New year, new goals. Those goals can be the usual ones, to exercise more and eat healthier or to read more books, but financial goals should be on the list every year. No matter where you’re starting from a financial perspective, you can always make tweaks. Here’s a step-by-step plan to create and follow through on your New Year’s financial goals.
Personal Financial Assessment
You can’t know where to go if you don’t know where you are now. Create a list, writing down your assets (how much is in the bank account, retirement account, investment account, etc.). Then do the same for your debts (credit card, student loans, car loan, mortgage, etc.). Sometimes seeing everything written down gives you a better understanding of the bigger picture.
Create a Realistic Budget
Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty details. Note how much money you make each month after taxes, then highlight important categories of regular spending. These may include:
- car loans
- commuting costs
- dining out
- household goods
- other pertinent items
If you’re not tracking every penny, that’s okay, but the more detailed you are, the easier it is to make a realistic budget. Compare what you’re bringing in each month to what you’re spending. You may see areas where you can trim your spending, like dining out less frequently or shopping more often at a different grocery store.
Build a Plan for Savings
Investing Experts recommend having at least three to six months of savings on hand in case of emergency. If you haven’t started to save, start with a goal of $1,000. With a long list of financial priorities, that can seem overwhelming, but it’s doable. The budget is helpful as a guide to keep your spending within certain parameters, but you should specify some savings goals as well. One might be to build up your savings account, while another could be to contribute the maximum allowed to a tax-advantaged retirement account.
Using a retirement calculator will help you see how much you’ll need in later years. Setting concrete goals helps make it happen. For example, if you want to build up $1,000 in savings in one year, you need to save $83 a month. Pay yourself first by automatically depositing that amount from your paycheck into a savings account. You can also use auto-deposits for retirement investing. Some people find that if they don’t see the money in their checking account, they don’t even think about spending it.
Perform Regular Financial Health Checks
Set a time periodically, whether every month or every quarter, to look at your financial health. Seeing progress toward accomplishing goals is a big motivator. You can make tweaks in the plan as necessary, but at least you’ll have a gauge as to how you’re doing financially.
Check back in with your budget as well, making sure your purchase decisions align with—not exceed—the goal amounts you originally established.
Taking charge of your financial goals is empowering, as knowledge is power. Not all goals can be accomplished immediately, but taking steps toward making them a reality is the way to start.