Kathi Paradis

To reach your financial goals, cut them down to size

By Kathi Paradis

Keep your life goals in mind as you make other money-related decisions.

Come April, a lot of us think about money. It's tax time, and we're paying or prioritizing what to do with our rebate. The first warm, sunny days lead to thoughts of summer, and what vacation we're going to be able to afford. Schools also promote Financial Literacy Month in April, to help kids develop good money habits.

In the midst of all of this, thinking about whether your finances will allow you to reach your life goals can seem a daunting task. But it's important to keep those goals close by as you make your other money-related decisions.

Money pie chart

Instead of looking at your financial goals as a mountain to be scaled, it might be helpful to break each goal into small "chunks." Suddenly each piece looks achievable, and you can celebrate each as you accomplish it. It's easier to climb the financial mountain in stages than to charge up and lose steam before you reach the top.

The following are some really easy steps that anyone can do to stay on track or to get back on track financially.

Credit report. Everyone should review their credit report each year for accuracy and to relish the "ATTA GIRL" or "ATTA BOY" as you see your score rise. This also eliminates unpleasant surprises if you find the need to apply for credit. You are entitled to a free credit report every year and whenever you apply for credit and are turned down. Get your free report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Budget. Keep a monthly budget and track it against your spending and saving goals. Remember, when you get paid, to pay yourself first. This can be as simple as putting $5 per pay period in a savings account. Once you get used to the idea, increase the amount you deposit. If you have it direct-deposited or transferred automatically from another account, you will soon find you don't even miss it.

Track your spending. Sometimes you can identify where money is being spent mindlessly. For example, it's easy to lose track of how much we spend on morning coffee. If you spend $1.25 every weekday on coffee at the drive-through, you'll spend $325 in a year. Wouldn't it be nice to have an extra $325 to put toward a vacation? There are a number of apps out there to help create budgets so you can actually see where your money is going.

Technology can be a friend or foe. The latest and greatest electronic gadgets can be expensive. Monthly charges for cable, internet and phone can be budget-busters. Really look at your usage and see if you can save money by revising these plans. I saved $400 a year by switching to a lower minute-per-month cell phone plan and just paying the overages on the couple of months a year that I exceed my minutes.

Keep your kids in the loop. It's never too early to start good financial habits. Teach them about making wise financial choices. Turn saving money into a game. A number of websites offer helpful tools. My favorite, Practical Money Skills, has games that teach how to save and budget. So does The Mint.

Educate yourself. In New Hampshire, the nonprofit HOMEteam offers free home-buyer education, financial fitness training, and access to special matched-saving programs to help home buyers achieve their goal. They offer guidance with repairing credit, budgeting, and money management in preparation for homeownership. The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund also partners with a statewide network of community organizations to provide matched saving accounts. These Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) help people with limited incomes save money to buy a home, or to pay for college or technical school.

Remember the old adage: Take care of the pennies and the dollars will follow.

Kathi Paradis is a Welcome Home Loans Mortgage Loan Originator at the Community Loan Fund.

NMLS #469310. Licensed by the New Hampshire banking department.