A new year, a new you. That's the plan, right? Often, it's easier said than done. This year, I'm throwing out 20 ideas that, alone, typically wouldn't make your New Year's list.
However, they are all fairly easy to do, and the synergy created by knocking out several could pay big dividends as you work to renew and refresh your personal finances for the new year.
- Set up an appointment with your attorney. It's probably been too long (or never!) since you reviewed and updated your wills, powers of attorney and the rest of your plan. Make the call.
- Review your investment portfolio. Unless something changes between now and when you're reading this, we've been on a 10+-year run. Is your investment portfolio still in sync, or is it time to rebalance or reallocate?
- Cut what you pay for utilities. I haven't cut the cable yet, but one call threatening to do so saved me about $50 per month. Check and see whether there's an opportunity to save on your cellphone, cable or other recurring bills, and you can redeploy that money elsewhere.
- Review auto drafts. Sit down with your spouse (and kids?), credit card and bank statements, and validate all the automatic drafts and charges.
- Consolidate retirement accounts. Gathering far-flung IRAs and retirement plans from former employers into a single place can provide a better view of what you have and where you stand.
- Take a retirement snapshot. What's your number? Are you on track? Talk to your financial planner or use an online calculator to see where you stand, and make necessary adjustments (save more/spend less).
- Review your goals. A new year provides an opportunity to recommit to your short-, medium- and long-term goals. If you don't have them, now's your chance.
- Set up savings account 1: emergency fund. Life happens; be prepared.
- Set up savings account 2: house fund. There's not enough space here for me to rant about the supposed joys of home ownership, but last year was a reminder that having cash on hand for house repairs, upgrades or catastrophes is critical.
- Set up savings account 3: vacation fund. We need more vacation. Actually, we need more vacation without racking up debt. Start saving today for your next getaway.
- Set up savings account 4: gift fund. If you are suffering a gift-buying debt hangover from the holiday season, start stashing money away now so you're ready to be a cash buyer next year.
- Implement a spending cap. This can be a nifty strategy to keep you and your spouse on the same sheet of music. Agree that any spend greater than $100, $200 or whatever number is appropriate requires consultation with your partner.
- Check out Social Security. If you haven't already, set up a My Social Security account at www.ssa.gov to keep track of your Social Security benefits.
- Boost your retirement plan contribution. This is especially easy if you're receiving a pay raise, but just bumping it up a percentage or two can make a big difference down the road.
- Take advantage of catch-up contributions. The IRS allows those 50 and older to contribute an extra $1,000 (IRAs) or $6,000 (employer plans). Use the catch-up to, well, catch up.
- Become a cash buyer for a week. Looking to get a handle on your everyday spending? Put the plastic away for a week and use cash only. This can be a revealing experience.
- Get rid of dead weight. Comb through your closets, garage and storage, and jettison the stuff you're not using. This could mean extra income, charitable deductions and less clutter.
- Check insurance rates. Often, insurance becomes a set-and-forget or, more appropriately, pay-and-forget proposition. Get some quotes, and determine whether you're paying too much.
- Review insurance. On the same topic, do you have coverage you no longer need, the right amount of coverage or gaps? A quick call to your insurance providers could reveal savings or gaps.
- Money talk. Last, but most definitely not least, talk with your spouse about your overall financial plan. Too often, one spouse or another has all the knowledge -- and a shorter life expectancy.
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