Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin
WHEN WAS the last time you made a financial resolution on New Year’s Eve? If you can’t remember, you’re in good company.
Allianz Life Insurance Company Of North America’s annual new year’s resolutions survey for 2014 reported that 49 per cent of respondents said that health and wellness were their first priorities for the coming year, up from 43 per cent in 2013. Only 30 per cent ranked financial stability as their top goal for the year.
In 2016, maybe it’s time to push financial fitness to the top of your list by creating an annual financial calendar that helps you save, spend and invest a little more smartly.
Here are some suggestions to build your calendar:
Set three important money goals for the year. That might not sound like a lot but, if you’ve never thought about money goals before, establishing these three targets can make a major difference in your financial life. Set goals that address key money concerns or serve as a springboard for a solid financial future.
You should choose what makes sense for you, but here are three basic goals you could start with:
• Creating or resetting your budget. If you’ve never made a budget before, spend a month or two tracking everything you spend. Review your findings closely and see whether you’re spending less than you earn. If not, determine whether you can cut your spending to direct more funds to meet key goals. If you already have a budget, consider reevaluating your finances to see where you could cut costs.
• Building an emergency fund. An emergency fund contains between three to six months of living expenses you can draw upon only in a real financial emergency such as unemployment, illness or a major unplanned expense.
• Saving for something special. Make one of your three goals a fun goal – a vacation, a new bike, a wardrobe upgrade – something that feels like a reward.
Now, here are some calendar items that might help you reach your goals.
Make sure you note staggered receipt dates for each of your three free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax so you can keep a steady eye on your credit and spot irregularities if they happen.
Prevent severe money surprises by marking key repair or replacement dates on home, appliance and other personal expenses that might be coming up during the year. Use the time you have now to schedule inspections and estimates for each so you’ll be able to start setting aside funds in advance.
Retirement readiness is another key calendar item. At least once a year, consider reviewing your holdings in retirement or investment accounts to make sure they’re still performing as you’ve planned or, if not, whether you need to restructure the investments in your portfolio.
Put the open enrollment dates for employer- or self-employment benefits on your calendar and then mark a date several weeks before to allow you to start thinking through necessary changes. The way you choose employer- or self-employment benefits is a key part of your financial planning and should intersect with other independent money decisions you’re making for yourself and your family.
Insurance renewal dates are important to mark as well. If you’re not comparison-shopping for the auto, homeowners or health insurance coverage you buy on your own, there’s a good possibility you’re losing out on money, service or coverage.
Set two dates each year to review your overall finances. You might consider dates in June and November to see how you’re doing with budget, savings, spending, investment and tax issues. The June date is for corrective actions; the November date is to determine the last-minute spending, savings or tax moves you want to make before December 31 and to set financial goals for the next year. If you work with a qualified financial or tax expert, consider involving him or her in the conversation.
Bottom line: If you use a calendar or datebook to keep on schedule, add important money dates and activities so you can meet your lifetime financial goals.
Editor’s note: You can find the new year’s resolutions survey, emergency-fund advice and information about free credit reports online through the links included in our electronic version of this article above.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.