Financial Planning for the New Year
A recent You.gov study found that money and health related goals rank high on the list of New Year’s resolutions for many Americans. Sadly, resolutions often fail due to lack of clarity, inconsistent monitoring, or failure to reward ourselves along the way.
Even if our financial and physical health is neglected for years, improvement is possible – just not overnight. Working out and eating more fruits and vegetables can do to your health what a plan of action can do for our finances.
Consistency might be the missing link to achieving your goals this year. You can avoid throwing in the towel after just a few months of hit or miss effort. Apply these tips to put yourself in a better financial position come next December.
Be SMART About It
SMART financial goals are the best way to bring clarity to your resolutions and give them a realistic deadline. Use the SMART acronym to create goals that are:
Example: I will take a second job to help pay off my $7,500 student loan.
Example: I will pay an extra $200 a month to my student loan on the 10th of each month.
Example: My second job will generate an extra $1000 a month.
Example: Once my student loan is paid in full, I will use the money saved and apply it to my Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
Example: Starting January 10th, 2019 and every month thereafter, I will pay an extra $200 a month to my student loan for a final payoff in (month/year).
SMART goals will keep you motivated and focused all year long.
Don’t Just Save More
You understand that you need to save more money but a vague desire to “save more” isn’t enough to change your financial health. Be intentional in your savings efforts. Start with your human resources department. Sign up for your employer-sponsored savings plan (ex. 401(k), 403(b), Simple Plan, SEP Plan, etc.) for tax-deferred savings. Some employers even match contributions up to a set percentage. Contribute up to the matching amount. For example, if your employer matches contributions up to 6%, then contribute 6% to the plan. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement savings plan, you can start one for as little as $100 with Hughes Federal Credit Union.
You can also start an emergency fund account but only after you decide how much money you want to have in the fund. Let’s say you want to set aside three months of living expenses for a rainy day. How soon do you want to fully fund the account? Set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your “You Name It” Account for the amount needed to reach your goal by the deadline.
Reduce Expenses, But...
You know that you can cut costs by canceling cable services, switching cell phone data plans and brown bagging it each week but do you have to nix everything to make a serious impact on your finances? In short – no. You can reduce expenses, but you need not cut everything. Get creative. Here’s how:
- Share the costs of your monthly subscription services with others, or better yet, get them for free. Access movies, magazines, ebooks, audio books, and books for free using your local library’s online services.
- Go half. Buy half as much of your splurge as you did last year. Instead of grabbing coffee four days a week, only visit your barista on Mondays and Saturdays.
- Rediscover free entertainment in your city. Check your city or county community events webpage for upcoming fun this year.
Earn More Money
Take your love of crafts, writing, or teaching and turn it into a side income. A few hours a week feeding your passion can be the boost needed to get you out of debt and adding more money to your retirement account.
Improve Your Credit Score
Check your credit report so you know where you stand. First, don’t automatically assume everything on your report is correct. Review it to identify any errors. If any exist, follow the credit bureau’s dispute policy to remove the errors.
Then, further improve your score by reviewing and taking action based on the summary section of your credit report. Credit reports often include a summary section which describes the items negatively affecting your score.
Congratulate yourself for recognizing the need to make fiscal changes. Reading this article is your first step to changing your financial situation. Stick with it and review your goals monthly. If you get sidetracked, don’t get discouraged. Financial missteps happen but they need not keep you from reaching your financial dreams.