It is with fireworks and New Year’s resolutions that we ring in 2015. Some welcome the fresh start, while others are feeling a financial hangover from monetary stress of the previous year. Unexpected expenses, unforeseen life events, or overspending and waste, could be the culprit.
So how do you determine if you are living within your income? How do you avoid a financial meltdown in the New Year? The Alabama Cooperative Extension System provides a self-assessment tool on its website, www.aces.edu/urban with a publication called 200 Tips for Living on a Reduced Income. Actually, the tips are valid, even if you expect the same income, or an increased income in 2015. The publication, which can be downloaded and printed as a PDF, provides a comprehensive 10-page assessment form to permit users to score themselves on a variety of lifestyle and survival topics.
Taking a hard look at your financial and lifestyle habits can be difficult, but Extension makes it easier with 12 categories to assess. The range of topics include insurance, food, transportation, housing, appliances and furniture, wardrobe, beauty and grooming, medical, recreation and entertainment, child care, charity, and other miscellaneous tips to live within a budget and save money. The insurance category asks the respondent to shop for insurance rates among three to four companies before committing to purchase or update insurance for automobile or home coverage. The food category is especially thorough and requires a self-review of some 30 items, some of which assess planning skills, such as making an advanced grocery list, or planning packed lunches, rather than eating at a restaurant. Some of the food tips may involve further education on gardening or food preservation and canning. Extension provides additional publications on its website for topics such as these.
The assessment tool gives excellent tips on curbing transportation costs. Even with the cost of gasoline at a recent low, the assessment challenges drivers to make additional efficiency choices in trimming transportation expenses. The housing section of the assessment gives both homeowners and renters solid advice on repairs, utility costs, and energy saving behaviors. This section also asks the respondents to assess their costs in television and internet cable or satellite usage. Does the benefit justify the costs of such services? When it comes to clothing or furniture expenditures, recycling, mending, or thrift shopping may be a smart way to save money.
The medical and health tips on the assessment point to a vital cost saving aspect of wellness. Prevention truly pays dividends. Eating right, getting the proper amount of rest, exercising, and scheduling regular checkups potentially help keep medical and health costs from escalating. The recreation and entertainment advice from Extension includes creative ways to travel, and have social outings, without spending a fortune. The community is rich with museums, zoos, historical attractions, and annual special events that are low-cost or free to attend. Log-on to www.aces.edu/urban and select publications to access the cost-saving tips. The self-scoring tool can become part of a new year’s resolution process with commitments to the action you plan to take in 2015.