Whether you’re fiscally fit or financially flabby, a new year brings a new opportunity to take stock of your finances and – if you’re not happy with where you are – to develop a plan to get where you want to be.
A lot of folks have an annual physical with their doctor. Why not do the same with your finances?
Here are three actions you can take:
Set strong financial goals.
You can’t know if you’re healthy unless you first define what healthy looks like, and that’s where setting goals comes in.
Think about what you want to accomplish from a financial perspective this year. Is it making a large purchase like a home or car? Is it saving more? Spending less?
To determine what measures are meaningful to you, set “SMART” — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based — goals.
Rather than saying, “I want to reduce my debt,” try something specific like, “I want to cut my credit debt in half within 12 months.”
Start small. If you want to raise your credit score this year, start with short-term goals like pulling your credit report and paying your bills on time this month. All those small goals are what add up to achieving your big goals.
Monitor your progress.
Once you have set goals, make sure you are on track to achieve them by taking your financial temperature. Complete a simple budgeting exercise by listing all your income, and every single expense, and then subtract the latter from the former to see how you fare.
It may sound simple, but a lot of people don’t take the time to measure their expenses or analyze how much money is going out when day-to-day expenses pile up. Knowing your inflows and outflows will allow you to make necessary adjustments to put you on track to achieve your goals.
Partner on a plan.
You wouldn’t conduct your annual physical without your doctor. Nor should you conduct a financial checkup without a good source of financial insights.
Look at all the external partners you have, and reach out to them. Call your insurance agent, and ask if your policies are still appropriate for your situation. Meet with your banker, and ask if there are new services that could lower your expenses or help you save more. Talk to your financial advisor and tax advisor about retirement. We encourage people to seek professional consultations because, often, there are tools, allocations or planning tactics that can make a real difference.
Taking these three steps at the beginning of the year may help you determine where you stand and how to achieve your goals. And by this time next year, you might be surprised at how much progress you’ve made.
You can find budgeting tools at Regions.com/NextStep. You don’t have to be a customer to access these materials. They’re available to anyone for free.
No matter how little, or how much, you have saved, the time to start preparing for your financial future is now. Thankfully, there’s always help available.
Jeff Smith is Regions’ Consumer Banking Manager for East Mississippi and West Alabama.