Editor's note: This is part two of a series on making a financial plan as your New Year's resolution. Part 1 explained the importance of goal setting and offered some goal setting ideas. This installment looks at how those goals may be achieved.
What is your personal record on New Year's resolutions? Did you resolve to get in shape, then joined a health club and stopped going by the third week in February? Is there a stack of books in the corner under an inch of dust from the book-of-the-month club you joined three Januaries ago?
Well, not this year. This year you will make that financial plan and stick with it. According to a 2016 goal planning study by TD Ameritrade, those with a financial plan are three times as likely to be confident they will reach their retirement goals. They also have higher goals for retirement than those without a plan, and almost double the current savings toward retirement.
Are your short-term and long-term goals in place? That's a good first step, but the next step is to go about achieving those goals. And that involves two things:
- Assessing your financial situation
- Prioritizing and managing your resources
In order to achieve your goals, you need to know where things currently stand. And what better time to do that than the new year? After all, you're getting all of your tax documents together, so you've got all of those pay stubs, expense receipts and credit card statements, so use this time to take a look at your situation.
First, what do you have, and what do you owe? Did you set up that emergency fund so you're ready to face the unexpected expenses that may come along? How much have you already saved in a retirement plan? Do you have equity in a home, or other real estate interest? How about life insurance? Getting a handle on your net worth can tell you how far you've come on the journey toward your goals, and how much further you still need to travel.
Next, compare your monthly income, from all sources, with all of the obligatory expenses you have—rent or mortgage, taxes, meals (the basics, not the four-star restaurant meals or your bar tab), medical, transportation, clothing (again, be reasonable), utilities, student loans, and any outstanding credit card debt.
What's left over? That's your discretionary income. That's what you have to work with. That's the money you need to allocate between fun—entertainment, expensive meals out, caramel macchiatos, vacations—and saving toward your short- and long-term goals. Are you where you would like to be?
Budget—a word no one wants to hear. It's like you're back in grade school and you aren't allowed to eat a cookie because it will spoil your dinner. But budgeting is a fact of life. It's the first rule of economics—there is a finite supply of everything and it must be allocated among seemingly limitless demands.
So considering the list of expenses above, where can you cut it down? You probably have a few ideas. And if you feel you don't have the willpower to stick to your budget, put it on "autopilot." The Consumer Federation of America said the easiest and most effective way to save is automatically. Company sponsored 401(k) and other retirement plans can be deducted from your paycheck automatically. And remember, a company match, if your employer offers one, is there for the taking, so be sure to take full advantage of it. Your bank may also offer automatic transfers to be set up between your checking account and a savings or investment account.
Because it is. If your goals have been set, your financial situation has been assessed and you're budgeting properly, you're well on your way. But it’s important to reassess periodically to ensure your goals and priorities are on track.
For example, suppose your goal priorities and life plan looked like this:
- Set up an emergency fund
- Pay down revolving credit
- Pay off student loans
- Buy a house
- Start a family
- Save for children's' education
As you move through life, and tick these items off the list, make sure you've accounted for any changes, for better or for worse. Did you plan for three children and end up with two or four, or more? That may determine the size of house you need, and it will definitely affect the amount you need to save for their education. Or maybe you get a job opportunity that requires relocation. The point is, your plan will need an occasional tweak. But if you stay focused on your end goals, you can achieve them.
Hands-On Goal Planning
Planning for tomorrow involves setting financial goals today. Are your plans on track?