goals to help you ensure your own financial future. Here are the top 3 financial goals and steps you can implement

Save more

If this is one of your goals, here is what you can do.Make saving automatic: If you are not already contributing to your Thrift Savings plan or 401K, then now is a good time to start. These automatic contributions are deposited into your individual account before you even see the money, making it easy to save. You can also set up an automatic recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account before you can spend it. 

Reduce debt

A recent study by Fidelity on life events and financial wellbeing found that paying off debt is one of the most effective ways to boost your overall sense of wellness. While it’s no fun to forgo spending and saving today to pay off debt, it may make you happier and certainly can improve your financial picture in the long run.Powerpay.org is a useful, free website that can help people develop debt-reduction strategies. You plug in the balance due on your credit cards or other debts, the interest rate and minimum payment due. Once all of your data is in, you can view your repayment schedule to determine how long it will take you to eliminate your debt. You are then able to manipulate the data to determine your reduction strategy, for example, paying the smallest balance first, eliminating the debt with the highest interest rate first, or finding extra income to make a “power” payment. This visual tool can help create a sense of accomplishment by allowing you to check your progress as you see your debts reduced.

Check your spending

To streamline our lives, many people have opted to use automatic payments for just about everything, except automatic saving. Review your bank accounts and see just what you are spending your money on and decide what’s best for you. Often times, we have “spending leaks,” which are items we buy because they seem so inexpensive, or so we think. For example, $4.99 on Netflix; $9.99 for Hulu; $69.99 for cable and then, when we check our calendar, we don’t have time to watch any of them. See what you could eliminate just by understanding your time commitments and eliminating duplication.Another way to spend less is to use cash. Studies have shown people tend to spend cash a bit more carefully than when using credit or debit cards. Many people find it helpful to physically see the amount of money they have available and adjust their spending accordingly. Cash is painful when it leaves your hands. Consider using cash for small, everyday purchases like groceries, gas and quick spending items such as coffees, snacks and lunch. Using cash for these items will help manage your spending in the categories and offer the chance to pause and evaluate your needs and desires before buying. 

Schedule a financial check up

Finally, now is a great time to sit down with a financial counselor to review your budget or spending plan. Sometimes just discussing plans and ideas with a trusted advisor could help provide the reassurance or guidance you need to accomplish your financial goals. The Fort Belvoir Financial Readiness counselor is available to help. Call 571-231-7001 to schedule an appointment.