Striving to improve our lives is part of being human. We all have things, personal and professional, we want to accomplish, goals we want to achieve, things we want to change about ourselves. That’s why we have the New Year’s resolution.
Wavering in our resolve is also part of being human, which is why New Year’s resolutions can be so difficult to keep. But add the prospect of financial gain into the equation and suddenly a resolution seems far more attainable.
A little psychological gamesmanship can help in that regard. “The word ‘resolution’ has a negative feeling to it,” says Kristi C. Sullivan, a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) in Denver, Colo. “People dread New Year's resolutions because they usually involve other negative words like ‘diet,’ ‘budget,’ and ‘gym.’” To overcome that negativity, she suggests rephrasing and reframing the undertaking as a challenge or a goal, and giving the coming year a theme based on that challenge or goal: “This is the year I will __________________ (fill in the blank with an item from the list below).
Once you have a goal or two in mind, “Writing them down and telling them to a friend will make you more accountable” to meeting your goals, adds Gilbert A. Armour, a CFP® in San Diego, CA.
The following resolutions, with a little dedication, promise to deliver solid financial benefits
Increase contributions to your retirement plan if you aren’t already at the maximum contribution level. And if you don’t currently have a retirement plan, establish one via your employer or own your own — with the help of a financial advisor.
Take advantage of matching retirement contributions if your employer offers them. It’s a powerful way to accelerate the growth of your nest egg.
Use a financial tracking application or software to help manage expenses, investments, financial goals and the like. Mint.com offers free apps for just such an undertaking, notes Sophia Bera, a CFP® and founder of Gen Y Planning. Creating your budget is a tough, but vitally important step to achieving financial stability. See our article: Creating Your First Budget
Review the interest rates you’re being charged on credit cards and other debt obligations (mortgage, etc.) and check around for more favorable rates through balance transfers, refinancing, modified payment schedules and the like. “Interest rates remain low for many types of borrowing, but they may not stay that way,” notes Brian Kuhn, CFP®, of PSG Clarity in Fulton, MD.
Pay cash for items you often charge to a credit card: food, sundries, dry cleaning, car costs, clothes, etc. “This makes the money real to you,” says certified financial planner Ellen R. Siegel in Miami, Fla., and it also helps minimize and manage debt.
Put $50 or more per paycheck into an emergency reserve (savings) fund, Armour recommends. Use automatic deposit to simplify the process.
Consult a financial planner for two hours, early in the year, to review your entire financial situation, including investments, cash flow, education savings, retirement planning, goals and more. The financial benefits of such a consultation will far outweigh the modest cost. To find one near you, ask friends and family for referrals or visit the Financial Planning Association’s national planner database at www.PlannerSearch.org.
Put a financial plan in place, with the help of a financial planner, or revisit the plan you have and update it as needed.
Check your credit report two or three times over the course of the year, advises June Schroeder, RN, CFP®, of Liberty Financial Group in Elm Grove, WI, to confirm the information in there is accurate and your identity hasn’t been compromised.
Be sure important estate documents are in order and up-to-date: will, powers of attorney and living will, plus beneficiary designations on employer plans, IRAs, annuities and life insurance.
Switch financial roles with your spouse or partner so both partners gain a full understanding of what it takes to manage household finances.
Review your W-4 withholding form, adjust withholding and put the money you’d otherwise receive as a tax refund into a savings account or a retirement account, suggests Cheryl J. Sherrard, a CFP® in Charlotte, NC.
Teach your children to become good stewards of their resources so they will be able to stand on their own as adults.
Take stock of your insurance needs: life insurance, disability, long-term care and the like. This can be done during a consultation with a financial planner.
Make a list of your accounts and policies (bank, insurance, investment, retirement, college savings, loans, credit cards, etc.) along with relevant IDs/user names, passwords, and other important information related to your accounts and assets, and keep the list someplace discreet and safe but accessible, such as in a safe deposit box or with a financial advisor.
Set up auto payments from your bank account for non-discretionary bills such as utilities, rent, mortgage and insurance, recommends Jeffrey N. Tomaneng, a CFP® in Waltham, MA.
Have a quick monthly sit-down with your spouse/partner to review household finances, short- and long-term financial goals, and progress toward meeting them. The communication will be good for your finances and your relationship, Tomaneng says.