Every January brings a new year filled with hopes and wishes. Most people have good intentions with New Year’s resolutions but few are dedicated enough or have the time and discipline to see them through. For me personally, this means it is time to dust off the gym clothes that haven’t seen much use since my daughter was born just months ago and to get back to the gym on a regular basis. The other resolution is to finally relearn Spanish, which I haven't used much since high school.
For many of us, outside of diet and exercise, a common resolution has to do with our regular use of a certain four-letter word, CASH—how we spend it, save it, and think about our use of it in the future. As a financial planner, here are five tips I usually give that are essential for meeting our financial goals for the New Year.
1. Simplify – Life is complex enough and your finances do not have to be as well. One of the best ways to do this is by having technology work for you, rather than against you. Utilize apps or software to help manage your use of cash and to keep track of your finances. This can be done using programs like Quicken, Mint.com, or using financial software from your advisor like eMoney or other programs they recommend.
2. Understand your cash flow – When Warren Buffet makes an investment decision he begins by looking at the cash flow for a company. All his decisions are based on this information once he understands how much income it brings in and how much it spends. Personal finances are no different. Begin by creating a budget and understanding how much you bring home and how much you spend. Creating a budget is never fun but is a very beneficial exercise to complete. It helps you gain a better understanding of your current financial situation, which allows you to also find opportunities to improve your finances as well. It is important to not just create a budget but to use the software above to monitor and track your progress.
3. Set realistic goals – If you are going to the gym for the first time in years it is unrealistic to expect to look like a bodybuilder after working out one month. Set short-term and long-term goals to achieve. The first month this may be as simple as trying to spend $100 less or paying off the debt you accumulated for Christmas. Keep in mind that long-term goals take time and are the accumulation of meeting many short-term goals.
4. Do not do this alone – People who have the most success losing weight typically have a workout buddy. This is someone to share the experience with, hold you accountable, or even be a cheerleader—“You got this!” Working with a planner can provide clarity and encouragement throughout the process. They can also take what can be an overwhelming task and break it into something more manageable.
5. Reward yourself – The whole point of this is to find a balance between today’s wants and tomorrow’s needs. Throughout the journey, do not forget to reward yourself. Maybe splurge for a small item after you have met 3 small goals. Heck, make one of your goals to save for an item you really want to buy in 6 months to a year. My family does this by saving each month for a family trip at the end of each summer. This will help keep you excited and encouraged.
The great things about new beginnings are the excitement of the unknown, that feeling of untapped potential. Remember carpe diem – seize the day! Best of luck on sticking to those New Year’s resolutions and I look forward to hearing exciting stories of accomplishments by the end of the year.