Cicely Jones, CFP®, Contributor Dec. 18, 2023 Forbes
With the new year approaching, many are thinking about resolutions like going to the gym, eating healthier, hitting work metrics, and getting their finances in order. Thinking about how to get your finances in order can be a daunting task, so I’ve laid out five manageable financial resolutions to consider.
During the holidays, I understand that a lot of budgets get thrown out the door in favor of hosting, traveling, gifting, and sales. It’s okay to go over budget from time to time; what’s less okay is not having a budget at all. When you don’t track expenses or hold yourself accountable, then you run the risk of always spending as much as you bring in and never reaching your financial goals.
Here are the steps to create a budget you can stick to:
You don’t want this to act as a balance sheet where the numbers even out. Your net income per month should exceed your combined non-discretionary and discretionary expenses. This excess is what gives you the ability to save toward your financial goals. In the new year, you may want to create this budget initially, then review and update it monthly.
If you have a major purchase goal, particularly when many people around you are acting on things fast, it’s important to take a step back and assess how moving forward the purchase will impact your budget and other financial goals. I’ve seen too many people fall victim to “this deal won’t last” and “act fast”. These high-pressure sales tactics are designed to shove the logical side of your brain aside and make you act emotionally.
Most people I speak with want to minimize the amount of taxes they pay. However, I still see many people choose investing strategies that generate both income taxes and capital gains taxes annually. If you have a long time to hit your financial goals, you can have the benefits of compounding interest with tax-advantaged vehicles.
The most classic example is a retirement account. If your goal is retirement and you’re choosing not to participate in your employer-sponsored retirement plan because they don’t match, you’re leaving tax savings and some compounding returns on the table.
Portfolio diversification is so easy and cost-effective to achieve these days. A 2020 Harvard paper called diversification “the only free lunch available to investors.” I know that investing in single stocks can be a lot of fun. For your financial goals, I urge you to consider a globally diversified portfolio of many securities, invested according to the time until you need the funds and your tolerance for risk.
All these other resolutions mean nothing if you don’t have clearly defined financial goals. Think about what you want in your life, get very specific, and list your goals in order of priority. They might look something like the following:
Let’s say this person has $2,700 excess income per month. Since eliminating the debt is the highest priority item, this person would first plan to pay down their credit cards by 2026. Maybe this involves increasing payments from the minimum up to $1,000 per month. If they have excess money, they will then focus their efforts on the actions they need to take to retire in 20 years on 80% of their income. Let’s say they ran the numbers, and they need to save $1,200 per month in their 401(k). The remaining $500 per month could be saved toward the home purchase goal.
We will then want to assess our risk tolerance for each goal that involves investments. Retirement is in 20 years. That would be considered a long-time horizon. If this person is also willing to take on a lot of risk, they might be in a portfolio of 100% stocks. For the home purchase goal, we only have 5 years. That would be considered an intermediate time horizon. Unless this goal is extremely flexible, the investor’s tolerance for risk would likely be much lower than for the retirement goal. Here, it may make sense for the investor to have a mix of stock investments alongside bond funds, money market funds, and other conservative investments.
This new year, consider taking manageable steps toward getting your finances in order by implementing these five resolutions.
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