NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It's only October, but some financial experts are already out with New Years' financial resolutions, figuring, we suppose, it's never too early to start changing some bad money habits.
Up first is Patrice Washington, the personal finance guru on The Steve Harvey Morning Show, who says "there are a few financial resolutions everyone should consider in 2015."
Among Washington's resolutions is using smartphone apps such as Mint or Manilla to track spending and saving on the go. Another is to make paying down credit card debt your No. 1 personal financial priority (and especially not to make just the minimum payment every month, a practice that is a cash cow for banks and card carriers and a savings drainer for cardholders).
But one idea from Washington stands out: saving money in a so-called "opportunity fund."
What's an opportunity fund? It's actually the opposite of a rainy-day fund, and offers a good way to reward yourself with savings with a morale-building purchase or expense.
Here is how Washington explains it:
If you aren't inspired to save for a rainy day, then use this spin on an emergency fund and save for that Mediterranean cruise you've been dreaming of or the new set of wheels you desperately need. Mentally you'll become more motivated to save, and if you happen to have a rainy day in the process, you'll now have the opportunity to handle that too."
"Even if you are putting as little as $5 a week away at first, everyone needs to start somewhere," Washington says. "Ideally you should have six- to nine-months' salary in savings."
To start — and build — your opportunity fund, try these tips:
Go low. Build momentum by not reaching too high with an opportunity fund. Aim for $250 to $500 and you'll find it much easier to reach your savings goal. With a savings fund, few factors are more demoralizing than not reaching your goal, and a high threshold can put you on the wrong path.
Cut your credit card rate. To find more money to save, reach out to your credit card company and ask for a lower interest rate. Chances are they'll accommodate you, and any cash earned on a rate cut should go immediately into your opportunity fund. Of course, you can save more money by putting your card away for 30 days — chances are, you'll be amazed at how much money you save.
Stash raises and bonuses. There's no law that says you have to spend a raise or a bonus from work. Instead, pop a chunk of the money in your opportunity fund (and use the rest to pay bills and pay down debt, thus freeing up more money for savings.)
Some other opportunity-fund savings tips include emptying your loose change into a jar every night and not touching any money from the jar for 30 days. After that, bring it to the bank and add the coins to your account.
Also, have a garage sale to earn extra cash, and create an automatic savings link to your fund account for regular savings.
Creating an opportunity fund is fun and fairly easy - and the payoff in the end could make you want to start one all over again.
— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet