Whenever January 1 rolls around, you’ll hear a lot about the importance of setting resolutions. The idea of New Year resolutions can either fill you with excitement or dread, depending on your track record with them.
When it comes to financial resolutions, you probably know the familiar script: Create a budget, pay down debt, save for retirement, rebalance your portfolio and replenish your emergency fund.
These are all good, timeless recommendations. But instead of running through this typical annual list of to-do’s, let’s try something a little different this year.
First, whether or not you set New Year financial resolutions is entirely up to you. Because if we’re being honest, they don’t work for everyone.
Resolutions or no resolutions, I would encourage you to think about doing three things in terms of financial planning for the new year:
I believe they can help you be realistic about your financial goals for the year. And perhaps, more importantly, they can help you better focus on making the practical changes you need to actually improve your financial life – not just for the new year, but for the years ahead.
Check in with your spouse
If you’re married, the new year is a natural time to do a financial check-in with your spouse. Whether you or your spouse handles the household finances, it’s important for you both to have a clear picture of where you are financially.
One good place to start is determining (or updating) your net worth. The start of the year is a great time to do this because it allows you to look back on any major life events in the past year that might have changed your financial situation.
Calculating your net worth also gives you an opportunity to review your financial progress. What were your successes? Where did you fall short?
Take stock of the good and the bad. This can help you figure out what you need to prioritize or if you need to make any course corrections in the new year. If you are planning to set resolutions, this can help bring some clarity to the process.
You can start by getting all your financial statements together, reviewing your assets and liabilities, and asking yourself the basics. How are your savings, spending, investments and debts looking? If you own a home (or homes), are they up or down in value?
This is also a good time to review your estate plans. Are there any beneficiaries or other instructions that need to be updated? And don’t forget about insurance – are your coverages up to date?
As a financial advisor, this is something that I go over with my wife each year. Not only does it help us lay out our financial goals for the new year, but it also gives me the peace of mind in knowing that if anything were to happen to me, my wife wouldn’t have to worry about deciphering the state of our finances.
Now while this might sound like a lot of work, it’s really just about checking off the basics and communicating with your partner. You and your spouse don’t have to do everything all at once. Nobody wants to sit at the kitchen table for hours looking over financial statements.
Remember, the point of having these conversations with your spouse is so that they can be part of the financial dialogue. And you can break it up into bite-size pieces: “Do you have a second to talk about the house?” or “Hey, let me fill you in on what I’m thinking about for our investments this year.” You could even plan a few financial date nights to talk about the weightier subjects. In my experience, it’s easier to talk things over food and wine.
And if you find that your financial situation is complex than you anticipated, this is where you can bring in a financial advisor to help.
Create a spending plan
Some of you may think that this is simply another way of encouraging you to budget. After all, isn’t a spending plan and a budget basically the same thing?
While both can help you manage your money, I believe there’s an important difference between the two. Each brings out a different mindset when it comes to money.
With a budget, you typically put a dollar amount on what you can spend in certain categories. For example, you may give yourself a strict budget of $20 a week for lattes or $100 a week on dining out. In this way, budgets can feel restrictive.
And while they work for some people, many have a hard time keeping up with them, especially if a budget is too unrealistic or inflexible. In my view, sometimes when a budget is too regimented, you’re essentially setting yourself up to fail.
On the other hand, a spending plan can provide more flexibility or a sense of direction and freedom when it comes to how you spend your money.
Instead of setting hard top-line numbers for each spending category, after you’ve saved for your goals and covered your essentials, what’s left over is yours to spend on whatever is most important to you. There’s no need to restrict yourself to X number of lattes each week or say going out tonight is not in the budget.
If going out regularly to get a good cup of coffee or meal with a friend is important to you, go for it. In my experience, those few extra lattes here or there aren’t what’s going to make or break your long-term financial plan. As long as you’re mindful about where your tradeoffs are, cover your essentials and reallocate as needed, you should be in good shape.
You can look at this way: With a spending plan, you don’t need to micro-manage your discretionary categories down to the dollar. You simply have to have some general parameters or guardrails in the plan. This way, you get to be a little more honest with yourself about where you want to focus your spending and how best to direct your resources.
In short, a spending plan can give you a greater sense of control and direction over your money.
Again, the new year is a good time to think about your spending priorities. Because once you nail down your priorities, they can motivate you to keep moving toward your goals throughout the year.
For me, each year since the start of the pandemic, I try to make sure my spending plans include at least one anchor or fun experience for my family. This not only helps to motivate me but also gives me something to look forward to!
Don’t be so hard on yourself
A lot of times, people may have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to financial resolutions. When progress is slow or when there are setbacks, it can be easy to feel discouraged.
For the new year, I encourage you to remain practical and realistic in your financial planning. At the same time, don’t be so hard on yourself if you veer off track. Every plan will hit a bump in the road at some point. That’s life, and things happen.
I often remind my clients that overspending a little one year isn’t going to break your plan. One bad year doesn’t make a trend. Financial planning is a long-term game, and success isn’t linear.
So give yourself some leeway or wiggle room to make course corrections. Did you try something last year and it didn’t work out? Let’s learn from that and see what adjustments we can make to help set you up for success this year.
It’s also important to acknowledge how much you have been able to accomplish so far and then let that motivate you to keep going!
When I work with my clients, I like to figure out ways to help them make it easier on themselves to succeed. For example, sometimes it’s about leveraging technology like automating certain aspects of their saving and investing or using a spending app to help them see where their money is going each month. Or maybe it’s about setting up a regular check-in with their financial advisor to talk through whatever roadblocks they may have.
The last word
Whether or not you’re planning to make resolutions, I hope my suggestions have inspired you to think about financial planning a little differently this year.
If you are someone who’s big on setting New Year resolutions, I believe these three steps can help bring some clarity and confidence to your resolution-making. And if you have them nailed down already, consider going over them with a financial advisor who can help you see them through.
You got this! Happy New Year.
United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC d/b/a Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management (“GS PFM”) is a registered investment adviser and an affiliate of Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC (“GS&Co.”) and subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., a worldwide, full-service investment banking, broker-dealer, asset management, and financial services organization. Advisory services are offered through United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC and brokerage services are offered through GS& Co., member FINRA/SIPC.
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United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC d/b/a Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management (“GS PFM”) is a registered investment adviser and an affiliate of Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC and subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., a worldwide, full-service investment banking, broker-dealer, asset management, and financial services organization.
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