Every New Year, many resolutions are made, and often, many get quickly broken. While commitments to eat healthier, be more active, or learn a new skill are often quickly forgotten, there is one New Year’s resolution you can still enact and thank yourself for the rest of the year: Better financial organization.
Plenty of people try to organize their financial lives. However, organizing your finances isn’t just about creating a budget. Think about it like decluttering a messy closet: you will ditch the junk, find things you had forgotten about, make room for new items, and feel accomplished and rejuvenated.
To get your personal financial life in order this year, follow these three important steps.
Step 1: Get Everything Physically (and Digitally) Arranged
How much time did you spend last year looking for financial documents, login credentials, or account information? Start by organizing your important financial information in one physical location, and in today’s world, one digital location.
Digital: Gather and keep all of your important account numbers, login credentials, and passwords in a secure place. With so much of our personal management happening online, password organization tools are great for maintaining a master list of account access data while also helping to secure your most sensitive information. By keeping a master list of your digital records, you will save yourself the tiresome process of resetting your password every time you have to login to an account.
Physical: Start collecting important financial documents to safekeep at home. Specifically, gather tax documents like W-2’s and Form 1099s – you will thank yourself later for being organized when tax season comes around in April. Other physical documents to compile include your Social Security card, various insurance documents, past financial statements, mortgage settlement statement, car loan or lease contracts, and any other financial obligations. Also, consider creating digital copies of your print records as a backup and for ease of access to these documents at any time via phone, tablet, or computer.
Step 2: Make Sure All of your Financial Records are Up-to-Date
Keeping your financial records up-to-date is like a morning shower: it’s simply good personal hygiene. Review your insurance, 401(k), IRA, and brokerage accounts. First, you will want to ensure that your beneficiaries for your insurance and retirement accounts still reflect your personal wishes and/or match any estate planning documents you may have.
Next, if you are participating in a workplace retirement plan, make sure to update your monthly contribution amount, especially if you received a year-end bonus or salary adjustment. Remember to maximize your annual contribution, or if you are financially unable to, at least contribute enough to take advantage of any employer match (which is FREE money to you). You should also review your full investment portfolio at least annually to ensure that your holdings are allocated properly to meet your long-term goals. If you are unsure about your portfolio allocations, talk to your financial advisor to best optimize your portfolio investments to meet your needs.
Lastly, make sure you have adequate health and life insurance coverage. Big life events from the previous year may require that you seek additional insurance.
Step 3: Review Your Financial Plan, or if you Don’t Have One, Create One
Now that you have put the hard work into organizing your finances, use the information to evaluate progress toward your financial goal. If you do not have a financial plan yet, at least ask yourself the following questions as a way to get started and/or talk to your financial advisor about creating a financial plan:
- What are my fixed annual expenses?
- Am I saving enough or should I be setting more aside?
- Am I comfortable with my asset allocation or should I adjust it?
- If my investments performed well and I am ahead of plan, should I allocate additional cash toward paying down debt?
First, you will need to understand what your annual budget is. This should factor in things like retirement savings, money to spend on vacation (financial wellness requires pleasure spending!), and the obvious items, such as rent, mortgage, medical, utilities, food, car, etc.
Next, you will identify your financial goals such as creating an emergency reserve, saving for retirement, buying a home, or funding for education. Your financial plan will be the roadmap toward achieving these goals.
To optimize this year’s plan, review your financial habits from last year. Ditch the spending habits that made you cringe last year to make room for habits that will help you reach your long-term goals. How will you invest in yourself this year? Once you decide, regularly revisit your strategy in order to evaluate your progress.
New Year, New Commitment to Your Personal Financials
New Year’s resolutions are often unsuccessful because we do not set the right framework for achievement. Make this year a year of financial clarity by getting yourself organized. When it comes to personal finances, laying the organizational groundwork early in the year will provide you with a greater chance of success as your normal routines fall back into place. Your trusted financial advisor can help as you organize your financial life and create a framework for you to be successful as the year unfolds.