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You Say You Want a New You: Fixing Your Finances in 2008

We all want more money. Here's how you can conserve your cash and regain control of your spending.

Almost everyone, from the poorest to the richest, makes a New Year’s resolution involving personal responsibility for household finances. To help Noozhawk readers keep those 2008 promises, longtime Santa Barbara mortgage broker Gregory Pantages has a few tips for keeping tabs on your money, and regaining control of your finances.{mosimage}

“Taking responsibility for your finances is one of the primary roads to a better financial life,” Pantages advised. “There must be accountability for maintaining and preserving your assets so that they can be available in times of true necessity. To be accountable you must be your own accountant and keep track of all your expenditures along with limiting unnecessary spending.”

Here’s how you can reach those goals:

• Use a debit instead of a credit card. A debit card withdraws money directly from an account, making the consequences of spending much more of a reality. “Using a debit card is like spending cash,” Pantages said. “If tied to a checking account, every usage of the card and every check should be recorded in the ledger and a new balance calculated at the time of purchase.” By using a debit card, consumers avoid spending money they don’t have, as is often the case when purchasing on credit.

• Keep track of all credit card purchases. “These should also be written down and totaled in a ledger kept in the wallet,” Pantages continued. “It might also be a good idea to glance at your checking balance, now accurately maintained, for a reality check on how much disposable income really is available. If not able to consistently pay your balances in full every month, try adding the 20 percent charged by your card company to the item to see if it still is a ‘good deal.’”

• Don’t go shopping just to go shopping. While sales may seem like a good opportunity to save money, they also can give consumers an excuse to spend even more than they would during any other shopping trip. “All of a sudden, discretionary items seem more feasible (during sales) because they are such bargains," Pantages said, "but they can make a sizable dent in your assets.”

• Don’t carry a lot of cash. Paper money is easy to spend, and hard to keep track of. “Money in the pocket is too easily considered as disposable,” Pantages said. “Also, at times I think the sound of coinage in the pocket supports the illusion of disposable income, and promotes the urge to purchase more than what those coins will buy.”

• And if you still feel the urge to spend? “Decrease the number of dependents claimed for income-tax purposes so your employer will reduce the actual dollars received in your paycheck, thereby reducing spendable income,” Pantages recommended. “You will likely get this money back at tax time, but the thought of letting the government gain the benefit of these funds should be good motivation to control your own finances.”

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