It’s fairly common to start a new year off with lofty goals and a laundry list of financial New Year’s resolutions.
But do you really need a whole bunch of things to focus on?
Yes, it’s possible to successfully pursue more than one financial goal at a time. In fact, you probably have to balance more than one objective regularly, making sure that you’re taking care of different aspects of your financial life.
But when it comes to resolutions? Adding one more thing to your plate? It might be better — and more likely to result in long-term success — when you only make one resolution.
Where Do You Want to Make Progress?
In the past, I used to list out a bunch of goals. Pay of credit card debt. Build an emergency fund. Refinance the house. It was a to-do list of stuff that I needed to get done. However, that to-do list could have been accomplished at any point during any year. It’s not really an over-arching approach to what you need to change about your approach to money during the year.
Now, rather than coming up with a list of financial New Year’s resolutions each year, and inevitably failing, I take a different approach my yearly goals. There will always be a list of things to do. But what you want as you approach a new year and take stock is some sort of larger vision to work toward.
Figure out where you want to make progress with your money. Do you need to work on your money mindset? Should you focus more on building your retirement account? Perhaps you’d like a travel fund so you can begin shifting your lifestyle.
Whatever it is, think about how you want to make progress with your money and choose something you can work toward, rather than creating a huge checklist of things you’re trying to cram into the next 12 months.
Your Year-Long Focus Area
The nice thing about having a year-long focus, rather than a list of financial New Year’s resolutions, is that you have the opportunity to keep improving. You don’t immediately feel like a failure because you didn’t put $X into your emergency fund one month because your kid broke their arm and you had to rush them to the emergency room and deal with the co-pay.
Instead, your year-long focus area should be about progress and being in a better place than you were at the beginning of the year. It’s about gradually shifting your habits and your mindset to match what you want to accomplish with your money.
For example, last year, I decided I wanted to focus on my retirement account. I wanted to grow it, and increase contributions. I had a W-2 at the time, so there was room to make improvements. I reviewed my withholdings, reviewed the funds in my portfolio, and changed things up. Three times during the year, I increased how much was taken from my paycheck and put into my 401(k).
Being able to do that made a huge difference in my retirement account, helping me boost my savings.
Additionally, as part of my year-long focus on retirement savings, I also looked at making sure my IRA was where I wanted it, and considered how to use my HSA to better account. The whole idea was to review my retirement savings habits throughout the year and work on improving them.
Break it Down
At some point, though, you need a list. But the list should help you measure milestones and keep you on track with your focus area. I knew I needed to review my portfolio. So I set aside time one day during February to do that. And then I tinkered.
I also took a look at diverting some of my contributions to a Roth option for the 401(k). However, I discovered that the company match didn’t apply to the Roth 401(k). So, I decided to only divert money that was above the match — and that made sense.
Basically, one day each month, I took the time to work on a different aspect of my retirement planning. From re-evaluating how much I’d need in retirement, to deciding what I wanted “retirement” to look like, to figuring out how much more to contribute from my paycheck, I studied the options.
With a year-long focus, you can devote one or two days each month to making focus in your progress area. The idea is to see improvement, rather than fixing all your financial issues in a short 12 months.
Keep working toward your other financial goals, but maybe reconsider how you manage financial New Year’s resolutions. With a new approach, you might be able to make more progress than you thought possible — even if you don’t have a long to-do list.