Does your year-end financial checklist look like this?
- Update beneficiaries
- Contribute to children’s 529 plans before December 31
- Use Flexible Spending Account (FSA) money before it expires in December or January.
Let’s be honest here. Housekeeping tasks like these are necessary. But they’re also pretty boring, like going to the dentist or getting an oil change for your car. But what if your financial to-do list puts you closer toward the goals that are most meaningful to you?
- Identify what is truly important to you
- Take stock of the year
- Automate and simplify
- Find the tools you need
- Just do it.
These to-do's can be done without paperwork, running around town or spending too much time, and we think you'll be a lot more excited about getting them done than the "housekeeping" list. (For more, see: 5 Tax Tasks to Complete by the End of This Year.)
We hope these steps will help give you the push you need toward great things in 2017. Let's talk about how you can achieve them.
1. Identify What is Truly Important to You
Whether it’s family, new experiences or a feeling of security, this is what drives the decisions you make. Always be aware of this and don’t let yourself stray in a direction that leads you further away from these core values.
2. Take Stock of the Year
How does your financial position compare to 2015? 2014? 2008? One simple way to compare is to look at your net worth (your assets minus your liabilities or debts) once all of your final statements for 2016 come in. Is your spending bringing you closer or farther away from what you find truly important in life? Have you made progress in 2016 to shrink debts and increase assets or do you need to make changes for 2017? Be honest with yourself about what is really within your control (i.e. saving, spending) versus what is not within your control (market performance, other people’s actions). (For more, see: Take These Financial Planning Steps Before the Year Ends.)
3. Automate and Simplify
Once you’ve identified where you might need to make changes, break it down into achievable steps—and make those changes as easy for yourself as possible. For example, we always recommend automating savings and billpay. It takes just a few minutes and can save a lot of hassle!
4. Find the Tools You Need
However, not all aspects of your financial life can go completely on autopilot, so you may need additional “tools.” Which areas of your financial life are a source of friction or even conflict? Are there ways to smooth the ride, either with online tools, the help of experts or tricks like giving each spouse a “fun” fund that they are allowed to spend or save as they please? Below are a few of the tools that Halpern Financial employees use themselves or that have been recommended to us:
- Mint.com: budgeting, monitoring and simple net worth overview
- SmartyPig: treats saving as just another bill
- FamZoo: for children’s allowance
5. Just Do It
By this point, you probably have some ideas about adjustments to put yourself and your family in a better place next December. Hopefully you feel motivated by core values you hold dear. But what about tomorrow? Will you be taking action or holding off for a better time?
Chances are, those adjustments you’re thinking of won’t happen without a concrete plan and the motivation to carry it through. But you can do it. Here’s to achieving your financial goals for 2017. (For more, see: 5 Ways to Make Good Automatic Financial Decisions.)
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