Yes, it's well into 2009, but here they finally are:
1) Make contributions to savings/debts before spending other money. I'm sure you've heard of the idea “Pay yourself first.” We haven't been doing it! Last year, between my savings strategies, couponing, CVSing, etc. we were living under our income each month, but our habit was to wait until the end of the month, see what “extra” money was available, and send that off towards a debt. We had several months were we would eat out too many times or otherwise splurge, and then we were disappointed not to have more money to put towards debts. We agreed to turn that upside down by paying money out at the top of each month for two purposes: $500 towards a “new to us” car fund and $1,000 on top of our mortgage payment (see details below). From there, we can see mid-month if there is “extra” money for splurges like eating out, while still fulfilling our goals.
2) Continue to track our daily/monthly spending. This is not a high-tech thing for me. I post a calendar on the fridge and each day we write down anything we spend. We've tried other methods, but this is what works for us. Mid-2008, I started using an Excel spreadsheet to compile the monthly expenses. This was an improvement over the manual method of adding it all up, plus I can do it mid-month to see how we're doing. Twice a month, I go through our bank account and credit card account online to add the auto-pay items to the calendar.
3) Keep our emergency fund intact, and begin investing it in a CD Ladder for increased interest. We are comfortable with the amount of money we have set aside; it would pay our basic expenses for 3-4 months. However, it wasn't making much interest at the bank, so I began investing it in higher-rate CDs during 2008, and I will continue to do so. This keeps the money accessible and safe and it brings in a little more interest. Read more about emergency funds here.
4) Plan for a “new to us” car purchase in early 2010. I am really hoping our van makes it through 2009. It is a 2000 Honda Odyssey, which we purchased used in 2006, and apparently we've found the only bum Honda out there. We have had a lot of problems with it and our repairs tend to be expensive, but they're a lot less expensive than taking on a car loan. Our plan for this year is to set aside $500 each month. I'll pay oil changes and any repairs from that $500; anything left over goes to the car fund.
5) Make a major impact on our biggest debt–our mortgage. Since we have no consumer debt, our only debts at this point are my husband's law school loan (still in five digits, unfortunately, but at a 2% interest rate) and our mortgage. We bought our home in 2007 and because the market dropped so badly here, we now owe more than the house is worth. We want to do what we can to combat this by paying an extra $1,000 on top of our required payment each month.
I have another goal that didn't make it onto the official list–to make some minor home improvements. We haven't done anything to our house since we bought it (and I'm talking FRUGAL things like paint, fill holes, fix up the bathroom, etc.). My husband doesn't see that as a big a priority as I do, so I think we'll discuss it again when we get our tax refund. We also want to take a family vacation (again, FRUGALLY), so we will agree on a $$ amount and pull it from the refund as well.
If you haven't written out your 2009 goals yet, feel free to join me in being late-to-the-party.