This year, the mid-week holidays create a nice opportunity to take some time off and focus on your finances. Instead of wasting that time watching Netflix, here are a few ideas to jumpstart your finances in the New Year.
—Figure out what’s inside your 401(k).
It’s easy to check your account balance online, and this year you’ll probably get a nice warm feeling. The market is near all-time highs, and the comparisons are great since last year ended on a low note. Just remember: Never confuse genius with a bull market!
But it’s not enough to know the bottom line. Can you name and explain your investments inside the plan? Or have you just defaulted to a target-date retirement fund, figuring the “pros” can handle this “asset allocation” decision for you?
That laissez-faire mentality is a mistake for two reasons. When you’re younger, you want the most exposure to the broad market indexes such as the S&P 500. There’s never been a 20-year period when this choice would have lost money, with dividends reinvested.
For those closer to retirement, it’s a big mistake to assume that the target date fund will protect you from a market decline. The target date allocations reflect a long-term horizon of your life expectancy and the need for growth to offset inflation. So you may be more exposed to stock market volatility in your target date fund than you imagined. A market decline could impact your ability to take withdrawals to maintain your lifestyle.
So use this year-end time to look inside your 401(k) and consider some changes. And contact the HR department to increase your contributions for 2020 — at least enough to get all the match.
—Organize your finances for the new year.
The last few days of the year are the perfect time to download the latest version of Quicken at Quicken.com. This is more than a matter of organizing your budget and tracking your spending. Quicken integrates your entire financial plan, including investments and longer-term goals.
If you’re a millennial who doesn’t have a “desk,” download the Mint app to your smartphone. It does most of the same things for free. But you’ll just have to do those things on a much smaller screen. Having the app on your phone is like having your money conscience “ping” you with messages in real-time — notifying you when bills are due, when your spending is exceeding your budget and when your investments change value significantly.
—Look at the big picture.
You’ll never get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re starting from. It’s a Savage Truth that time is money, so the sooner you start looking objectively at where you stand, the sooner you can make some adjustments.
Are you on track for retirement at your hoped-for date? Go to www.ChoosetoSave.org and click on “calculators.” Then choose the “ballpark estimate.” If you input your current status, along with some estimates of future savings and returns, it will instantly tell you how much more you should be saving — or how far your standard of living will drop in retirement if you don’t save more!
Have you done the basics of personal financial planning, such as creating a will or revocable living trust? Or are you leaving it to chance that a court will distribute your assets and custodianship of your minor children in a way that you prefer? Do you have enough life insurance to care for your dependents? Did you name a current beneficiary for your retirement accounts?
Download the Personal Financial Organizer form at www.TerrySavage.com to serve as your checklist for what needs to be done. It includes a financial location guide in case of an emergency.
Time is money. And never more so than at year-end. That’s the Savage Truth.