Derek Gee/Buffalo News
A record 46 percent of Americans have made a money-related resolution for 2013, and spending less and saving more topped the survey, according to Fidelity Investments.
But while improving personal finance remains among the country’s top resolutions for 2013, it’s an elusive goal for many.
A TD Ameritrade survey found that the majority of respondents from 2011 failed to adhere to their money-related resolutions for 2012. Just 25 percent were able to save enough to endure a financial emergency; 33 percent fully reduced high interest-bearing debt and 30 percent actually started or increased their retirement savings, the survey reported.
But with a practical and sensible approach to personal finance management, you can beat the odds and get your financial house in order in 2013, experts say.
“It’s always important to look more at the bigger picture – would you rather work until you’re 80 and have all you want now, or save and retire at 65?,” said Scott Laughlin, director of community and creditor relations at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo. “You have to prioritize and decide what’s important and once you do that, a lot of these areas will fall into line.”
First, figure out and write down your money-related intentions. Identify a SMART goal, says Amy Jo Lauber, a certified financial planner and member of the Financial Planners of Western New York. SMART goals are goals that are Specific, like saving $100 a month; Measurable, look over statements; Achievable (no sense in saying “save $1 million” if you don’t earn more than $1 million); Realistic, as in identifying any obstacles that may occur; and Timely.
She then recommends doing a SWOT analysis to determine your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
“Write your goal down and keep it or a picture of your goal where you’ll see it – in your wallet, on your phone, on your dresser mirror – to remind yourself and keep yourself motivated, and tell someone else about your goal,” said Lauber, who is also president of Lauber Financial Planning in West Seneca. “These steps have been proven to increase the likelihood of you achieving your goal.”
Whether you decide to save for emergencies or retirement, local financial advisers said crafting a budget is a key component in improving your financial situation and can aid in adhering to and eventually realizing those resolutions.
“A budget allows them to see where the money is going and what they have available,” said Michael Hardy, a certified financial planner and partner with Mollot & Hardy in Amherst. “A budget can open your eyes to over-spending, over-saving and lack of savings.”
Creating a successful budget should be balanced between “needs” and “wants,” with the ability to distinguish the two, financial experts say. Housing and utilities fall into the “needs” category, and vacations and the movies fall into “wants.” But in some cases, the categories can mingle. Phones and clothing are “needs,” but smartphones and designer duds are wants.
The budget should have some room for fun, but splurging should remain within the bounds of the plan.
There are plenty of budgeting options, and the Internet is loaded with free calculators, spending tracking analysis programs, spreadsheets and other tools, including sites like Mint.com, Hardy said.
“If they could put that into a savings that could really help them.”
Additionally, review and cut back on certain expenses. For example, savings could be found with groceries by changing your shopping list or changing where you shop. Also, conserve energy and power by lowering thermostat and unplugging electrical products when not in use.
“The TV draws a lot of power,” Laughlin pointed out. “We tend to have more than one TV in the household these days, and in most cases, we are only using one.”
Savings can also be found by cutting back on fuel costs by carpooling.
“You don’t want to drive extra miles to get gas that’s 5 cents cheaper,” Laughlin added, “Cut down on driving overall.”
On the subject of vehicles, Laughlin said review your car insurance policy every couple of years to determine whether your coverage is excessive, and to look for other areas in which to find savings. And if you are in the market for a new car, calculate the cost of repairing your current vehicle versus the monthly car payments and the higher cost of ownership.
“If it’s going to cost you a $1,000 to fix a car that will last a year, that’s better than paying $300 a month and paying extra in insurance for a new car,” he said.