Forget about New Year’s resolutions. How about a New Year’s to-do list? Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, but making a list of what you want to accomplish financially could be a great way to start working toward your money goals in 2014.
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You see, it turns out that our brains love when bits of information are set out for us in bullet form. According to Maria Konnikova, the author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” “lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information on a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot.” Making New Year’s resolutions is much like making a list of things we want to improve on or accomplish in the coming year.
The problem is that list-making and list-reading in and of themselves don’t always help us accomplish our goals. For some people, contemplation is enough. In an analysis of recent research on business- and work-related goals, Gail Matthews, Ph.D. found that participants who contemplated their goals achieved 43% of them; meanwhile, participants who contemplated their goals and wrote them down, committed to action steps, shared their plan with someone and sent weekly progress reports had a much higher success rate at 76%.
Personally, instead of specific resolutions, I like to focus on money-based themes every New Year, similar to the way author Gretchen Rubin focuses on happiness-based themes in her book “The Happiness Project.” For her, January was about “boosting energy” and May was “making time for friends.” We can springboard off her concept and focus on one aspect of our money each month. This new way of implementing New Year’s resolutions is easier to remember, has a finite time period and is action-oriented.
Here is a list of suggested themes for each month to help you plot your financial goals for the year ahead:
January: Get organized.
Simplify your finances by cleaning out the clutter. Set up your budget for the New Year and track your spending.
February: Get in sync with your loved one.
Get your significant other on the same page with your finances. Have regular “money talks” to set joint goals, track your progress and make regular adjustments to your budget.
March: Focus on Uncle Sam.
Don’t wait for the end of the year to do last-minute tax planning for 2014. As you finalize your taxes for 2013, start to look for ways to reduce your income taxes in 2014.
April: Save more.
Challenge yourself to find ways to save money. Review all of your regularly recurring expenses and see what you can reduce or eliminate.
May: Invest better
Review where your money is invested and what it’s doing for you. Check to be sure your investment fees are low and your funds outside of retirement plans are tax-efficient.
Set up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings accounts. So you never miss a payment, automate your minimum credit card and loan payments. Consider increasing your 401(k) contribution if you aren’t at the maximum, and setting up an automatic investment to a brokerage account or mutual fund.
July: Earn more.
Focus on your business or career at this mid-point in the year, so you can set yourself up better for year-end bonuses or contracts. At home, sell something you don’t need to help pay for something you really want.
August: Prepare better.
We all have planned expenses we don’t always save for. Set up personal escrow accounts for gifts, travel and home repairs so the funds will be there when you need them.
September: Educate your kids.
What better way to plan for your retirement than to teach your children to be self- sufficient, no matter their age?
October: Educate yourself.
No matter your level of financial expertise, there is always something to learn! Continue to read blogs like this one on Forbes—everything you need is here under Investing, whether you are a novice or an expert. Check out reading material such as LearnVest C.E.O. Alexa von Tobel’s forthcoming book, “Financially Fearless: The LearnVest Program for Taking Control of Your Money.”
November: Reach out to parents.
When your parents have their financial act together, it can help you tremendously if and when the burden to care for them falls on you. Touch base with your parents to make sure they have their estate planning documents in order, and take the time to review your own.
The holidays are a season of giving. Find ways to be charitable. You can always give of your time and your talents to those who are less fortunate, but if you want to donate monetarily, give in a way that benefits you tax-wise.
Breaking down a different aspect of your money every month helps your resolutions feel more simple and effective. And each month, I’ll post additional resources for each theme to help you stay on track.
By the end of the year, you’ll look back and be amazed at all you’ve accomplished.
Nancy L. Anderson, CFP ™ is a fee-only financial planner with LearnVest Planning Services and a blogger for Deer Valley Ski Resort. Company website is LearnVest.com (code Retire50). Follow Nancy on Facebook - Twitter.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and may not be the views of LearnVest Planning Services LLC (“LVPS”), a registered investment adviser. The advice provided is not personalized investment advice, may not be suitable for your individual situation, are not guarantees of future performance and may differ materially from actual events that occur. The author and LVPS are not endorsing, sponsoring or responsible for errors or inaccuracies by the unaffiliated third party sources and links identified herein on which the author reasonably relies.