Shape up finances in the new year

December 29, 2012 7:49:05 PM

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MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Another year will soon begin, and with it, people will make resolutions for financial fitness and better spending and saving habits. 

 

Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said being smart about money means being realistic. 

 

"You can do a quick financial check-up by answering three simple questions. Do you spend less than you earn? Do you spend no more than 15 to 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay on credit payments, such as car loans and credit cards, but excluding your mortgage? Do you have an emergency savings fund that can cover one to three months of your living expenses?" 

 

Depending on how they answer these questions, consumers may need to change daily money habits dramatically. One money management exercise Shaffett recommended is collecting daily sales receipts and monthly billing statements to create an accurate record of monthly expenses. 

 

"Listing every cent spent for at least one week can be an eye-opener," she said. "Compare monthly expenses to income and to savings. Use these records to look for tell-tale signs of problem areas that need attention." 

 

An emergency savings account with enough funds to pay expenses for at least one month offers practical peace of mind. 

 

"You could be just one paycheck away from disaster," Shaffett said. "Shape up your spending now by reducing unnecessary expenses, plugging spending leaks and starting a savings plan for a healthy future." 

 

 

 

It takes work 

 

Susan Cosgrove, family resource management area agent with MSU's Extension Service in Newton County, said financial health requires self-discipline and consistent effort. 

 

She offered several tips for better financial fitness. 

 

"Learn to live a simpler lifestyle," Cosgrove said. "Less really is more. Buy fewer clothes, shoes, jewelry and stuff in general. Give up designer brands. Take extra care of what you already have so that it will last longer." 

 

Cosgrove said eating smaller portions will help save money on food while also leading to better health, increased quality of life and increased productivity at work. 

 

"Eating at home will save you money too, as long as you read labels and follow food storage instructions. Spoiled food and discarded leftovers are money down the drain," she said. 

 

Smart money skills should be a family value, so the next generation can learn healthy habits beginning in childhood. 

 

"Communicate with your family about your financial situation," Cosgrove said. "Talk about values, needs versus wants, income, expenses and goals. Teach young children about money and responsibility at a young age." 

 

A good sale may seem irresistible, but if the sale item is not needed, it is not a bargain. 

 

"Limit spending by looking at what purchases you can avoid," she said. "Financial health is not about how much you earn, but how much you spend." 

 

MSU's Extension Service has several resources related to financial fitness at msucares.com/frm. Local family resource management area agents can provide workshops and presentations to groups. For more information, contact your county's Extension office.