Better budgeting contributed to Americans paying off nearly $1 trillion in debt over the past two years, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
"This is good news for the nation's long-term economy, as it shows that Americans are doing a better job at budgeting," said Suzanne Poole, executive vice president, retail sales strategy and distribution at TD Bank.
"The report signals that Americans learned valuable lessons about keeping better track of their finances and paying off debt as a result of the economic struggles families faced, and quite frankly continue to face, due to the economic downturn," she said.
Now is the perfect time for Americans to commit to a New Year's resolution to keep better track of their finances in 2011.
If implemented with easy- to-use financial tools, consumers may actually stick to their resolution throughout the entire year and it will undoubtedly help Americans continue, and maybe even increase, their rate of debt payments next year.
Here are a few tips that consumers can put to use in order to keep better track of their finances:
Develop a realistic plan.
Not a single business or consumer can achieve financial success without developing a spending and savings plan. Figure out what you want and what you need and make sure you factor both into your budget.
Also don't forget to be realistic and set aside funds for fun activities. The last thing you want to do is realize you need a small weekend vacation and spend money on a trip you did not budget for. This will help you stay on track.
Set up a savings account.
Consider opening a high-yield savings account that you will be able to rely on for future emergencies so you don't have unexpected spending items.
Easy-to-use programs always help. Today, consumers have access to a wide range of inexpensive programs and online services that can be used to develop budgets.
From Quicken's computer programs and online services, to pre-formulated spreadsheets on Microsoft's Excel and Apple's Numbers programs, there is a plethora of user-friendly options.
Pay in cash. In general, people tend to spend less when they pay with cash. Swiping a plastic card has less of an emotional impact. There are times when it makes sense to use your debit card, such as to generate rewards or to avoid ATM fees. Make sure your bank offers debit card rewards and free ATM use. These options can save you money.
Take full advantage of mobile and online banking. Unlike four years ago when a majority of Americans did not have access to their checking account at their fingertips, mobile banking apps for smartphones and hand-help computers allow consumers to keep track of their expenses and budgets on a daily basis. The same can be said for online banking. These options give you instant access to your money and better control over your finances.
"To avoid all fees, consumers should use mobile banking apps and online banking to track their checking accounts on a daily basis," said Ms. Poole.
"They should also consider using automatic bill pay so they know their bills are paid on time every month and avoid late payment fees," she said.
Get a full return on your smartphone investment. Mobile banking apps aren't the only tools consumers have to track their spending. A quick search of app stores for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices will generate "checkbook" apps that are easy-to-use tools to keep detailed records of your daily expenses, bills and due dates, and bank accounts. The apps are password protected and most don't even require consumers to add sensitive information such as bank account numbers.
The tools are out there, now it is up to consumers to make good use of them.
Although New Year's resolutions tend not to make it past the first month of the New Year, following these easy tips will help consumers enjoy financial success in 2011 and will allow them to continue and maybe even increase their rate of debt payments next year.
Brian Ziemba is the Central Florida market president for TD Bank.