UNITED STATES—Its February, and for most Americans they are in the midst of receiving those credit card statements in the mail showcasing what charges were made over the big Christmas holiday. In addition, most Americans are in the midst of receiving their w-2 and 1099s from their employers as they begin to make preparations for tax season.

Yes, tax season is upon us and it’s time to start thinking about ways to utilize that return if you’re getting one, but also things you can do to ensure that your finances start looking the way that you want them to look. I’ve said this before and I will say this again, smart money management always begins with knowing your monthly income and your monthly expenses. Some people don’t believe in the idea of being on a budget, but a budget is NOT a bad thing. Budgets are good because it keeps one in check and accountable for their actions.

Just the other day a few members in my family scuffed at the notion that I make a list when I go grocery shopping. I like to know what I’m getting and on most accounts I like to ensure that I stay within my budget of reason. It works for me and most of the time I save plenty of money along the way as well. I seriously can care less what others think when it comes to my budget. It’s my money being spent on expenses not theirs. I personally think a list is crucial at the supermarket because it’s SO EASY to overspend and start purchasing items you don’t need or don’t want.

Now, let’s return our conversation to the issue of taxes. Some of us will have to pay Uncle Sam come tax season, but for many they will see a return and saving is the last thing on most people’s mind. However, it should be the first thing on one’s mind. I’ve always been a proponent of not OWING the government in any capacity. However, for those that have overpaid and you are seeing a refund, there are ways to utilize that extra or unexpected money to your advantage.

Something I recently discovered is that it’s NOT a bad idea to pay off debt. Does it suck to rid yourself of money that you were hoping to use for something else? Of course, but look at it this way; that debt is cleared. Also at the same time, you still might have something left over to spend on yourself, family or others that you care about.

Also, try to put some of that return up for a rainy day. I’m learning in life you always have unexpected situations arise and it’s crucial to find a way to prepare for those surprises as I like to call them. It happens to me more often than I’d care for it to transpire, but I’m learning through preparation I don’t have to scramble for monies or funds that I might need people!

Next, spend within region. For anyone who works, I do believe it is your right to ensure that you treat yourself on occasion. I mean you’ve worked hard for your money, and even if it’s from a tax return its money that you earned. So splurge a little, but not TOO much, you don’t want to run into a situation where you regret what you spend.

Finally, the word NO is okay to say. I mean recently I had a family member ask me to loan them $1,000. The first thought that popped into my mind is why in the world they assumed I would have that type of money. Next, how in the world would I see that money returned to me? I mean this person had no collateral, no job, and loaning that type of money would have placed me in a financial pickle where I could have been screwed, and I mean greatly screwed people. You don’t want to run into a situation where you become the family bank; everyone comes to you each time they have a financial problem.

That has happened to me a lot, and frankly I’m not a fan of it cause when I need the favor returned I really only have 4 people I can turn to bail me out and people I know will not have a problem giving me a loan if I need it. Everyone else, not so much. Smart money management is about discipline, being wise with your finances and not putting one’s self in situations where finances get worse instead of them getting better. If you start to plan now, you’ll be in much better shape later.