The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to take stock, not only of the year you just passed but the future to come. New Year’s resolutions are all too familiar at this time of year and all too frequently broken. If you want to beat the odds, you need to set realistic goals and stick to them.
That is true whether your resolutions are about working out and losing weight or getting fit financially and getting rid of your debt. If you make your goals too lofty, you will quickly get discouraged and abandon them. If your plans are too easy, you could miss out on additional debt reduction and money-making opportunities.
So what are your financial goals for the year just ahead? What do you want to achieve, and where do you hope to be at this time next year? Here are a few things to consider as you look ahead to a financially prosperous new year.
Know Your Starting Point
It is hard to start a journey if you do not know where you are. Without a starting point, it will be tough to reach even the most modest financial goals in the year ahead.
Take the time to assess your financial situation now, before you get busy with other things. Do you have a solid emergency fund in place, or do you live in fear of the unexpected? Are you contributing to a retirement plan or relying on Social Security to see you through your golden years? Taking stock of your current situation is a vital first step toward reaching your financial goals.
Grab Your Free Money
If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan, you could be missing out on free money. It is sad but true that many workers do not contribute enough to their 401(k) plans to get the full company match, leaving money on the table that could have gone into their investments instead.
If you are in this category, why not make this the year you pick up that free money and do something with it? You would never turn down a raise your boss offered, so why leave your 401(k) matching funds on the table? If you are not contributing enough to get the full match, then you need to march into your human resources office and make the change first thing Monday morning.
Build Your Budget
If you want to save and invest more in the coming year than you did in the year just passed, you need to find those funds. It all starts with a comprehensive family budget, and if you do not have one, now is the perfect time to start.
Creating a budget is not as hard as you might think. There are plenty of ready-made templates online, and all you have to do is fill in the numbers. Once you compare your spending goals to the actual numbers for a few months, you can identify places to save and start to get your finances under control.
Seek Extra Money
Thanks to the internet and the gig economy, earning extra money no longer requires a steady commitment to a part-time job. Even if your busy schedule makes a part-time job impossible, you may be able to earn money in your spare time.
Whether you fill out surveys for extra cash, share your opinion through focus groups, or drive your car for a ride-sharing service, every additional dollar you bring in counts. You can use the extra funds to boost your emergency savings, invest for the future, or just treat yourself to something nice.
Take Stock of Your Career
If you haven’t taken some time lately to consider the future of your career, do it now. Maybe you love your job and see yourself in your current position forever; that’s great. But if you’re unhappy, figure out why and take some steps to improve your situation.
There are currently thousands of free online courses that can help you hone your skills or explore new fields. You owe it to yourself to check some of them out, expand your horizons, and look at new opportunities. If you’re eyeing a promotion, learning some new techniques can improve your chances of landing the position and securing a better financial future.
Reign in Your Spending
Typically, January is the time when most people tighten their belts and go into budget mode. There’s a good reason for that. The holidays encourage overspending, leaving many folks with unwanted debt when the festivities have ended.
If your finances are looking a little worse for wear, put yourself on a spending diet. Start by using the age-old method of recording every outgoing penny to see where it’s all going. You will probably be surprised at some of the money-leaks you find. Then, resolve to make do or do without for a while, relying on creativity and old-fashioned ingenuity to get by. Fix what’s broken, live modestly, and be frugal. You might not need to resort to a ramen-noodles existence, but there’s nothing wrong with a few nights of mac n cheese after the indulgences of December.
Check Your Credit Report
Experts recommend checking your credit report at least once a year, and January is the perfect time to do it. In the frenzy of holiday spending, things tend to slip by. At the very least, checking your report ensures that errors and omissions don’t skew your scores. Plus, fraudulent activity is at an all-time high. Monitoring your credit reports regularly can help prevent identity theft and fraud before it gets out of control.
Federal law allows those who live in the US to obtain a free copy of their report from all three credit bureaus each year. You can do this all in one place at Annualcreditreport.com.
Make a Plan for the Next Holiday Season
Inevitable, many people find themselves wishing they had prepared better for the added expenses of the holidays. If you fall into this category, you can do something about that starting now. Remember Christmas clubs? While most people take care of their finances online these days, the old-fashioned Christmas Club still exists.
A Christmas club is simply a short-term saving account at a bank or financial institution, designed to encourage people to set aside money for the holidays. They were popular in the 1970s (back before virtual banking and debit cards). Often, you can even earn a little bit of interest. There is typically a penalty for withdrawing your money too early, which is great if you lack self-discipline. Check with your local bank or credit union to see what they offer.
From establishing a household budget to examining your spending a little more thoroughly, you will be a step closer to freedom every time you set and meet one of your goals. The new year is the perfect time to get your financial house in order. Now that the old year is coming to a close, you can take a look at the big picture, find some ways to improve, and vow to do even better with every passing year.