How to jump-start your financial plan in 2014
Losing weight, exercising more and improving finances.
According to an article by The Motley Fool, those are the top three resolutions people are likely to make this year. Sound familiar?
Though a new year generally brings with it feelings of renewal, jokes about the inevitable demise of lofty New Year’s resolutions typically follow close behind. Some have even gotten to the point where they no longer make New Year’s resolutions because they see them as a waste of time.
But they don't have to be.
For the most part, the best way to keep motivated is to make your resolutions as structured as possible. No matter where you are in the broad spectrum of financial security, it’s important to always keep track of where you are and where you want to go. The following tips can help you make 2014 a great year for your financial plan.
Evaluate your situation
The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of how you’re doing financially. But if you haven’t done it yet, avoid the temptation to push it off. Daily life has the power to break your concentration and cloud your judgment, and you could end up getting stuck in the trenches rather than taking command.
Taking a step back takes time, but it can help you to see the big picture of where you’re doing well and where you need to focus your efforts going forward. If you haven’t been keeping track of your expenses and savings, it’s going to take longer to see the trends, but you should know generally where most of your money goes.
If you have been keeping track, the numbers will help you better establish what your strong and weak points are. If you already have goals in place, assess where you are in regards to them and what you have left to do.
Determine your priorities
Believe it or not, your priorities may change often over the course of your life. You may have experienced new things recently that have changed your priorities, whether it’s marriage, a new baby, working with a charity or whatever else. If you’re married, work with your spouse to determine what your priorities are. This is important because those priorities may be different than those still living the single life. Establish what’s most important for the both of you and then talk about your individual priorities. What are you passionate about? That should be a priority.
After you’ve established those, review all of the things you spend money on that don’t contribute to those priorities. Things like cable television, high car payments and eating out every day may be distracting you from what’s most important. Everyone has different priorities, so it’s important that your behavior reflects your personal goals, not someone else's.
Set goals and be accountable
After you’ve set your priorities, give yourself a way to measure your success by setting concrete and reasonable goals. It could be a savings goal for a vacation or for your emergency fund. Or it could be a certain amount of debt you want to pay off. It doesn’t really matter what your goals are, as long as they're reasonable and help you achieve your overall goals for financial stability. It’s also important that you put them somewhere prominent enough to help you remember them.
Schedule monthly sessions with your spouse to follow up on your progress and to adjust to any circumstances or goals that have changed. Follow up on your expenses weekly to ensure that your behavior is aligned with your goals.
Create a budget
The best way to keep track of your goals and to maintain accountability is by keeping a budget. In fact, having a budget and tracking your expenses are essential if you want to maximize your success. Think about it, if you were to see a small business or large corporation that operated without a budget, it would be an easy bet that company wouldn't last very long. But for some reason, many people don’t think that personal financial success requires the same diligence.
There are several ways to create a budget, but it’s most important that you find what works best for you. Too many people start something that just doesn’t work and instead of looking for alternatives, they just give up. But there are several resources to help people find out what would fit best for them.
It’s also important to include your family in the planning. Including your children in the discussions of family finance can help them understand the significance of budgeting and goal-setting, and it can also help them learn the value of money. Learn how to create a budget and you’re one step closer to your goals.
Meet with a professional
Even after reading about setting financial goals and creating a plan, many people can still benefit from having professional advice, not because they can’t figure it out themselves, rather because it’s good to have a professional set of eyes to help you see the big picture, identify your priorities and give you counsel on the best way to leverage your actions to reach your goals.
Many people are afraid to meet with a financial adviser because they’re not familiar with the way advisers are paid or they don’t know if they can trust them. There are many advisers who will do the planning part for free, and you are not obligated to use their services. If you’re afraid of wondering who you can trust, ask your friends if they have a financial adviser. Chances are you have a friend or family member who has one they trust.
Be the change
After all is said and done, the most important thing you can do this year to jump-start your financial plan is to be “the change” in your finances. Just like any other resolution, you can work through each of these steps and still not see any difference. The key is to use your plan to change your nature, not just temporarily alter your behavior. In order to reach your goals, it’s very likely that there are parts of your lifestyle that need to change, and following a simple checklist just isn’t going to cut it.
Keep this in mind as you are setting goals and making plans. Create something that will motivate you to make changes now and to sustain those changes over the long term. As you do that, 2014 can have the potential to be a great year.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance blogger and banker who blogs regularly at The Wealth Gospel. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and currently resides in Arkansas with his wife, Kilee, and dog, Paisl