New Year, Time to Review and Plan

Last week’s blog, the first of the New Year, highlighted that the top financial resolutions people made were to save more and spend less for 2019. While good intentioned, we know making resolutions stick for the whole year (or even past the first few months!) is where most of us fail. So, in order to back those good intentions with a solid plan, here is a list of 10 things to do now to improve chances of making 2019 a success on the personal financial planning front…

1) Assess your current situation.

This is a great yearly tradition to find out where you are financially—and where you want to be. Start by taking a look at what you own (your assets) and what you owe (your liabilities). Add up assets and subtract liabilities to get a snapshot of your current net worth. If you have net worth statements from previous years, review and compare them to help understand your financial trends. Need to make a change? This is the year to do it!

2) Look at last year's spending.

Is your money going where you really want it to go? It will if you spend mindfully. Basically this means making spending decisions in the context of your goals. So if one of your top goals is to build your retirement nest egg, do you need to spend less to save more? Does taking that big vacation mean dining out less often? Whether or not you need to reprioritize spending, having an awareness of patterns will help you make better decisions every year.

3) Make a 2019 budget.

Think of a budget as a constant—but fluid—necessity. Some people resist making a budget, but it’s a powerful tool to reassure yourself that you’re spending wisely. What should yours look like for 2019? Do you need to make adjustments—a little more here, a little less there? Take a fresh look at your essential and nonessential expenses. Make sure that retirement and others savings are included as essentials.

4) Get on top of debt.

Not all debt is bad (for instance, a mortgage), but there's really nothing good about carrying a credit card balance. Systematically pay down balances by focusing on higher interest cards first. Once you're at zero, resolve to charge only what you can pay off each month.

5) Build an emergency fund.

Everyone’s situation is different, but bad things—an illness, the loss of a job—can happen to anyone. So protect yourself. Ideally, keep enough cash in an easily accessible account to cover three to six months of essential expenses (more if you're retired). Promise yourself you won't touch this money unless you absolutely have to. Did you slip up last year? Promise yourself again.

6) Review your insurance coverage.

This is absolutely worth doing every year. Make sure you have adequate coverage for the essential types of insurance: health, car, homeowners or renters insurance. Also look into disability insurance (especially if you're in your peak earning years), an umbrella policy if you have significant assets and life insurance if you have dependents. But be cautious about insurance you may not need. To me, money for things like life insurance for children, flight insurance, or rental car insurance is better spent elsewhere. 

7) Check your progress toward retirement.

I think this is one of the most important yearly commitments. Whatever your age, you should be saving regularly—ideally, automatically—whether it's through an employer plan, an IRA or both. The New Year is the perfect time to review your retirement goal and see if you're on target. If not, ramp up your savings. If you're just starting to save and you’re in your 20s, 10 to 15 percent of your annual salary (including your employer’s match) should do the trick. If you start saving in your 30s, earmark 15 to 25 percent toward retirement. Start in your 40s or older and you’re likely looking at 25 to 35 percent.

8) Rebalance your portfolio.

How has last year's market affected your portfolio? If you didn't do a 2018 year-end review, start 2019 by making sure your mix of investments is still in keeping with your goals and timeline, and make changes where necessary. If your investments have grown beyond your comfort level in managing them, look for a financial advisor who can partner with you throughout the year.

9) Create/review your estate plan.

You may not need a complex plan, but don't put off creating at least a simple will, particularly if you have minor children. Review beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies, especially if you've had a life change such as a new baby, marriage or divorce. An advance health care directive is also a necessity to protect both yourself and your loved ones. It not only states the type of treatment you do—or don’t—want if you’re facing a life-threatening crisis, it also lets you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself.

10) Keep talking.

Lastly, make money a topic of conversation—not just once a year but all year long. Talk to your spouse or life partner about your plans and decisions. Don't hesitate to share your financial know-how with your children or other family members. Encourage everyone to ask questions and freely discuss financial concerns and insights. 

Here's to a happy and financially rewarding 2019!