Did you make any resolutions concerning your personal finances last January? If so, how did you do? Did you attain your goals, or was this year a total financial washout for you? While the days leading up to New Year's Eve are often spent reflecting on the year gone by, the following days should be spent reflecting on the New Year, reviewing your financial scorecard for the past year, and then look for ways to improve.
There’s a good chance last year’s resolutions didn’t stick. According to a report from the University of Scranton’s “Journal of Clinical Psychology,” 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions, but only 8% of us actually achieve them. The good news about New Year's resolutions is that you get a fresh crack at them each year. Here are some financial changes you should resolve to make in the year to come.
Investing should be #1 on your list. Even if you’ve got just a small amount of money to invest, take my word for it that you want to start now. If you’re saying you don’t have time, I that is understandable, as investing can take time to understand. But – and here’s the big ‘but’ – investing is also one of the fastest ways to build wealth. While it’s totally possible to invest without the help of an advisor, many of us are choosing the advisor route. Remember that advisor also include robo-advisors, that can help you decide what to invest in including when to buy and sell.
If you’re feeling intimidated by the many investment options out there, check out these platforms that can get you started on any budget.
With Acorns, you can start investing your spare change. After signing up for a micro-investing account and inputting some financial information, Acorns will create a diversified portfolio that reflects your wants and needs.
Building your wealth through Acorns is as easy as buying your daily cup of coffee. When you make a purchase, Acorns will round your purchase up to the next dollar and invest the difference for you.
Stash lets you start investing for as little as five dollars. Once you sign up with Stash, you can choose between a variety of different portfolios that take your goals, values, and favorite companies into consideration.
With Stash, you can even invest in partial shares. This means that holding shares in some of your favorite, higher-priced, stocks and funds can be a reality!
M1 Finance gives you all the perks of a robo-advisor and a traditional brokerage for free. After signing up, M1 Finance gives investors the option of building a custom portfolio or choosing from over eighty of their expert portfolios!
The best part about M1 Finance? Through automated investing, you can deposit money and watch it be invested without having to do the heavy lifting.
Update Your Goals
Creating easy access to your funds can be quite tempting, and if you are like most people, you will spend money that you can easily attain. Therefore, to help you reach your goal, be sure to transfer amounts earmarked for savings from your checking account to designated separate savings or investment account that is not easily accessed, making it less tempting for you to spend the money that you have managed to save.
Make a Plan to Pay Down Debts
Take a few minutes now to set new savings goals for the New Year, including how much you would like to add to your retirement nest egg, your student loans, or the down payment on your home. You should also reset how much you plan to pay on your personal loans, debts, and home mortgage accounts.
And if you're a home owner, don't forget about paying some extra principal toward your mortgage payment each month. By doing so, you'll earn a risk-free return on that money equal to your mortgage interest rate. Plus, you'll cut down on the number of years it will take to pay off your mortgage.
Start an Emergency Fund
When emergencies happen, you don’t want to be stuck without an emergency fund. Emergency funds can be lifesavers when unexpected challenges make their way into your life, like losing your job or getting into an accident.
Deciding how much money you need in your emergency fund starts by calculating your monthly expenses. This should include not only your rent or mortgage but also utilities and your basic needs. Many financial experts agree that this should be at least three to six months’ worth of expenses.
If you need help calculating how much money you should save in your emergency fund, handy emergency fund calculators exist to help you find your perfect number.
If you haven’t started an emergency fund yet, don’t get discouraged. Starting one is as easy as opening a savings account and making consistent contributions. No matter how long it takes you to reach your emergency fund goal, the key is to make sure that it gets funded and not left to the wayside. You don’t want to be caught in an emergency and then remember that you forgot to save for it!
Pay Down Your Credit Cards
If you owe money on your credit cards, determine how much you can realistically afford to pay off during the year. For best results, try not to charge additional purchases on those cards while you're trying to pay down what you owe. If you have high-interest credit card balances, consider whether it would be more beneficial to pay off those high-interest debts or to add to your savings.
Review Your Credit Report
Make sure you check your credit report regularly and take steps to repair any negative aspects. Now that you're entitled to three free credit reports each year, there is no excuse for not reviewing what is one of your most important financial reports, especially since errors in these reports are not uncommon. It's easy to keep tabs on your credit report, whether that's getting one free copy a year from the three reporting agencies, or reviewing your history through any number of free credit monitoring sites. A poor credit report could adversely affect the amount you are able to save, as it could result in you paying higher interest rates on loans, which reduces your disposable income.
Review Life Insurance and Disability Insurance Needs: As you move through your career, your life and disability insurance need to continue to change. Give some thought as to how much protection you need and compare it to the coverage you currently have through your employer's benefits package. Consider whether you need more or less life insurance and whether your needs would be better satisfied by term or permanent life insurance. Also, review your disability insurance coverage to determine whether you have enough coverage.
Calculate Your Net Worth
If you haven’t done so already, the New Year is as good a time as any to determine what you’re worth financially. Calculating your net worth is a key step to assessing your financial health and reaching your financial goals. Looking closely at all your assets and liabilities helps create a clear picture of where you are prioritizing your current spending and saving and where you need to make changes in your spending and saving habits.
It’s a good idea to recalculate your net worth each year to keep on top of your progress towards your financial goals and correct any mistakes you’re making before they create overwhelming debts.
The Bottom Line
Be cautious about setting too many or unrealistic financial goals. Otherwise, you may be unable to accomplish any of them. Take this opportunity to restate your financial resolutions simply and clearly for the New Year. It may be a good idea to maintain a checklist to keep track of how you are doing throughout the year so that you can make any necessary modifications. Consider meeting with your financial advisor to review the goals and objectives that you have established.