How are you coming on your New Year's Resolutions for 2014? According to my social news feeds, everyone is basking in the post-holiday gift-giving glow and sharing their plans to be healthier and happier in the New Year. But what I'm not hearing anybody say or resolve to do in 2014 is to work on their financial fitness.
Ah yes, financial fitness. Money. Eww. Who wants to talk about money?
Well, I do.
Santa left me a fabulous (it's relative) Christmas present in my inbox this year -- the press release announcing the findings of the FINRA Foundation Military Capability Survey. Imagine my glee at learning that our military servicemembers and their families are making some positive strides when it comes to managing their personal finances! As it turns out, most of us are saving for retirement, living within our means, and actively seek to improve our financial know-how by attending classes and seminars. Go us!
BUT it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Military servicemembers and their families are still engaging in high risk credit card and debt behaviors, which leads us to our inevitable New Year's Resolution pep talk...
Now that the most ostentatious time of the year is coming to a close, it's only a matter of time before the bills start rolling in. Let's make 2014 the year of being the most financially fit we've ever been by putting these 5 money resolutions into practice!
5 Ways to Make Your Money Work for You1. Put Your Rainy Day Savings (and retirement) on autopilot.
Out of sight, out of mind works wonders when it comes to saving and investing, and 75 percent of us are already making our money work for us. One of the best and easiest things you can do is set up an allotment from your paycheck to deposit directly into your savings or retirement account. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), allows service members to designate a portion of their pre-tax pay to automatically deposit into their TSP account before their paycheck is ever deposited into their checking account.
2. If you can't buy it with cash, don't buy it at all.
How many of us are suffering from a holiday-induced debt hangover? The number one rule to paying down debt is to stop piling on the debt! It's time to get comfortable operating with cash and concentrate on freeing up as much money as you can to apply towards debt reduction. Not sure how to go about tackling Mt. Debt? Use my favorite free debt pay down calculator, PowerPay.
Not-so-fun Fact? The Army and Navy might not see eye-to-eye when it comes to football, but when it comes to carrying a high debt balance, they're on the same page. Our soldiers and sailors lead the debt pack by carrying the largest debt loads.
3. Don't just pay the minimum. Pay more and on time.
This goes hand in hand with #2. If you're paying down debt, you've got to pay more than the minimum and it has to be made on time. FINRA found that nearly half of us (49 percent) aren't paying our bills on time and are getting slammed with fees and penalties. Did you know that it's estimated that 35 percent of your credit score is calculated based on making timely payments? True story.
4. Get your student loans under control.
Forget the cliché that student loans are "good debt." Debt is debt, plain and simple. According to the FINRA survey, 38 percent of service members have on-going student loans and 43 percent aren't sure they'll be able to pay them off.
Make sure you know the ins and outs of your federal student loans by visiting the National Student Loan Data System and learn about the different repayment options available to you. Private student loans are notoriously tricky and if you're finding yourself at the mercy of an uncooperative lender, you can file a report with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
5. Just say no to predatory lenders.
Military servicemembers, especially Latino and African-American servicemembers, continue to use non-traditional banking services as part of their financial management strategy. Auto title loans and payday loans are NEVER EVER a good idea. EVER. Not only do their interest rates top 240 percent APR, those types of loans notoriously tricky to escape- one loan often leads to another <cue the snowball>. If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, start by contacting your branch's emergency relief fund (link to article of your choice).
Who's on board to get their personal finances on track in 2014? I know I am!
Adrianna Domingos-Lupher is a blogger, military spouse, mom, and an accidental personal finance educator. She unexpectedly landed a job at an Airman and Family Readiness Center as a personal financial management program coordinator in 2005, despite having very little knowledge about the topic. Once she started digging into building her money know-how she hasn't been able to stop. She's written for New Latina, the Military Saves Campaign, and has been quoted by WiseBread and featured at Mamiverse. You can find her musing at Military Money Chica and at NextGen MilSpouse, where she serves as editor.