‘Tis the season for making resolutions, and some of the most common New Year’s resolutions are getting organized, budgeting and saving more. Although most make these commitments with the best of intentions, the truth is fewer than 40% of resolutions will be kept for even the next six months. If you have resolved to improve your financial footing for the upcoming year, how do you avoid being part of the majority who will not see it through?
Here are some easy tips to get your financial house in order:
Start Simple – Don’t try to do too much too quickly. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take small steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. Choose one area to focus on and do not move on to the next until you’ve accomplished it.
Create a Budget – Calculate your income and expenses. Determine which expenses are “discretionary” and if necessary, make cuts where you can. Be sure to consider irregular expenses (like travel, gifts, etc.), not just your monthly bills. Consider using an aggregator like Mint.com to establish and maintain your budget.
Pay Yourself First – Ideally, when you set your budget, you should include a line item for savings. Set up an automatic transfer on paydays to pay yourself before any bills. Be realistic and start small, with gradual increases over time. Ultimately, your goal should be to get to the point where you are saving at least 10% of your pay through various channels. Another simple option is to increase your retirement contribution by 1% each year.
Track Your Spending – Creating a budget is only one piece of the puzzle. Now that you have your budget in place, you have to track it. The budget is merely your roadmap, and you will very likely have to make course corrections over time. If you use a good aggregator, you should be able to track your spending to monitor how you are measuring up to your budget.
Clear out the Clutter – Go through your financial documents periodically. In most cases, you only need to maintain financial records for three years. Nearly all financial documents can be archived online. Consider going paperless to further reduce the paperwork.
Stay Up to Date – Review beneficiaries on your accounts periodically to ensure that your wishes are reflected appropriately.
Don’t Give Up – Too often, we hit a wall when we set out to accomplish something. The challenge is to regroup and figure out a way to scale that wall. If you are struggling, try to go back to a previous step. If that doesn’t work, consider asking for help. Keep moving in the right direction and your small wins will become habits, ultimately earning you financial freedom.