Money Resolutions: 6 Ways to Take Control in 2013
As the economy shows signs of life again and even the cynics concede that we might be on the road to a modest but sustained recovery, there’s no better time to take a critical look at our savings strategies and investments. So with 2013 just around the corner, let’s resolve look behind the curtain and start the New Year more motivated to save and more empowered by the knowledge of how we’re doing financially. Here are six ways to take control of your cash in 2013. (See also: 25 Small New Year's Resolutions You Can Start Today)
1. Know Where Your Money Goes
Understanding where your money goes is the first step in taking control and taming unhealthy spending habits. Resolve to track your spending dollar by dollar for 30 days to discover the patterns that undermine saving success. You’ll be surprised how little things add up to big bills when viewed monthly.
2. Choose a Savings Category
Sometimes it’s easier to begin saving (or saving more aggressively) if we take it one category at a time. Start by reviewing parts of your budget like entertainment expenses, cell phone plans, or insurance coverage to see where there are opportunities to cut, consolidate, or get better rates. Review only one category every month and by the end of 12, those incremental changes will add up to significant savings.
3. Set Goals
We’d all like to save more money, but without knowing what success looks like, it’s hard to get motivated. Decide what your concrete goals are and how much you’ll have to save monthly and yearly to reach them. Draw a line in the sand. Do you want to save $5,000 more a year starting in 2013? Supplement your 401(k) with a Roth IRA and contribute 3% of your earnings? Get specific, and don’t be afraid to modify your plans as your goals change or earnings increase.
4. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Often, simplicity is the biggest financial gift we can give ourselves. Review how your assets are distributed. Do you have so many accounts that you can’t effectively keep track of your assets and their performance? Do you have old 401(k) balances from previous employers that could be consolidated or rolled over to a qualifying IRA? Remember, sometimes less really is more.
Simplify what you choose to invest in, too.
- Do you own intricate investment products that you don’t understand?
- Invest in companies whose business models you can’t comprehend?
Complex accounting and complicated investments breed avoidance, and that puts you in a position of powerlessness. Resolve to take a critical look at where your money is parked and explore your options to consolidate, streamline, and simplify.
5. Don’t Rely on a 401(k)
401(k) plans were never meant to be the sole savings vehicle for retirement. At best, a 401(k) is an important leg of a three-legged retirement stool that's also supported by Social Security and personal savings. Review and assess your retirement strategy with special focus on after-tax money and investments that won’t be taxed upon withdrawal (assuming you meet the proper qualifying factors). As some economists are predicting inevitable tax increases across the board over the next several years, consider Roth IRAs as a hedge against potentially higher tax burdens in retirement.
6. Watch Commissions and Expenses
Broker commissions and management fees are charges that often go unnoticed by new or novice investors. These fees can vary widely. Review your quarterly statements and pay special attention to the charges incurred in all your investments to better understand the value you’re getting for your money.
- Does the performance of a particular fund warrant the charge?
- Would you be just as well-off in an index fund with a lower management fee?
Though anytime is the right time to turn over a new financial leaf, the New Year plots it nicely on our calendars and in our psyches. Let 2013 be the year that you reject the idea that saving and managing your money has to be complicated, time-consuming, and painful. With a little planning and old-fashioned discipline, the end of 2013 can look even brighter than the end of 2012. Good luck.
What are your financial goals for the new year? What resolutions have you made to take better control of your finances in 2013?