The New Year is a time to think about getting organized, both personally and financially.
“For more than 4,000 years, many people have celebrated the start of their new year by making promises to change their behavior or improve themselves,” John Chladek, president of Chladek Wealth Management, says. “And it’s no wonder why: While New Year’s resolutions can be hard to keep, they may also make you more than 10 times more likely to achieve your goals than if you hadn’t made a resolution at all.”
Ten time more likely is a big number, and it’s one that should strengthen your resolve. These 12 financial resolutions will help make your 2017 happier and more successful. You may be incorporating some of them already, but others may be new to you and worth considering.
1. Create Emergency Savings
Life is full of unexpected emergencies, Chladek says, and having extra cash on hand in an interest-bearing account can help keep a serious illness, home or building repair, or other sudden financial need from derailing your finances. “Prepare for unpredictable expenses by putting aside three to six months of expenses in an easily accessible cash-equivalent account,” he says.
2. Make a Monthly Budget and Stick to It
“Budgets may sound like a lot of unnecessary work, especially if you’re financially comfortable. But if you’re not tracking your spending, you may be surprised by how quickly it adds up, and which expenses are costing you the most,” Chlakek says. “As 2017 begins, set a budget and work on sticking to it for three months. Track your performance and revise the budget, as needed. Don’t aim for perfection; instead, try for incremental improvement.”
3. Save More for the Future
Creating a disciplined savings strategy is an important way to stay on track for your retirement and other goals. Chladek recommends keeping separate “buckets” of savings for short-, medium-, and long-term goals, and leveraging tax-advantaged accounts where possible. Another good way you can save more for the future is by paying down high-interest debt. Make paying down debt a top priority this year, the financial adviser recommends.
4. Make Retirement Plan Contributions Regularly
“Even if you’re diligently saving, you may be among the 71% of Americans who haven’t put aside enough money for retirement,” Chladek says. “One key change you can make is to take advantage of time in the market. Instead of waiting until the last minute to make your annual contributions, give your money more time to grow by making automatic contributions to your accounts every month.”
Tax-managed retirement accounts are one of the most powerful ways to save for a more comfortable retirement, because they allow you to control your tax liabilities today, while accumulating assets for the future, Chladek points out. Make the most of these accounts by contributing as much as you can each tax year. “We usually recommend maxing out employer-sponsored plans first to take advantage of any matching contributions your employer may offer,” he says.
5. Create a Powerful Legacy
“A rich life involves more than financial success and a comfortable lifestyle,” Chladek says. “Whether you want to leave something to your loved ones or support causes you care about, take time to address the legacy you’d like to leave.”
6. Review Estate Planning, Legal Documents and Beneficiaries
Your core legal documents need regular reviews to ensure they keep up with any changes in your life. If a few years have passed since you looked at your documents, Chladek suggests you dust them off and make sure that they still represent your wishes. As life changes, periodically review and update your account beneficiaries. Since beneficiary provisions are independent of your will or other estate provisions, keeping them current is critical, Chladek says.
7. Stay Healthy
Healthcare is a major expense for most Americans, especially if serious illness strikes. Take steps to protect your wellbeing by building a healthy lifestyle and prioritizing preventive care. Mountains of research prove the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.
8. Protect your Credit and Identity
Identity theft and financial fraud are serious threats that can compromise your financial wellbeing. Protect yourself by reviewing financial statements and bills carefully for unauthorized activity. Regularly update your passwords for all financial accounts and always shred any sensitive documents before you dispose of them. Check your credit report for free each year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
9. Review Tax Strategies for Potential Savings
Chladek says every dollar you save in taxes is one that you can reinvest in your current lifestyle or future goals. However, he points out that recent tax-law updates mean that your tax burden may have changed. It’s important to have a good financial adviser to discuss tax strategies that may help you reduce your tax liabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions of your adviser. After all, you’re paying them to be the expert.
10. Involve Your Spouse, Children and Grandchildren
Especially for farm families, this is often avoided or overlooked until it’s too late. “Fostering financial wisdom is a powerful way to help your children and grandchildren build a solid, stable life — and help ensure you’re able to pass on your values and wealth in the future,” Chladek says. “Rather than keeping your finances private from your loved ones, we recommend including them in conversations about your goals and priorities.” Consider having them attend meetings with your financial adviser so they’re knowledgeable about your financial goals.
Work together to make financial decisions and make sure each of significant party understands the overall game plan for your finances and your farming operation. At the minimum, Chladek recommends you make sure your spouse knows how to access financial accounts and understands your wishes. Keep your records in one spot (including passwords), so in the event of a catastrophe, the necessary parties can find the information they need.
11. Identify your Goals for 2017
Identify exactly what you hope to accomplish in 2017, both financially and personally. Whether you want to earn more money, go on a vacation, or spend more time with your family, take a moment now to write down your goals, Chladek suggests. To increase the odds of achieving these goals, consider sharing them with a friend and providing regular updates on your progress. People who set goals for themselves and create strategies to pursue them are much more likely to see success.
12. Keep Your Financial Resolutions
Chladek says that just 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. “But by making your goals simple, specific, and actionable, you can increase your chances of being among this select group,” he says. “Instead of saying: ‘I will save more for the future in 2017,’ say: ‘I will contribute $4,500 to my retirement accounts by December 31, 2017,’ or ‘I will pay off $2,000 of credit card debt by April 15.’” In other words, the more specific your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them.
“Losing control of money has generated more financial headaches for small-business owners than temporary red figures on the bottom line,” William Lynott, a financial writer from Jenkintown, Penn., says. “Taken individually, financial management techniques may seem obvious or even inconsequential. However, when you blend them together in a consistent manner, they will form a significant and permanent contribution to your economic well-being.”