Every New Year’s Eve, many consumers vow to get financially fit and set lofty goals to be reached by the end of the year, but going in without a strategy can easily set you up for failure. Here is a starter plan.
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Five tips for getting financially fit in the New Year include:
1. Make a plan for the year. Determine your overarching goal and write it down, whether it is paying down debt, putting more in retirement savings, or paying for a vacation in cash. Then, set some benchmarks by breaking that goal down into manageable pieces. If you’d like to save $5,000 by the end of the year, recognize that that’s $400 a month, $100 a week. If you focus on that weekly amount, you’re more likely to get there. And in all cases, it will help to track your spending for the first month by saving your receipts and recording them regularly or using an online program. Once you do, it will be easier to cut back.
2. Automate – but pay attention. Most people benefit from a relatively hands off approach to their savings. Set it up so your employer pulls money out of every paycheck and deposits it in your 401(k), or allow your IRA provider to deduct a set amount from your checking account. That way, you don’t have to make the decision to save. But that’s where the automation should end. You need to look at those investments once in a while and see that you’re on track. Make part of this year’s resolution about rebalancing your investments, either right now or on your birthday.
3. Put a windfall to work. Right now through the first few months of the New Year are ripe for windfalls. You might receive an end-of-year bonus, raise, or a tax refund. The best thing you can do with this money is pretend you never received it. Funnel a bonus or tax refund directly into savings, without giving yourself a chance to spend it (if you’re carrying credit card debt, use this cash to pay it off or make a solid dent in your balance). When you get a raise, bump up your retirement contribution to match the increase in salary – research shows that otherwise, you’ll adjust spending to the new amount and hardly feel like you’re earning more.