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Does this sound familiar? You have a 401K, but you really do not know what mutual funds your are invested in and how they are performing. You routinely use credit cards, but you have no idea how much you paid in interest this year. You invested in some trendy tech stocks a couple of years ago, but you have not really kept up with their progress or lack thereof. If any or all of this rings true, you are probably in the majority of Americans. We Americans have an unfortunate lack of knowledge about your own finances, and our lack of effort in managing our money is keeping us from having the life we envision for ourselves. The solution is focusing time and energy into learning about our own money, and the new year is the ideal time to take charge.

Here are a few tips on spending and saving smarter in the new year:

Research your credit cards: Find out which of your cards is charging the most interest and which is charging the least. It may be time to transfer balances from one to another. Or, you may want to focus more on paying down the card with the higher interest before you tackle the others.

401 K considerations: For those over 50, remember you can contribute up to $7,000 annually to your IRA, instead of the $6,000 you have been contributing. Also, try to maximize your employer’s 401K match. It is just common sense – think of the company’s matching contribution as free money, and who doesn’t want that?

Minimize non-essential spending: This is the ideal time to make a resolution to spend less on the things you really do not need. Do you really need to buy prepared meals from the grocery store, or could you spend 30 minutes in the kitchen preparing your own meal? Yes, you need food, clothing, housing and insurance, but do you really need so many paid apps, streaming services and bottled water? Maybe not. According to recent research from OnePoll, the average American adult spends up to $18,000 per year on non-essentials.

Emergency fund: People lose jobs even in a strong economy, and even healthy people sometimes have medical emergencies. Do you have enough money to cover yourself if something unexpected happens? Financial experts advise having at least six to nine months of essential funds in the bank at all times, but most of us do not. In fact, a recent survey from Bankrate reveals only 40 percent of Americans are able to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense. If you are not self-disciplined enough the save for emergencies, consider automating your savings by having  a certain amount taken out of your checking account every month and transferred into savings.

Establish a budget: A recent poll shows that only 67 percent of American adults have a household budget. That means at least 33 percent of us are not monitoring our debt, our spending or our income. Establishing a budget and adhering to it allows you to exercise greater control over your money and make the necessary changes to spending and saving. When you can see where the money is going, you can manage it better. There are even apps that help you establish a budget without figuring out how to do it. Consider easy to use apps like MINT or YNAB (You Need A Budget) and start building your budget before the new year begins.

Consider a financial advisor: If it all seems too overwhelming, maybe it is time for you to meet with a professional financial advisor who can help you sort out your debts, your spending and the allocation of your funds. If you are going to get a handle on your finances, you need to understand how to construct a substantive financial plan and set some real money goals. An advisor can help you achieve this and much more. Saving for retirement, establishing an emergency fund and planning for long-term investing are all functions of a financial advisor. All you have to do is make an appointment.

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