It's that time again—the time to reassess your goals and commit to making next year your best year yet. So in the spirit of the season here are some suggested financial resolutions for the new year. But before you adopt these, remember that it's not about how many resolutions you make, but how many you're actually able to keep. Just as it's easier to stick with resolutions to shape-up physically if you have concrete and realistic goals, giving yourself some attainable financial goals will help you develop—and stick with—a financial program that may produce results. Another point to remember is to keep these goals front and center as a reminder and track your progress to see how you are doing towards building a financially secure 2016.
1) Assess your current situation – your Net Worth
This is the first step in making positive changes. Look at what you own and what you owe. A net worth calculation worksheet can help you easily add up assets and subtract liabilities to get a snapshot of your current net worth. If you have net worth statements from previous years, review and compare them to help understand your financial trends—and decide where to make changes. In many ways, viewing your net worth is like watching your weight: it's healthy to set reasonable goals that make sense for you and your current situation. Comparing yourself to others only helps if you're getting started and struggling to get a feel for where you stand.
2) Create a set of short-term and long term goals
Define and prioritize a set of goal for yourself and your family. This will help determine what is most important and lead to greater clarity for you financial strategy. Also determine the goal amount that might be ideal, and that might be satisfactory in achieving this goal.
3) Look at last year's spending.
Is your money going where you really want it to go? It will if you spend mindfully and you can only be mindful if you know your current expenses. Also align your spending decisions in the context of your goals. So if one of your top goals is to build your retirement nest egg, do you need to spend less to save more? Does taking that big vacation mean dining out less often? Having an awareness of patterns will help you make better decisions throughout the year.
3) Make a 2017 budget.
Now that you've looked at last year's spending, focus on your budget for 2016. Track your spending for a month to see where your money is really going. Do you need to make adjustments—a little more here, a little less there? Take a fresh look at your essential and nonessential expenses. Don't let overspending become a habit.
4) Get on top of debt.
I believe that not all debt is bad (for instance, a mortgage and home equity line of credit) can be good as you are borrowing to own an appreciating asset – essentially building a leveraged asset. But there's really nothing good about carrying a credit card balance. Systematically pay down balances with excess cash by focusing on higher interest cards first. Student loans have lower rates and should be paid off later but do not ignore regularly scheduled payments. Pay close attention to rates and strategize accordingly.
5) Build an emergency fund.
Everyone's situation is different, but bad things—an illness, the loss of a job—can happen to anyone. So protect yourself. In my view it is ideal to have enough cash in an easily accessible account to cover three-to-six months' worth of essential expenses (more if you're retired or have several dependents). Promise yourself you won't touch this money unless you have a real emergency.
6) Determine if your Retirement Savings Are on Track.
Use the New Year as a motivation to review your retirement goal and see if you're on target. If not, try to ramp up your savings. Some golden rules apply most important being the earlier you start the better or less you have to save each year. Other golden rules that in my opinion are equally important are taking full advantage of your employer match and maximize retirement savings and to keep investing to keep those savings growing.
7) Rebalance your portfolio.
This is the ideal time to review and rebalance your portfolio. If you didn't do a 2015 year-end review, start 2016 by looking at your asset allocation and making changes to keep your investments on track with your goals and timeline. Take advantage of online tools, quarterly reports and your broker. If your investments have grown beyond your comfort level or your work has gotten to hectic to focus adequately in managing them, seek out a financial advisor who can work with you throughout the year. Rebalancing does not does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss.
8). Review your insurance coverage.
Certain types of insurance are essential: health, car, homeowners or renters insurance. Make sure you have adequate coverage for these important things. You might then look into disability insurance if you're in your peak earning years; an umbrella policy if you have significant assets; and life insurance if you have dependents.
9) Create/review your estate plan.
You may not need a complex plan, but don't put off creating at least a simple will, particularly if you have minor children. Review beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies, especially if you've had a life change such as a new baby, marriage or divorce. An advance health care directive is also a necessity to protect both yourself and your loved ones.
10) Keep the dialogue going!
Lastly, make money an ongoing topic of conversation. Talk to your spouse about your plans and decisions. Don't hesitate to share your financial know-how with your children or other family members. Encourage everyone to ask questions and freely discuss financial concerns and insights.
Hopefully this list provides you sufficient impetus and inspiration to renew, refocus and resolve to get—and keep—your finances in the best shape ever.
Here's to a happy and financially rewarding 2017!
Anita Srivastava is a Financial Advisor with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Ridgewood, NJ. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives.
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