By Jason Rosener, Vice President, Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management
During the first few months of a new year, you’ll hear a lot about the importance of setting resolutions. The idea can either fill you with excitement or dread, depending on your track record with them.
When it comes to financial resolutions, you probably know the familiar script: Create a budget, pay down debt, save for retirement, rebalance your portfolio and replenish your emergency fund.
These are all good, timeless recommendations. But instead of running through this typical annual list of to-do’s, let’s try something a little different for this year.
Resolutions or no resolutions, I would encourage you to think about doing three things for your financial planning this year:
I believe these steps can help you be realistic about your financial goals and the practical changes you could make to help improve your financial life. Not just for the new year, but for the years ahead.
Whether you or your spouse handles the household finances, it’s important for you both to have a clear picture of where you are financially.
One good place to start is determining (or updating) your net worth. The start of a new year is a natural time to look back and review any major life events in the past year that might have changed your financial situation.
Calculating your net worth also gives you an opportunity to review your financial progress. What were your successes? Where did you fall short?
Take stock of the good and the bad. This can help you figure out what you need to prioritize or if you need to make any course corrections in the new year.
You can start by getting all your financial statements together, reviewing your assets and liabilities, and asking yourself the basics. How are your savings, spending, investments and debts looking? If you own a home (or homes), are they up or down in value?
As a financial advisor, this is something that I go over with my wife each year. Not only does it help us lay out our financial goals for the new year, but it also gives me the peace of mind in knowing that if anything were to happen to me, my wife wouldn’t have to worry about deciphering the state of our finances.
Now while this might sound like a lot of work, it’s really just about checking off the basics and communicating with your partner.
You and your spouse don’t have to do everything all at once. Nobody wants to sit at the kitchen table for hours looking over financial statements.
You can break it up into bite-size pieces: “Do you have a second to talk about the house?” or “Hey, let me fill you in on what I’m thinking about for our investments this year.”
You could even plan a few financial date nights to talk about the weightier subjects. In my experience, it’s easier to talk about things over food and drinks.
And if you find that your financial situation is more complex than you anticipated, this is where you can bring in a financial advisor to help.
Remember, the point of having these conversations with your spouse is so that they can be part of the financial planning dialogue.
Some of you may think that this is simply another way of encouraging you to budget. After all, isn’t a spending plan and a budget basically the same thing?
While both can help you manage your money, I believe there’s an important difference between the two. Each brings out a different mindset when it comes to money.
With a budget, you typically put a dollar amount on what you can spend in certain categories. For example, you may give yourself a strict budget of $20 a week for lattes or $100 a week for dining out.
In this way, budgets can feel restrictive. And while they work for some people, many have a hard time keeping up with them, especially if a budget is too unrealistic or inflexible.
In my view, sometimes when a budget is too regimented, you’re essentially setting yourself up to fail.
On the other hand, a spending plan can provide more flexibility or a sense of direction and freedom when it comes to how you spend your money.
Instead of setting hard top-line numbers for each spending category, after you’ve saved for your goals and covered your essentials, what’s left over is yours to spend on whatever is most important to you.
There’s no need to restrict yourself to X number of lattes each week or say: “This is not in the budget.”
If going out regularly to get a good cup of coffee or meal with a friend is important to you, go for it.
In my experience, those few extra lattes here or there aren’t what’s going to make or break your long-term financial plan. As long as you are mindful about where your tradeoffs are, cover your essentials and reallocate as needed, you should be in good shape.
You can look at this way: With a spending plan, you don’t need to micro-manage your discretionary categories down to the dollar. You simply have to have some general parameters or guardrails in the plan.
This way, you get to be a little more honest with yourself about where you want to focus your spending and how best to direct your resources.
In short, a spending plan can give you a greater sense of control and direction over your money.
Again, the new year is a good time to think about your spending priorities. Because once you nail down your priorities, they can motivate you to keep moving toward your goals throughout the year.
For me, each year since the start of the pandemic, I try to make sure my spending plans include at least one anchor or fun experience for my family. This not only helps to motivate me, but it also gives me something to look forward to.
A lot of times, people may have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to financial resolutions. When progress is slow or when there are setbacks, it can be easy to feel discouraged.
For the new year, I encourage you to remain practical and realistic in your financial planning. At the same time, don’t be so hard on yourself if you veer off track.
Every plan will hit a bump in the road at some point. That’s life, and things happen.
I often remind my clients that overspending a little one year isn’t going to break your plan. One bad year doesn’t make a trend. Financial planning is a long-term game, and success isn’t linear.
So give yourself some leeway or wiggle room to make course corrections. Did you try something last year and it didn’t work out? Let’s learn from that and see what adjustments we can make to help set you up for success this year.
It’s also important to acknowledge how much you have been able to accomplish so far and then let that motivate you to keep going!
When I work with my clients, I like to figure out ways to help them make it easier on themselves to succeed.
For example, sometimes it’s about leveraging technology like automating certain aspects of their saving and investing or using a spending app to help them see where their money is going each month.
Or maybe it’s about setting up a regular check-in with their financial advisor to talk through whatever roadblocks they may have.
Whether or not you’re planning to make resolutions, I hope my suggestions have inspired you to think about financial planning a little differently this year.
If you are someone who’s big on setting resolutions, I believe these three steps can help bring some clarity and confidence to your resolution-making.
And if you have them nailed down already, consider going over them with a financial advisor who can help you see them through.
You got this!
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