By NATHANIEL SILLIN
Whether you’re talking about diet, exercise or money, keeping New Year’s resolutions is challenging. A University of Scranton researcher noted that “weight loss” is the current reigning resolution, followed by “improve finances” at No. 2.
And while the study showed that roughly 40 to 46 percent were successful in their specific goal at the six-month mark, more than half gave up.
Your personal finances need more dedication than that.
If you want to add some fairly easy money resolutions that can help your finances overall, consider the following:
Make your first budget or do a better job of reviewing the one you have. A 2013 Gallup survey reported that only one-third of Americans actually prepare a detailed household budget. Make your first resolution to create or review your household budget so you know where your finances stand at all times.
Budgeting involves day-to-day tracking of finances, but having a quick way to determine your net worth – your assets minus your liabilities – offers the biggest picture of how you’re doing and what next steps you might take to improve your circumstances. Make this calculation an annual kickoff to the New Year.
Having an emergency fund means you’re always ready for the unexpected. The average emergency fund generally covers three-to-six months of daily expenses – yours could be more or less. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of an emergency fund is to keep you away from savings when unexpected expenses happen.
Depending on your comfort level with all things digital, virtually every aspect of your financial life can be managed online or with computer-based software. From setting up a basic paper or online calendar to track pay dates, bill due dates and deposit dates for savings and investments, a daily series of reminders and action items will keep your money issues on time and on track.
Recommit to retirement. If you’re employed or self-employed, here’s how to make a retirement savings resolution stick. First, make sure you’re signed up for a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan at work or a corresponding SEP-IRA, self-directed 401(k) or other self-employment retirement plan that fits your tax and financial situation. Then check what your 2016 maximum contribution (www.irs.gov) is for your respective plan. Finally, through budgeting or a plan to bring in more income, determine how you can come as close to your maximum contribution as possible for the coming year. And of course, don’t forget about Traditional or Roth IRAs that you can contribute to independently of work-based plans. All of these options can improve your retirement prospects while saving you considerable money on taxes.
Review your non-retirement benefits and insurance. For most employed and self-employed people, open enrollment for health and other company benefits wrapped up before year-end. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make notes at any point in the year for possible changes and improvements to your health insurance and related tax-advantaged accounts. The same goes for reviewing your personal home, auto, life and disability coverage for potential savings and/or better coverage. Qualified advisors can help you review these choices.
Find more money to save. Whether it’s adjusting what you spend, paying off expenses or finding ways to bring in more income, saving more is one of the best financial objectives there is. The first step is to track and set spending limits – those limits will help you reset or eliminate expenses that are standing in the way of your goals.
Bottom line: Making New Year’s resolutions always sounds like a good idea at the time, but keeping them requires determination, study and focus. This year, build the kind of money habits that position you for success.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.