With the new year upon us, we’re likely to feel the desire to make some inroads toward improving our financial state. It’s a noble and prudent idea but not one that can be undertaken successfully without some evaluation and planning. In a previous article in this four-part series, A New Year of Money: Evaluating Your Financial State, I explained the importance of examining your past and present financial habits to gain an overall view of your current situation, and suggested ways in which to accomplish that.
This article continues that plan and will explain how to utilize the information gained from your evaluation to determine goals that will shore-up your financial footing – throughout the new year – and further into the future.
Consider your financial history to set goals
- Continue and build upon good financial habits - Congratulate yourself for those things you did well last year! Did you cut back on dining out? Cancel some unnecessary cable or satellite channels? Say, “No!” to yet another electronic device? Decide to save up for a big expense rather than purchase it on credit? If so, you’re exercising mindful spending which is the responsible way to keep as much of your money as possible at your disposal. Keep up the good work!
- Correct for mistakes - Nobody’s perfect! Even though you may have made some positive strides, there may have also been some financial missteps. Did you buy a big-ticket item without comparing prices? Overdraw or miss due dates and incur costly penalties? Forget to look for coupons or other ways to save on items you purchased? Note those mistakes, then move on, secure in the knowledge that you’re prepared to avoid those pitfalls from here on out.
- Note financial surprises - Unexpected expenses or lost or decreased income can throw even the most carefully-considered budget into a tailspin. Remember to budget broadly so as to lessen the overall impact of these unwelcome surprises.
Choose your most crucial financial areas
Spending wisely and living frugally will provide the maximum amount of your money not earmarked to cover expenses. You can use that “discretionary” money to help you gain even more discretionary money. The idea is simple – the less money that goes elsewhere, the more you have to spend proactively to build your personal wealth.
Consider the following areas to identify five to ten of the most critical areas for your finances. What do you want or need to do financially in the next year and into the future? Allocate those discretionary dollars in these areas:
- Pay down debt - The less debt you carry, the less interest you’re throwing out the window. Put as much as you can afford toward eliminating debt.
- Save at three levels - Create savings “expenses” in your budget for: 1) “Surprise” savings to cover unexpected expenses; 2) “Goal” savings which will go toward large purchases so you won’t need to go into debt for them; and 3) “Long-term” savings for “the biggies,” like education and retirement.
- Invest when you can - Create a lifestyle in which you’re not spending money that’s bringing you nothing in return. If you rent, consider buying a home so you’ll grow equity.
- Maintain what you have - A sure way to build wealth is by maintaining your assets, rather than letting them fall into disrepair.
The next article in this series will focus on implementing your financial goals.
Regardless of your income and expenses, spend as carefully as possible and consider these areas when plotting goals for your finances; you’ll soon be on the way to making a positive impact on their overall state.
How do you determine your financial goals?