Every year, Americans set lofty goals for themselves, and every year they come up short -- real short.
A full 81% of people bail on their New Year's resolutions before January ends, says a Scranton University landmark study. Managing money better is often one of those resolutions, according to online financial comparison platform Finder.
People want to improve their finances, says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant in Troy, Mich. "Setting resolutions gives you a game plan for how to do better." Your resolution should be specific, measurable and achievable, he says. "Saying you'll cut your spending in half is just not realistic. But freeing up $300 a month by spending less eating out and on alcohol? That might be doable."
All financial resolutions start with getting a handle on where your money is going. That's how you see where cash can be freed up for your other goals, says Daniel Milan, managing partner of Cornerstone Financial Services in Southfield, Mich. Identify all your expenses from bank and credit card statements and then ask yourself this: Was each one something you really needed, or could you give one or more up next year?
If it's an essential service, like a phone plan, gym membership or insurance, shop around for a better deal or try to negotiate a lower rate "There are loyalty and renewal discounts, but a lot of people are too shy to ask for them," says Azoury.
One way to sabotage your financial resolutions is to not plan ahead for any big expenses, such as a cruise or a remodeled kitchen. Consider how you will handle this extra spending. If you are borrowing the money, factor in how those repayments will affect your current spending and perhaps require cuts in other areas.
Your exact resolutions will depend on you, but if you're looking for ideas, the experts we interviewed suggested zeroing in on these five key areas.
Pay Down Debt
You can never go wrong with eliminating high-interest-rate debt, like revolving balances on a credit card, but don't forget about refinancing long-term debt, like a mortgage. Refinancing at today's low rates should reduce your monthly payment, leaving you with extra cash to pay down more costly debt.
Update Your Insurance
Matthew Henaghan, an Allstate insurance agent in Hockessin, Del., thinks the new year is an ideal time to review your auto and home insurance policies. "Things change throughout the year that could impact your coverage needs," he says. If you put in a new roof or bought some expensive jewelry, for example, meet with your agent to make sure your policy protects those purchases and that you've qualified for all possible discounts.
Revisit Your Investment Strategy
You probably know to rebalance your portfolio at least once a year according to your target allocation of stocks and bonds. But how often do you consider other portfolio goals? If you're not generating enough retirement income, maybe you need a new strategy, like more dividend stocks, to make up for low interest rates. And you should always be on the lookout for tax-minimizing opportunities, such as harvesting investment losses to offset upcoming capital gains.
Review Your Estate Plan
If you don't have one already, creating an estate plan would make a fine New Year's resolution. An estate plan should include a will, a living will and a financial power of attorney. If you already have an estate plan, update it to reflect any recent changes in your life, like your latest grandchild, and check that your life insurance policy and retirement plan list the correct beneficiaries.
Make More Money
Some people pledge to generate new income by finding a higher-paying full-time job or, if you're already retired, by taking on part-time work, Azoury says. "I have a client who retired after 35 years as a police sergeant and now he drives the bus for a school basketball team."
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