If you’re like many Americans, you’re probably reflecting on goals you set over the year and whether or not you achieved them. 45% of Americans set resolutions, and that includes goals around money and financial health. But whether or not you enjoy this new-year ritual, you shouldn’t wait until January 1 to take action to improve your situation. In order to have a bright and prosperous new year, start now! Follow these tips to get ahead with your money in 2016.
First, Review the Past Year
In order to get ahead with your money in 2016, you need to know where you came from. It’s time to review your money and your goals from 2015. Look at the goals you set and determine if you achieved any, all, or none of them. If you achieved a few goals, but not all, give yourself a pat on the back! Making progress with your finances isn’t easy, and even small steps add up to big results over time. For those who achieved all of their goals, it’s time to make things a little harder. Stretch your goals from this year into something you think is difficult, but not impossible. For example, if your goal was to increase your emergency savings from 3 months saved to 6 months, maybe double your goal to have one year’s worth of emergency expenses saved. By making your goals a little more difficult, you’ll give yourself a healthy challenge in 2016. If you weren’t able to achieve any of your financial goals in 2015, it’s time to re-evaluate what money is coming in and what’s going out so you can set more realistic goals — or change your behaviors to accomplish more in 2016.
Evaluate and Update Your Budget
No matter how much things seem to stay the same, something changes every year. People change jobs, get engaged, welcome a new family member, or buy a new house. Any number of things can happen throughout the year, which means evaluating and updating your budget should be an annual exercise. Accomplishing your goals starts with setting a realistic budget. Evaluate some of the big things you spent money on and ask yourself, is there a way you could cut back on certain expenses? Can you cut costs entirely to make room for other priorities? Now may be a good time to renegotiate rates, especially car insurance and cellphone bills.
Plan for the Big Stuff
While you’re updating your budget, think about big expenses in your future. For some big ticket purchases, you can plan ahead before they happen. If you’ve talked about a new home, car, or perhaps even addition to the family, then you know you need to plan. If your big purchase is a down payment, for example, consider getting pre-approved for a mortgage to determine how much house you can afford, and how much your monthly mortgage may be. Keep in mind all of the extra costs associated with owning a house, including additional utility costs, extra insurance costs, and home maintenance expenses. Create a list of action steps you need to take, and map out what you’ll do month by month so you’ll be financially prepared for a big purchase or investment.
Evaluate Your Income
To get ahead with your money in 2016, you need to focus on more than just updating your budget and planning for expenses. You also have to consider how you’re going to increase your income this year. If you’re an employee, you might start by creating a plan for how you’ll earn and ask for a pay raise in 2016. You might also consider transitioning to a new position or a new company. If you run your own business, make time before the new year to do some serious business planning. How will you increase your revenues in 2016? Do you want to take on more clients or focus on raising your value proposition with current gigs (and therefore, increasing your rates)? Additionally, make sure a portion of your income goes toward savings and investments. You should aim to contribute at least 10% of your gross income to retirement accounts to develop a sound financial future.
Evaluate Important Life Transitions
If you received an increase in income over the past year, added a new family member, or made any major life changes, consider reviewing your current life and disability insurance. No one wants to think about the worst case scenario, but you have to consider the possibility that your family may need income if you’re incapable of working. If you’re the breadwinner for your family, you need to consider having a life insurance policy that will cover your dependents for several years if you stopped working.
The best thing you can do for yourself today is to take a look at your finances, evaluate where you are and determine where you want to be, and create a list of actions to take to get you there. It’s all about planning now — so don’t wait until you’re breaking out your new calendar to consider how you’ll improve your money situation. By taking steps now to get ahead of your finances, you’ll set yourself up on the right path for making a great 2016.