10 Smart Family Money Moves for 2011
Consumer money resource shares well-timed family savings strategies.
SAN MATEO, CALIF. — Dec. 07, 2010 — As Americans prepare for the start of another new year, many are pledging a continued or even renewed focus on their finances. The effects of the economic recession have led many households to emphasize spending over saving, with most working hard to reduce debt or reshuffle spending priorities. Consumer money resource Bills.com today shared ten money moves to help families improve their finances and save even more in 2011.
"Building up a cash cushion and paying down debt are smart money moves no matter what your financial position," said Ethan Ewing, president of Bills.com. "As more Americans have successfully adopted this strategy, it's time for them to demonstrate an even higher degree of financial savvy with some well-timed money maneuvers in 2011."
1. Revisit your monthly budget
A new year means a new budget. Calculate your monthly income, required monthly expenses, and then whittle down your discretionary spending. Allow for some flexibility and a few small luxuries to make it realistic, but be aggressive in cutting out extras. Be disciplined in your spending and saving — do not let extra savings one month increase your entertainment spending in the next. The personal budget worksheet at Bills.com provides a detailed template for building your own budget.
2. Commit to reducing your debt or building your nest egg
If you still have credit card debt or a high interest secured loan, use the savings from your new, aggressive budget to begin paying it down. If you are debt free or are only paying down a low interest mortgage or auto loan, then be sure to build a nest egg equal to at least six months spending.
3. Ratchet up long-terms savings for retirement and college expenses
If you are fortunate enough to have paid off your debt and stashed away a sizable nest egg, then it's time to increase your retirement or college contributions. Be sure to max out retirement savings first because you can find loans for college if necessary. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, it's free money - take it.
4. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)
If you are considering a high-deductible insurance plan, be sure to open an HSA to cover out of pocket medical expenses, including co-pays, health-related purchases, and more. Contributing to an HSA can lower your taxable income and allows your money to grow tax-deferred through retirement.
5. Budget for the loss of the childcare credit
The child tax credit and dependent care tax credit will both decrease in 2011. The child tax credit will drop from $1,000 to $500 while the tax credit for day care expenses will fall from $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two children, to $2,400 and $4,800 respectively.
6. Re-bid your insurance provider
Insurance companies have also been hit hard by the recession. This means many will be even more aggressive to win your business. Comparison shop for cheaper home or auto insurance alternatives, but be sure to pay attention to differences in coverage so you remain adequately insured. You may find that your current provider is not the most affordable, or that they are willing to drop their rates to retain your business.
7. Research mortgage refinance rates on your home
Even if you refinanced your home in 2010, it makes sense to research rates again. For many homeowners, record low rates means you can save money and interest over the life of your loan with another home refinance. The Bills.com mortgage calculator provides an easy way to decide if a refinance makes sense for you.
8. Re-evaluate your monthly utilities
You can save hundreds of dollars a year by comparison shopping or reducing monthly utility bills such as television, Internet, and cell phone. More and more Americans are cutting the cord of traditional cable or satellite and finding basic or premium television content online in order to save money. Similarly, streaming movies offer a cheaper alternative to the Cineplex. Shop high speed Internet and cell phone providers for better rates, or consider reducing your Internet speed or cell phone minutes to save on monthly usage. Basic utilities such as garbage, home security, and recycling can also be bid out.
9. Assess healthcare and health insurance changes
Many health insurance providers are changing their plan limits and fees in response to national healthcare legislation. Pay attention to mailings from your provider and ask questions of your employer if you subscribe to a workplace plan. Carefully weigh changes in premium versus co-pays and preventative healthcare coverage when evaluating plan options. Review past medical and prescription needs and usage as a guide to how you will likely use the plan during 2011.
10. Update your monthly budget with savings included. Check against actual spend.
With your new utility, insurance, and healthcare savings offsetting increases in retirement and college tuition contributions, rebalance your monthly budget. Tuck away additional extra income into your HSA or rainy day fund. As you approach the end of January, check your actual spending amounts against your expected budget to ensure accuracy.