Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resolve to Be Fiscally Fit

The new year is almost upon us and of course it's the time to reflect on the year and make some plans for the future. Maybe you want to take a vacation next year. Or maybe in your quest for new experiences in the new year you' plan to take up a new activity. Whatever your plans are for the next 12 months, there's always some tips we can learn to cut down on the bills and keep the money in our wallets for the new year.

1. Learn to Keep Score
There is a Nigerian proverb that states, "Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse." In this case, not knowing or not wishing to know your FICO credit score should be a habit you're looking to kick in 2011. In order to be fiscally fit, you must be well informed by obtaining your credit reports from the 3 big credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Every year, you're entitled to one free report per credit bureau by getting them at After you see all your reports, make sure you check for any mistakes; if you overlook a mistake, it can cost you a good credit score that will remain in bad shape for a long time. If your reports are mistake-free, then you can get your FICO score by logging on to Here are some things you should know before getting your FICO score: 1) scores will be varied since they are coming from 3 different credit bureaus, 2) scores range from 500 - 850, with 500 being the worst and 850 being the best, and 3) to get one FICO score it costs $15.95. 
(via Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, & Broke

2. Don't Be Late
Speaking of credit card scores, paying your credit card bill late this is one of the top ways to screw up your credit score. You can improve your credit score by paying your credit bill on time. Although you can pay the minimum balance, I would suggest you pay more than that. If you can pay half or even all of the balance, that would be better because if you only pay the minimum balance, it takes a long time to pay off the total balance and you'll end up paying more than what was charged in the first place. As far as when to pay, if you're going to mail your payment, allow at least 5 days before the due date. If you're paying online, allow at least 2 days before the due date. If you have a problem remembering due dates, don't forget to mark it on your calendar, iPhone, Blackberry, or any other device you have. 

3. Pay Yourself 
If you're tired of living from paycheck to paycheck and stretching out your last couple of dollars until the next payday, start paying yourself first. And no, that doesn't mean that you pay yourself by buying those cute pumps in the window display before you pay your rent and utilities. What it means is that before you do anything with your paycheck, put a percentage (10% is recommended) of it towards your savings account. It may seem impossible especially when you have other expenses, but trust me, it works; you just need some discipline. One way you can discipline yourself is using the direct deposit at your company to put a fixed amount into your savings account. That way, you never see the money; out of sight, out of mind. Before you know it, you'll have a healthy savings account. For those of you who may not have a savings account, I highly recommend ING Direct Savings. They're easy to use and you can set up sub accounts for different types of savings like a vacation fund, emergency fund, etc. For more info visit 

4. Live Within Your Means 
I can't tell you how many times I've heard of young women living fabulously yet being fiscally destitute. If you spend all of your money on clothes, shoes, hair, etc. but don't pay your rent on time, then you're doing yourself a major disservice. A way to get yourself back on the right track is to live within your means. There should be a set percentage on how much you spend on expenses. According to Carmen Wong Ulrich of CNBC's On the Money,  30% of your income should be put towards housing, 18% should be put towards transportation, and 14% should be put towards food. As for your other expenses, set those percentages accordingly. If your clothes and other disposable income makes up for much of your living expenses, it's time to scale down. Don't look at this as a setback; your wallet will thank you in the end. In the meantime, be a frugalista and shop around for deals. 

5. Terminate Your Debt 
If you're already drowning in a sea of debt, don't worry. You can trim down that debt. First off, figure out how much debt you actually have by pulling together all your bills that have a balance. Depending on how many outstanding balances you have, you might want to keep track of them by creating an Excel spreadsheet with all the info you need to have on hand. After totaling up your debt, figure out how long it would be for you to pay it back. I would suggest you go to and use it to help you calculate when you'll be out debt. From there, you can put a strategy in place to get rid of the debt.You can either attack the high balances or high interest fees first or start with the lowest balances and fees. 

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