The New Year has become an opportunity to commit to new goals and rekindle hope. In fact, 40 to 50 percent of New Year’s revelers raise a toast to living better, healthier lives. Yet despite their optimism on Jan. 1, the majority end up missing their marks.
“Many of us come out of the gate raring to go, but our enthusiasm quickly dies because our goals are too lofty or because we haven’t established any sort of plan,” said Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “You’re more likely to stick with your resolutions if you focus on bite-sized goals, build a solid plan to achieve them and celebrate each milestone.”
Sullivan offers eight tips on making — and keeping — financial New Year’s resolutions:
• Review the past year. Start with a review of your current financial state. Did you earn more? Did you save more? Do you owe less? If so, take some time to celebrate. If you didn’t, ask for help. Talk with a financial advisor or credit counselor and explain your goals.
• Make a budget. It’s an oldie but a goodie — and it’s at the top of every financial to-do list because it works. Take inventory of your income and spending to get a sense of necessary expenses, discretionary funds and potential savings. Putting pen to paper also will open your eyes to any worrisome spending habits and help you make smarter decisions in the future.
• Automate and simplify. Take advantage of your bank’s bill pay feature to automate recurring payments like your mortgage, insurance, cable, utilities and even savings. In addition to saving you time each month, setting up auto payments helps you avoid late fees.
• Organize your finances. The New Year is a perfect time to get your financial life in order. Establish a process and system for paying bills, review your credit report for accuracy, research financial software, set up auto deposits and shred old documents and receipts. This is also an ideal time to gather and organize your tax information for 2018.
• Save for emergencies. If you don’t yet have an emergency fund, now is the time to build one. Aim to save enough money to cover three to six months of expenses, but break this big goal down into smaller milestones — and celebrate each time you reach one.
• Pay down debt. This may seem overwhelming, especially if you have multiple credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc. Start by tackling the debt with the biggest interest rate and move down the list from there. If needed, enlist the help of a nonprofit credit counseling or student loan counseling agency for one-on-one guidance, an action plan and assistance negotiating with creditors.
• Save for retirement. This is critically important to your financial health, but far too few people are focused on saving for their golden years. If you haven’t already done so, evaluate employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, or talk to a financial advisor about individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Commit to saving every month — even if it’s a small amount — and work to increase your contribution over time.
• Make it a family affair. Don’t go it alone. Enlist the help of family and friends to help you stay focused on your financial goals and priorities. You can also aim to teach your kids a new financial lesson each month, or create savings goals as family.
For more tips on financial resources, credit counseling and student loan repayment, visit takechargeamerica.org or call 888-822-9193.