Finances in the new year


Two thirds of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. And many of us don't budget for big things like the holidays. Instead, we spend, then figure out how we're going to pay for it later.

So how do you save enough to spend on things you like, while making sure you have other things covered, like retirement, and college?

It starts with making fewer trips to the ATM. In fact, it's best you don't even see your money for it to do the most good.

"Instead of determining a budget, think, how much do we need to save?" recommends financial planner Elaine Bedel. "Are we trying to save for retirement - which we all should be - are we saving for college education, a down payment on a house? If those are important goals, think how much money we need to save this year to meet that goal, and then we need to do the budgeting with what's left."

Make a list of what income you have, then pay yourself first. "The best way to pay yourself first is directly into your savings or into the company 401K from your paycheck," said Bedel, "never into your checking account - into your savings account from your payroll."

Bedel said if the money is not in your checking account, you will get used to it going somewhere else and you don't miss it after a while.  This way, you are less-inclined to make that random stop at the ATM for cash. And if you do, you have your other bases covered.

You also should have a dependable and easy way to keep track of your spending. Check with your bank, or visit the apps and sites online. is a free site Bedel recommends that tracks your spending and lets you know when your funds are getting low and where they're going.

Other sites: