It's time to think about getting in financial shape in 2011. Vague resolutions and good intentions won't do it. You have to have a plan. Stumped for ideas? Here's a 12-month agenda.
No, it's not comprehensive. But it's doable.
Each month, set one financial target and hit it. Easy, manageable -- and it means this time next year you'll be looking back on 2011 with some satisfaction.
JANUARY: Max those savings! Financial planners argue you should be saving 15% or more of your income each year. Set your 401(k) contributions to the highest level you can handle. At least contribute up to any company match, and ideally push the limits -- $16,500 if you're under 50, $22,000 if you're over. If you are self-employed, or have self-employment income, talk to a broker about special tax-savings vehicles open to you, including Solo 401(k) plans, SEP-IRAs and Keoghs.
FEBRUARY: Target your cash flow. Get out all your statements and check stubs for 2010 and work out where all your money went. Chances are you spent more than you planned, or maybe realized. Restaurants, shopping, premium cable, car payments -- it all adds up. If you want to get control of it, you have to understand it. Now set a budget, and talk to your family about ways to cut back and save more.
MARCH: Live without plastic for a month. Lock up your credit and ATM/debit cards. Generations lived without the spending ease and convenience of plastic. It is no coincidence they found it much easier to live within their means. Try it. Set a weekly budget, cash a check for that amount at the bank each week, and live on it. Unless you are traveling -- where a card can be invaluable -- you may find it easier than you imagined. Once you get used to it, keep going