The New Year is one of the best times to take a hard look at one’s finances, according to a financial management specialist.

Assessing your financial situation is a good first step in reducing debt, building an emergency fund and reaching both short- and long-term financial goals, says Marilyn Bischoff, Extension family economics specialist, University of Idaho, Boise.

To begin, make a list of the current value of assets such as the equity in your home, balances in savings and retirement accounts and emergency fund, suggests Bischoff.

Then, list liabilities such as the balance due on a home mortgage; loans, such as school, automobile or other loans; credit card; and other debt.

Then, to estimate net worth, subtract the amount owed from the dollar value of assets.

The bottom line may not meet current goals or expectations, but Bischoff offered money management tips to track spending, reduce debt and build financial security:

Make a list of estimated weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and annual expenses.

Carry a small notebook to jot down actual expenses.

Periodically, compare actual expenses with estimated expenses. If spending more than anticipated in one or more categories, look for ways to trim unnecessary expenses, such as a daily trip to the vending machine at work. Take fruit or a cereal bar for a snack, or carry a thermos of coffee or small cooler of water to yield a savings. Other ideas:

· Shop with a list — and stick to it.
· Build an emergency fund, rather than using a credit card and adding debt to cover unanticipated expenses like household or auto repairs, emergency travel or illness.
· Pay down debt. The usual advice is to pay debt that has the highest interest first, but, for some, paying off the card with the lowest balance first can signal a turnaround that allows people to take control of their finances. Make the minimum payment due on other debts to avoid late fees, interest charges, penalties, etc.
· Mail payments promptly to avoid late fees and added interest charges.
· No matter how tight the budget, allow some discretionary money — perhaps a long weekend, rather than a more costly vacation.
· Save regularly — even a dollar a day will add up to $365 a year, plus interest.

More information on managing money is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on the KSU Extension web site.