Dear Readers: Do you make the same New Year's resolutions year after year? When it comes to financial resolutions, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, each year can present financial challenges and changes that require you to take a fresh look at your finances and make sure you're still on target to meet your goals. So whether you feel you're on fairly solid economic ground or you know you need to be more disciplined, here's my top 10 list of financial resolutions. Check off the ones you've completed, recommit to those you still need to keep and resolve to make 2014 your soundest financial year yet.
1. Get your financial bearings. Start the new year by either creating or updating your personal "net worth" statement. Write down the value of everything you own -- savings and investment accounts, car, home, business interests and personal property. Then list all your debts -- mortgage, car loan, credit card balances and student loans. Subtract what you owe from what you own to get your net worth. This gives you the big picture from which you can plan your next steps. It also provides a baseline so you can monitor your progress throughout the year.
2. Develop and stick to a budget. Budgets are only as good as your ability to stick to them. So commit to taking a realistic look at how you spend your money. Itemize your monthly expenses (both essential and discretionary) and subtract them from your income. If you need to cut back, prioritize your spending. Make savings a part of your budget!
3. Get organized. A simple, easily accessible filing system can make every other resolution easier to keep. First, set up either paper or electronic files for your financial and tax records, putting all your important documents (birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, loan documents, insurance policies) in a secure place. Also put important financial dates on your calendar, like estimated taxes and property taxes. If you're retired or at least 70 1/2, you'll also want to mark required minimum distributions.
4. Set goals. Not hitting your financial goals? Maybe you need a fresh approach. First, make sure your goals are concrete and achievable. Are you saving for a down payment on a home? A kitchen remodel? A special vacation? Write down all your goals and put a pricetag on each. Then prioritize and create a realistic timeline. You may have to crunch numbers and make tradeoffs, but with specific and measurable goals in front of you, it will be easier to find ways to achieve them.
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