Suze Orman, author of Women & Money, makes up a financial To Do list to start the year off right.

January 1, 2008

January is such a dangerous month. Dangerously deceptive, is what I mean. You have twelve months of possibility before you. You’re full of optimistic resolutions and good intentions. This year, you resolve, is going to be different. Yet as February approaches and nothing has budged on your To Do list, you lose momentum and then you lose heart—and too often you give up before you ever got going.

Not this year, my friends. Below are four simple things to do—all of them doable in the thirty-one days of January—to get 2008 off to a great start financially.

1. Sign up for the company bonus. If your employer offers a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement savings plan and agrees to match a portion of your contribution, you must sign up for the plan. Not to participate is essentially turning down a bonus from your boss. Hello? It’s free money, and you’re saying no thanks? Make an appointment with your HR person, get the forms, ask for help filling them out, do not be ashamed—do what you need to do to get this started. I promise it will take less than an hour and you’ll wonder why it took you this long.

2. Sleep Better. Here’s my one and only prediction for this year: something unpredictable will happen to you that you haven’t budgeted for. It might be a busted water heater, a battery of medical tests not fully covered by your health insurance, an unforeseen car repair, or any number of the few thousand things beyond your control. But what is totally within your control is how prepared you are. When it comes to stress management there is no greater asset than an emergency savings account that can cover the cost of the unknowns that might befall you and your family. A great place to start up your fund is with a “Save Yourself” account at TD Ameritrade. Go to www.saveyourself.com and open an account before March 31 to take advantage of the extraordinary offer TD Ameritrade is making to readers of Women & Money: Arrange for a monthly direct deposit of $50 or more for twelve consecutive months and after the twelfth deposit, TD Ameritrade will contribute $100 to your account. More free money! Go to the site to learn all the details of this offer, but trust me—this is one not to pass up.

3. Sleep Better (Part II). If anyone is dependent on your income—spouse, partner, child, parent, sibling—the single best way to protect them is to have a term life insurance policy. The great news is that term policies are fairly inexpensive these days; ensuring the well-being of your loved ones has never been so affordable. As a general rule of thumb I recommend buying a policy with a death benefit that is 20 times the annual income you want to replace. For example, if you want to replace $50,000 in income you would purchase a $1 million term insurance policy. That sum would allow your beneficiaries to invest the death benefit conservatively—in bonds—and live off the income without needing to touch the principal. I know $1 million sounds like it will be way too costly, but the premium for a healthy 45-year-old is $100 or so a month. You can learn more about term insurance and shop for policies at www.selectquote.com and www.accuquote.com.

4. Keep the Momentum Rolling. Before January ends, make up a financial To Do list for February. Need help? Go to the “Save Yourself Plan” in Women & Money. I’ve made up my wish list for you, month by month for five months—the things that if you would only do them, I’d sleep better. Honestly, is that too much to ask? Now, let’s face it, the single best motivator is achievement, so capitalize on the momentum you gained by checking off points 1, 2, and 3 above and set goals for the 29 days of February. If you keep that process going for a few months, you will never turn back—you’ll learn that there is only one way, and it’s forward. I am prepared to make you a guarantee that if you can accomplish even just three items on your To Do list every month for three consecutive months, by the time spring rolls around, you will own the power to control your destiny.

Suze Orman is the author of Women & Money.

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