Party on, of course, but we all know that the true millennium starts in a year. That’s good news; it gives us all 365 more days to get our finances in order before the new age starts.
Here’s a list of resolutions that you can start tackling now. Even if it takes you all year to get through the list, you’ll be in much better shape when you do. Note that almost every suggestion is simple, and finite, and not that hard to do when you get down to it. Start at the top or pick and choose, but resolve to be in a better money place when the calendar flips again. And Happy New Year!
* Photocopy your wallet. Next time you are at a copy shop or library, take a minute to spread all of your IDs and credit cards on a copier. Copy both sides, and tuck the copies at home in your desk or a spare set in a secure place away from home, such as a bank safe deposit box. If your wallet ever gets lost or stolen--or destroyed in a fire--remembering what you had and replacing it will be much easier.
* Arrange at least one automatic investment. Have a mutual fund of your choosing automatically deduct whatever you can afford--$50 a month, $200 a month or whatever--from your checking account. You won’t miss it . . . really. And you’ll be surprised by how quickly and painlessly you can amass some savings.
* Start using a personal finance program. It takes a while to put all of your data into Quicken or Money2000, but once you do, you’ll streamline your financial management and--more important--learn how it all fits together. Just looking at your net worth all tabulated on a screen can make you a smarter spender and saver.
* Restructure your debt. If you owe a lot to several companies and banks, marshal all of your resources to pay them off, highest rate first. If you have a good credit rating and a lot of scattered debt, you might consolidate it all in a low-rate credit card. Then shrink the plastic. Two cards--one for rebates and one for low rates--are enough.
* Find a credit union that you qualify for and compare its policies and interest rates with those of your banks. They are often very favorable.
* Create your own financial philosophy and commit it to paper or disk. Know ahead of time what you’re saving for and why you’re buying or selling a particular investment.
* Understand your own taxes. OK, maybe not every jot of the incomprehensible tax code, but learn the key factors in your own tax bill. If you’re in a high tax bracket, resolve to treat your investments accordingly. That means that you should look into tax-managed mutual funds, index funds and municipal bond funds.
* If you have young children, check out the new college savings plans your state offers. Many give great tax breaks and lots of investment and college leeway in how you use the money.
* Buy stuff when it’s on sale. Everything’s on sale somewhere all the time, it seems, so there’s no reason to pay full retail price. That includes clothes, detergent, housewares, mortgages and stocks.
* Get more comfortable with the financial world that’s on the Internet. If you don’t want to trade stocks, learn to research your investments online. Look for your bank online. Buy something online. Used best, the Internet can save you money, save you time and put you on equal footing with the pros. It’s not going away, so keep up.