The new year offers a fresh start, a time when many of us feel energized, optimistic and open to change. When you set your New Year’s resolutions, consider financial goals, too. Set goals that are attainable and measurable. Break each goal into steps, write those steps down, and set deadlines for accomplishing each step. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Pay yourself first. Set a savings goal. You can start with 3% to 5% of your pay, and work up to 10%. Set up automatic deposits into a separate account. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, try at least to contribute up to the match. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), set up an IRA. If you are already contributing to your 401(k) or IRA, consider increasing your contributions to the maximum. In 2016 the maximum amount for a 401(k) is $18,000, and if you are at least 50 you may contribute up to $6,000 more.
- Create a budget. This is not as hard as it sounds. If you use your bank’s online bill pay, a good place to start is the summary information found right on the web site. Your credit card company may also provide you a year-end summary of your spending. You can’t set goals for spending and saving without understanding where your money is currently going. As you look at your spending, think about what you are spending your hard-earned money on — and differentiate between wants and needs. Much of our overspending is on little things, like a daily latté or eating lunch out every day. Cutting back on these seemingly minor expenditures can have a big impact on your finances.
- Pay off credit card debt. This is likely the highest interest rate debt you have. If you have only been paying the minimum, set a goal to pay a certain amount more each month. And through creating a budget and setting savings goals, you should be able to find ways to reduce spending on the “wants” and reduce your use of credit cards. Your ultimate goal should be to charge no more than you can pay off each month.
- Prepare a personal net worth statement. This is simply a list of all your assets (home, 401[k] plan, IRAs, bank accounts, life insurance, etc.) and your liabilities (mortgage, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.) Many people are surprised to discover how this simple exercise helps you focus on financial goals.
- Review your estate planning documents. Documents that everyone needs include a will, durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, directive to physicians (living will) and a HIPPA (medical privacy) release. If you have minor children, a will is necessary for naming a guardian in the event you die. The importance of these documents cannot be overemphasized. And review with your closest family members so they know where the documents are in case they are needed in an emergency.
- Rebalance your investment portfolio. The asset allocation in your investment portfolio is a road map towards your financial future and should be aligned with your financial goals. Throughout the past year certain asset classes may have performed better than others, and your portfolio should be rebalanced back to your target allocation. A financial planner can help you envision your future, determine your financial goals and devise a strategy for achieving those goals including an appropriate asset allocation.
- Review your insurance. Life insurance policies should be reviewed annually to see if they still meet your needs. Similarly review your property and casualty coverage. Depending on your situation, consider an umbrella policy. You should also review your disability coverage, an area where people often leave themselves exposed to risk, as you are much more likely to become disabled than to die prematurely.
- Review your tax plan. Work with your financial adviser to identify opportunities for tax savings. Tax laws change frequently, and you should understand how these laws affect you.
Joseph Jennings is senior vice president, investment director, PNC Wealth Management, in Baltimore. He can be reached at [email protected].