It’s that time of year. Yes, the week when millions of Americans make their oaths to the fitness gods. Being physically fit is certainly a worthy (if elusive) goal. but many of us have finances that — let’s face it — are a little out of shape too. So this year, why not make resolutions that will make you healthier and wealthier?
“The essence of New Year resolutions is verbalizing your hope and dedication to achieving your goals,” says Robin Young, CFP and CEO of Women Behaving Wealthy. If you make a promise to yourself to take control of your finances in very specific ways, says Young, you’ll put yourself on the road “to achieving a wealthy life and end money stress, once and for all.”
We asked financial advisors across the country what money-related resolutions should be on the top of your list. Read on for the 10 best ways to come out ahead next year.
Make (At Least) One Big Career Move
“Take some time to sit down and think about the direction you desire your career to go,” advises Lisa J.B. Peterson, CFP, president of Lantern Financial, LLC in Boston. Ask yourself: What experiences do you hope to achieve over your work-life to help you grow more wealth? Are you currently on a track that will help you reach those milestones? What steps can you take to get you closer? Then promise yourself to make one big career move — from taking people you admire out to lunch to going back to school — that will point you in the right direction.
Add One Self-Care Item to Your Budget
This you know: A budget, or spending plan, will allow you to live each day more intentionally. Plus it will allow you to reach your long-term goals more effectively. However, Peterson advises that you add one splurge on it, giving you room to indulge yourself, guilt-free. Plan to go out with your friends for a drink every once and awhile, get a massage once a month or simply set aside money for a little vacation. Taking good care of yourself is an important step toward financial wellness, according to Peterson, because it will help you to stick to your overall budget plan and not give up on it.
Read One Personal Finance Book
The world of personal finance is complex. “Yet when we are busy, the easiest option is to take a soundbite from the news and run with it,” says Peterson. Instead, Peterson recommends delving deeper into educating yourself about your financial life by reading one book on it this year.
“Whether you know a lot about your personal financial life or you are just exploring the personal financial world for the first time, I encourage you to commit your commuting time (reading a book if you take the train or listening to a book on tape if you drive) to one book that will teach you something new about the way your finances work,” says Peterson.
Eliminate Your Debt
“Ultimately, wealth is a formula: assets minus liabilities,” says Young. So if you want to build wealth, then you must decrease your debts. Total up your debts — today — and devise a realistic plan to decrease them. “In an effort to live the American Dream, you may owe tremendous amounts of debt, such as mortgage, student loans, credit cards and other loans,” says Young. Or perhaps you have what Young dubs: “Sacrificial Lamb Syndrome.” She says, “Like many women, you put everyone else (your kids, your family, your community) ahead of your own financial goals.” Make this the year you bring these balances close to zero, and you’ll be that much closer to the wealth you deserve.
Bump Up Your Emergency Savings
Start saving for a rainy day by making room for an emergency fund. “The more you earn, the fewer income sources that contribute to the household income and the less expenses you can cut into in the event of an emergency, the more savings you need,” explains Young. The goal is about six months to a year’s worth of expenses in savings. So aim to put away about 10 percent of your paychecks in a just-in-case account.
Think About Your Legacy — and Strategic Ways to Give to Others
Sometimes your best financial goals aren’t about you, but your loved ones, says Young. Got kids? Figure out how much it will cost to fund their primary or secondary education. Have aging parents? Look into how much will it cost for you to pay for their elder care. “These goals also impact your retirement and financial goals,” says Young. So she recommends taking the mystery out of these obligations this year and starting a financial plan that includes them.
Max Out Your Retirement Contributions
OK, with all the other financial goals you have this year, maybe saving the max isn’t realistic. In that case, figure out how much you can afford, according to Cathy Curtis, CFP, NAPFA-registered financial advisor and owner of Curtis Financial Planning, LLC in Oakland, Calif. “Create a budget that puts saving for retirement as a top-line item. Because of the power of compounding interest, even modest savings can yield real wealth given enough time,” says Curtis, who is also the author of “The Happiness Spreadsheet.”
“Each year that women put off investing makes reaching their retirement goals that much harder. So starting early and saving regularly is just as important as how much money you have to save.” Depending on employment status, says Curtis, women can save in 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs, regular IRAs, SEP or SIMPLE IRAs. Each type of retirement vehicle has different rules, so take the time learn what applies to your situation and start saving.
Simplify Your Finances
If you’re like me, you have investment accounts scattered throughout 10 or 15 different brokerages or types of accounts. Do you get buried by paper every month, making it very difficult to take control of your financial life? “You have to know where your money is and how it is invested in order to effectively manage it,” says Diahann W. Lassus, CFP, CPA/PFS? and president of financial planning and investment firm Lassus Wherley in New Providence, N.J. and Bonita Springs, Fla. Lassus recommends consolidating all of your investment accounts so you have a more streamlined financial life.
Set Personal Goals That Match Your Values
This time of year, there’s a lot of reflection going on. Ask yourself what is important to you in your life and make a list of your specific values, recommends Peterson. Common values include family, adventure, independence or security. “Once you have a list of four or five of your own, come up with one to three concrete action steps you can take to honor each value,” says Peterson.
For example, is family at the top of your list? Make room in your budget then to do something as expensive as travel to visit your sister across the country once a year, or something as inexpensive as carving out an hour a week to speak to your parents on the phone. Honoring what’s important to you in your financial plan is as valuable as your portfolio, says Peterson.
Work With a Financial Planner for a Comprehensive Review
While it is important to have a solid understanding of your money, there is no reason to handle your personal financial life completely on your own. “Just like you see a doctor for checkups and a dentist for cleanings, a good financial planner can take a comprehensive look at your personal financial wellness and make recommendations to help you move closer toward personal success, whatever that means for you,” says Peterson. Adds Lassus: “One thing I know for sure is that if women start financial planning now, they will worry less about money later.”
That’s a resolution that definitely stands up to the test of time.