Financial New Year’s resolutions are a common phenomenon this time of year—especially for anyone who overdid the holiday spending and who knows the new year is going to bring a new batch of credit card bills. Probably one of the most common financial resolutions is: “I’m going to make a budget and stick to it.”
In light of the current economy, making a fresh financial start is likely to be a wise move. Here are my suggestions for five financial New Year’s resolutions to help you manage well in the coming year:
1. Make a commitment to get out of debt, starting now. The first step toward becoming debt-free is to stop accumulating new debt. Leave the credit cards at home and postpone major purchases that aren’t essential. Then focus on paying off existing debt, starting with consumer debt such as credit cards. One method is to pay as much as you can toward the smallest debt first, in order to get rid of one payment. Another approach is to start with the debt bearing the highest interest rate.
2. Decrease your lifestyle. Look at ways you can reduce expenses: eating out less, buying large items like cars and equipment used instead of new, buying store brands, shopping sales, and cutting back on non-essentials.
3. Create, in writing, a spending plan that reflects your commitments to pay down debt and live more modestly.
4. Keep on saving. Fully fund your retirement, especially if you have a 401(k) or other plan with any employer matching. Build up a healthy emergency fund.
5. If you already have investments, review or get a second opinion on your asset allocation to make sure you have enough diversity to get through turbulent times.
Making these resolutions is the easy part. Keeping them, of course, is the real challenge. Here are some ideas to help you maintain your financial resolutions:
1. Take a look at your history with money to identify your money scripts. Unconscious beliefs, such as “I deserve to spend money” or “Money is bad” shape many of our financial decisions and can keep us from managing money wisely. When you understand why you have made some of the choices you’ve made, you’re better able to make different choices in the future.
2. If you suspect you might have a financial disorder, such as compulsive spending or gambling, get help from a therapist or financial coach.
3. Check out resources such as classes, books, and websites to get the knowledge you need about investing, budgeting, and managing money.
4. Get support. If possible, enlist the help of an integrated financial planner. If your budget won’t accommodate this level of professional help, or if you are struggling with serious debt, check out other sources of support such as credit counseling services and classes. Consider asking a trusted friend or relative who seems to manage money well to be a mentor and a cheerleader to help you keep your commitment to a healthier financial life.
5. Remember that relapse is normal. It takes time to change long-standing financial habits. You will make mistakes, and you will slip back into old behaviors. This doesn’t mean you have failed; it just means you need to renew your commitment to change.
None of us can be sure what the immediate future may bring financially, especially when it comes to the “big picture” of overall economic conditions. Yet resolving to make a commitment to financial health in the new year is one thing you can do to help safeguard your financial future.