How to Make 2017 the Year of Financial Security

According to Fidelity’s annual study on New Year’s resolutions, the number of Americans considering a financial resolution for 2017 increased significantly over last year. If you are one of those who are hoping that 2017 will be the Year of Financial Security, I suggest a quick review of 2016 as a starting point. Ask yourself four questions to get started:

1. How much did you save? Before you start on a mission to save more money next year, take a look at how you did over the past year. Are you better off this year than last? Could you have saved more money? Were your expectations of how much you could save realistic?

Don’t let a small balance in your savings account discourage you from continuing your efforts. Make saving automatic by scheduling a recurring transfer on payday so you never miss the money. If you don’t yet have 6 months of your expenses tucked away in a savings account, that’s a good goal to start with.

2. How is your 401(k) or IRA doing? If you haven’t checked on your retirement account lately, this is a good time to log in and check your asset allocation. If nothing else, you should make sure you’re re-balancing your investments to account for changes in the stock market.

But you should also make changes to your allocation as you approach retirement. Someone who only has 5 years until retirement will have a lot more of their assets invested in fixed income funds versus someone with 30 years to go. It’s also a good time to run a retirement calculator to see if you’re on track to retire when you want to.

3. Did you reduce debt? Raise your hand if your financial resolution includes reducing or eliminating debt. Extenuating circumstances aside, if your total amount of debt increased or stayed the same in 2016, then it’s time to take a look at how you are going to make that number go down for the coming year. The first step in eliminating credit card debt is to stop using credit cards, so start thinking now about how you will shift your spending to cash only while you tackle your debt. Then make a plan and stick with it.

4. Has your financial outlook changed? Perhaps 2016 was a year of change for you. Perhaps you got married, got a raise, switched careers, etc. As you prepare your plans for 2017, cover these questions to set you up for financial success in the coming year:

  • What are your greatest concerns? What keeps you up at night about your life and money? It might be something totally different from last year. This will affect your financial goals.
  • Is there specific financial guidance you need? Perhaps you received a promotion and have a lot more money to throw around so you finally need investing help or maybe now you’re caring for a relative. Does that affect your taxes? Consider seeking out a professional to help you with any big changes you’ve encountered. Your workplace financial wellness program is a great place to start.
  • Have your goals changed? Did you get married, have a baby, move to a new city, or decide to go back to grad school? All of these will affect your long-term goals. Hopefully, you’ve already examined how these changes affect your finances, but if not, now is the time to take a look and make any changes needed.
  • Do you need to revise your budget? If you did have any major life events in 2016 or if you’re setting a “stretch goal” for yourself for 2017, you probably need to revise your budget. Take a look at those expenditures that have become routine such as stops at Starbucks or taking Uber home from work and decide whether you need to reconsider those activities. For me, I have a renewed focus on my health after a rough 2016. I’m planning to spend more money on fitness activities like specialty classes and less money dining out.

Goal-setting for the New Year can be overwhelming. Make sure you give yourself some time and head space so that you are able to mindfully set goals that are realistic, achievable and motivational! Happy New Year!

 

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