Not much changes – how disciplined are you?

Including financial goals in New Year’s resolutions is a popular thing to do for most folks. Setting these goals at the beginning of the year is a good way to start off the new year. If you need a little help in putting together your list of resolutions, here are seven financial goals worth planning and aiming for in 2012.

 Pay down Debt: The secret to paying off debt quickly is to know that some debts are more expensive than others. So make a list of your debts and sort them by annual interest rate. Debt with the highest interest rate should be paid off first. Consider using some cash in savings to pay down high interest debt first. This is because your savings is earning nothing and the debt you owe is costing you in interest and fees. After the debt is paid off, you can use the extra cash flow saved from no debt payments towards building up your savings again.

Strategies to come up with money to pay off debt can come from increasing your income, reducing expenses, selling some stuff, or a combination of all three.

Pay bills online: Paying bills on time is always important. Although the CARD Act has effectively banned universal default, creditors can still demand full payment and close your account if you are in default with another credit account. One way to help manage your bill payments is to sign up for online banking, which allows you to set up your bills as payees and schedule your payments to be made automatically. This saves time and money and help to ensure all bills are paid on time.

Ask for a raise: Do you want to increase your income in 2012? Don’t expect your manager to offer you a raise out of the blue. If you think you’ve earned a raise, then you’ll need to make your case and ask for it. Start by making a list of your accomplishments and how you add value to your employer. Do a search for salary information to know how your salary compares to others in your industry with your level of experience. Also consider asking for non-cash benefits that can be just as valuable as cash, such as tuition reimbursement, extra vacation time and flexible work hours. Finally, pick your timing to bring up the subject with your boss — such as after a great performance on a project or when you take on additional responsibilities.

Start investing: Most people think you have to be rich to invest and as a result, never get started. But the right way to think about this is that you have to start investing to become rich. The sooner you start, the more time your money has to grow. The best place to start investing is your employer’s 401(k) plan, where often your savings are increased by matching contributions made by your employer.

Also, anyone who can start with as little as R50 per month can invest in a exchange traded fund soon to be launched by My-Fin  offered by several no-load mutual funds for small investors which allow automatic deductions from your bank accounts or by authorizing deductions to be made from your pay check. Often the minimum initial investments are waived when you open an account with this service.

Save for a child’s education: Do you want to start saving and investing for a child’s future education, but you need to start small? Look no further than a 529 education savings plan. Every state offers at least one 529 savings plan which allows anyone to open an account and begin investing. The growth and future withdrawals are exempt from taxes when used to pay for qualified education costs of the beneficiary. And best of all, the account does not have to be used for the child’s education as it remains the property of the account holder.

Close unused financial accounts: Is it really necessary to have several credit cards or checking accounts? There may have been a reason in the past for each account, but if that reason is no longer clear, then the account should be closed. Two good reasons to close unused accounts are to reduce fees and reduce the risk of ID theft. Banks and financial firms charge dormant account fees, such as an annual fee that can siphon money from you. Also, unwatched accounts can be prime targets for ID thieves, who can hijack the account information and use it to perpetrate fraud using your identity information. This goal is accomplished by simply listing all of your accounts, deciding which are necessary and closing the ones that are no longer needed.

Begin using a personal finance program: Put that new laptop or tablet computer to work and get started using a money management program such as Intuit’s Quicken. Anyone who can write a check into a check book register can use these powerful programs. Not only do they help organize your finances but they also help you to track where your money is going.

Whatever your financial goals, here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014!