Ah the time for New Year’s Resolutions! Most of us make them. Some of us actually work towards them. Very few of us actually accomplish any of them. What does a resolution even involve? It’s pretty simple really. According Merriam Webster, a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. As we make our way into this new year, why not make a resolution to be a little better with your money. I’m not talking about becoming a millionaire or anything crazy. Maybe just paying off a credit card or saving a little money. Decide on an action that you know is achievable if you put some planning and effort towards it. As you go through this 2017 Money Checklist first reflect back on 2016 — not only last year’s successes, but also the things you didn’t quite get around to doing.
Year in Review
2016 was memorable for so many reasons. In sports, Kobe and Peyton both retired and the Cubs finally won their first World Series since 1908. Across the pond, the British voted to leave the European Union, the event we now refer to as “Brexit”. Although you likely missed it, there was uproar in France over the burkini. On the financial side of things the Greek debt crisis that started back in 2010 is still looming and borrowing hundreds of billions try to keep the country afloat and avoid bankruptcy. In India they had a major cash crisis when the Prime Minister unexpectedly announced that two of their primary rupee notes wouldn’t be allowed as legal tender anymore. This is the equivalent if the U.S. President announcing that $5 and $10 bills will no longer be an acceptable form of payment. Back here in the U.S., 2016 brought a crazy political election. We also had that super weird killer clown craze in last year too. However, on a more positive note the U.S. stock market did gain a little over 12% in 2016 reaching all-time highs. With 2016 is now behind us, let’s look ahead and make a resolution for a better 2017.
The 2017 Money Checklist
Before 2017 flies past us as quickly as last year seemed to let’s get straight to it. Here is your 2017 Money Checklist:
□ Focus on just one or two ACTIONABLE goals/resolutions for 2017 or even revive an unfinished one for last year
□ Put your finances on auto-pilot to support your savings and debt payoff goals
□ Have a plan to address financial emergencies
That’s is. A checklist of just three things. Pretty simple, right?
Unfinished From Last Year?
As the old saying goes, how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been? Throughout the year, I keep an eye on how much we saved and think we did pretty well. That is, until I think about how little I have to show for the amount of money that we earned and subsequently spent. Then when you also account for investment gains to the stock market going up, the amount we saved isn’t nearly as impressive. What did you do well last year that you need to keep doing? What were you not so good with last year and how do you want to change? Most of us didn’t pay off as much debt as we hoped we would or save any near as much money as we would have liked.
Are You Willing to Change?
As we transition from thinking about last year to what we want to accomplish this year, keep in mind these words of wisdom from Andy Warhol, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” How true. A lot of us tend to blame our failures on others or the circumstances we find ourselves in. But one of the only ways to change results is through our daily actions. If you think this year will be different but don’t really change anything, you’ll wind up at the end of the year back at square one still wondering what happened, what went wrong, and trying to find someone or thing to blame yet again.
Commit To the Process, Not the Result
We’ve been doing it wrong all of these years. At the beginning of a new year it is common to share New Year’s resolutions with family and friends and talk about how we want to lose weight, pay off debt, travel to a bucket list destination, or get a better job. But all of these wants and wishes are the result of planning and hard work day in and day out. Wanting and wishing never get anything done. Only by taking action will anything ever change. Commit to the process not to the result. For example, you WILL lose weight if you make better decisions one meal at a time, one day a time. Commit to the daily decisions and actually maintain this commitment over a period of a few weeks and the results will start to follow. This is why we all need to commit to the process, not the result.
Less Is More With Goals
Making a resolution or goal should feel like an act of hope and confidence rather than something we dread. The top financial goals for most people are usually either paying off debt or saving more money in one fashion or another. I can’t imagine very many people actually want to take on more debt or save less money!
I’m a firm believer in simplicity and a big fan in the “less is more” approach. It’s much easier to find success if you are able to focus your efforts on just one or two things. So for goal setting let’s get one or two specific and actionable goals and really focus on them rather than trying to tackle a dozen different ones and not making much headway on any of them. Once you have decided on your one or two goals, get as specific as you can. Break each goal down into several steps and individual tasks so each one in itself doesn’t see too overwhelming. Rather than just saying you plan to pay off some debt, actually think about which debt(s) you want to pay, how much, and what steps you need to take to reach your goal.
See Related: How to Get Out of Debt Series
If you’re having trouble deciding what your money goals should be, you may be surprised that I actually recommend contributing to your 401(k) BEFORE paying off debt. But only if your employer offers matching contributions. Check out this article to learn more about What To Do With Your Money…Today And Tomorrow and to help give you an idea for some of your own money goals.
Example 2017 Money Goals
Here is an example of two specific and actionable financial goals for this year:
- Start using the debt snowball method to pay off two credit cards
- Pay off the Discover card by June 1
- Look up credit card balance: $1,789
- Set up auto-pay for the minimum amount due
- Pay off the Discover card by June 1
- Set aside $300 per month above the minimum to pay down this debt
- Any extra money at the end of every month go towards this debt
- Pay off Citi card by Oct. 1
- Look up credit card balance: $2,247
- Pay minimum amount due until Discover card is paid off
- Set up auto-pay for the minimum amount due
- Once Discover card is paid off, put any extra money at the end of every month go towards this debt
- Save $2,000 in a Roth IRA by the end of the year
- Open a Roth IRA through Vanguard
- Fund new IRA with $1,000
- Set up auto-deposits of $100 a month
See Related: All About IRA’s – Part 2: How to Open an IRA
Put It on Autopilot
So how can you set yourself up for success in accomplishing your top money goals of 2017? Put your personal finances on autopilot to meet your goals. Taking a little time to initially set up a system, then automating it is the easiest and most surefire way to ensure your success.
You already do this in other areas of your life. When was the last time you actually had to take the time to write a check to make you monthly mortgage payment? I bought my first house in 2007 and don’t even remember writing a check to a mortgage company since then. This is the same idea as having your monthly rent or mortgage payment automatically taken out of your checking account every month. Just figure out the amounts and accounts you are working with, then automate the various transactions to support your goals.
Don’t Give Up When Plans Change
Winston Churchill said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential”. I think he meant that nothing ever goes as we initially plan. But taking the time to make a plan and think through issues is invaluable. Planning will provide a lot of insight into your potential success or failure. Financial plans and goals are no exception. This year you will likely run into a surprise financial emergency whether it is repairing your car or buying a last minute plane ticket for a funeral. But it is important to think through so you will have a backup plan for when these things happen. It is all too easy to abandon your initial plan and just start putting stuff on your credit card and the next thing you know, your balance is even higher than where it started at the beginning of the year. Decide whether you are going to build up an emergency fund for occasions like this. Or are you going to be willing hold back on dining out and shopping for a few months until you get caught back up and back on your plan? Remember plans will change, but initial planning is crucial.
DIY Money Guy Financial Goals for 2017
To help set the tone and kick this off and set an example I’d like to share some of my money goals for this year.
- Max out tax advantaged accounts
- Roth IRA – Already have account set up. Need to schedule auto-deposits every month.
- Employer 401(k) – Already have automatic paycheck deductions set up.
- 529 education savings account for both daughters – Goal of contributing up to the amount that is tax deductible. Will plan to fund these accounts with work bonuses my wife and I get this year.
- Purchase a rental house
- Learn more about real estate investing (find new blogs, podcasts, and find a mentor)
- Start going to local meet-ups every month to build network
- Determine criteria for price, location, size, and condition of property of prospective rental properties to purchase
What are some of your financial goals for this year?