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Ten Personal Finance "Must-Dos" for 2010


Take stock of the past -- and look ahead.

The New Year is upon us, and for me, the beauty in that is a clean slate. 2009 will soon be behind us -- for better or worse. It's important to take stock of the good, the bad, and the ugly so that as you look forward, you can create a vision for what you want.

Here are 10 things I believe everyone must do in order to start the year out on the right foot.

1. Take stock of 2009.

Make a list of all of your accomplishments (especially financial ones) for 2009. It's important that you give yourself recognition for the good you did. Be specific. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back.

2. What could you do better in 2010?

Make a list of things that didn't go according to your intention in 2009. Rather than beating yourself up for mistakes made (after all, you cannot undo the past) write down at least five alternative ways you could have handled things. Circle the one that appeals to you for future reference.

3. Make a list of what you want to accomplish financially in 2010.

This could include paying off a credit card, asking for a raise, saving more money, etc. However, you cannot just say, "I want to save more." You must say, "I want to save $200 more (or whatever number is "your" number) per month (or week)." Goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistically High, and Time-bound) are more likely to be achieved than those that are vague and loosey-goosey.

4. Get a handle on what you spent in 2009.

This may not sound like fun (okay, it really isn't, but it's a helpful exercise) but look through all of your checks (or bank statements) and credit card statements, and get all of your expenses down on paper. Make three categories: Fixed Expenses (same amount every month, such as rent/mortgage, car payment, insurance, student loan, etc), Variable Expenses (these vary from month to month, such as the electric bill, phone, groceries, clothing, etc), and Discretionary Expenses (entertainment, personal services, gifts, eating out, etc).

5. Create a spending plan -- including a budget.

Once you've created a list of the money going out the door each month, this task will be much easier. Start from the bottom (Discretionary Expenses) and look to see where you are potentially overspending. For example, if you're wanting to save an extra $200 per month, but are spending $10 per day, every day, for lunch at work, you may want to take your lunch three times a week and save the difference.
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