Don’t look back! If the calendar can start over, so can you. In every aspect of life — but particularly our financial lives — if we keep looking backward we will find ourselves headed in the wrong direction.
What will you do differently in the year ahead when it comes to money management? Here are some thoughts — and maybe you’ll add a few of your own — to create your personal “to-do” list.
—Know exactly where you stand, whether it’s debt or investments. It’s always easiest to close your eyes to the details so you aren’t overwhelmed with information. But proceeding blindly is an expensive mistake.
To do: Take a close look at all debt. Make a list of all your credit card balances, interest rates and minimum monthly payments. Pay off the highest rate card first, adding extra money each month. Or, pay off the lowest balance card first and then hide it away and don’t use it again!
To do: Look deeper than the balance in your 401(k) account. Take out your latest statement, or look at it online, to see exactly what you own. Then look up detailed information on each fund (unless it is a “proprietary” fund) online at Morningstar.com. Check to see how your fund performed compared to other similar funds last year.
If you’ve just decided these tasks are too much trouble, then be prepared for surprises when it comes to your future financial success. The first step toward reaching your goals is understanding exactly where your starting point is.
—Set realistic goals. Figure out a few tasks, both short and long term, that can reasonably get you to financial independence. You can’t expect to get ahead when debt is dragging you down. And, similarly, you can’t hope to be a lottery winner, or even that you’ll benefit from a bull market every year. To the extent that you can make your actions automatic, you’ll have a better chance of reaching your goals.
To do: Figure out whether you’re on track to reach your retirement goals. Go to ChoosetoSave.org and click on the “Ballpark Estimate” tool. Answer the questions honestly about where you stand now and when you hope to retire. Then, with one click, you’ll see a realistic assessment of your prospects.
To do: If you’re not saving enough, sign up to have more taken out of your paycheck every month and put into either a workplace retirement plan or an automatic IRA contribution at a place like Vanguard or Fidelity. You’ll figure out how to live on slightly less money now, knowing that time will leverage your investments to make your retirement more secure.
— Get organized. Keeping your financial act in order is essential to financial success. Stashing paper receipts in drawers and pockets is not only a nightmare at tax time, but it is symbolic of a haphazard approach to one of the most important aspects of your life.
To do: This is a great time to download Quicken, the online software that tracks every bit of your spending, categorizes it, and helps you stay within a budget you will create. Or if you want to keep your money mobile, get the Mint app. It’s designed and owned by Intuit, parent company of Quicken, and it will not only track all your spending but send you texts as helpful real-time reminders to stay on track.
To do: Check beneficiaries of retirement accounts and insurance policies. This is a simple process of contacting the plan custodian or insurer. You don’t need a lawyer to change beneficiaries, since at your death this money passes directly to the person you have named. As children reach maturity, they can be direct beneficiaries. And consider updating your estate plan.
It’s a New Year, a new chance to make a difference in your future. Take a few minutes to handle these simple tasks. They’ll pay off big in the long run. And that’s the Savage Truth.