As the new year approaches, many will be analyzing the last year by assessing their lifestyles and committing to the standard personal resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, sleep more, reduce screen time, etc.
What many may leave off their list is something that may also have a major impact on their lives — a solid financial goal. Now is the perfect time to reflect on past spending and saving habits and to set realistic, effective money goals for the coming year. Here are a few tips to help you create successful personal finance goals for 2016.
1) Review 2015 spending habits
An effective method for setting your 2016 goals is to reflect on what you spent your money on this year. Derek Coburn, a partner at Washington Financial Group, recommends taking a look at your 2015 credit card and bank statements and identifying the three purchases that you feel best about and the three purchases that you regret most. According to Coburn, this exercise helps people make better decisions on future purchases and set more realistic financial goals. Coburn adds: “In hindsight, hardly anyone ever feels good about the money they spent on material goods and physical things. They almost always feel good about the experiences they purchased.”
2) Create a 2016 personal budget
Once you have reviewed your 2015 spending habits, creating your budget for next year will be easier. According to financial adviser Tahir Johnson, “Many people avoid creating a budget because they think its only purpose is to limit spending, but that is not the case. By keeping tabs on your income and expenses (both essential and discretionary), you not only gain a better understanding of where your money is going but it also helps you to formulate a plan on how you can save and invest in the future.”
3) Stay organized
One of the most effective ways to maintain your personal finance goals is to stay on top of your expenses, spending and taxes throughout the year. Organize your expenses by using apps such as Mint and Level Money or more traditional tools such as Excel or a spending notebook to create budgets, manage money and pay bills all in one place. For any income you plan to earn next year from a side job, such as freelance consulting, driving an Uber or hosting on Airbnb, set aside a portion to meet your income tax obligations. Apps such as Hurdlr automatically manage this for you and help minimize these monetary commitments.
4) Create a vision
Developing an annual budget and tracking monthly expenses is only half of your financial equation. You also want to look at the larger picture and create financial goals that are in line with your long-term vision. Creating a financial vision board is an easy, effective method to lay out your short-term priorities and uncover your larger financial goals. All you need is a poster board, scissors, magazines and glue. You could cut out phrases and pictures that represent your short- and long-term financial goals (i.e. pictures of a new house or your dream vacation destination, phrases such as “no debt,” specific numbers that you are trying to reach) and paste these images onto your poster board. After you have created your vision board, you may need to alter your budget to save toward your long-term vision, or you may find the extra motivation to stick to your budget in order to achieve that long-term financial dream.
5) Set specific milestones
Many of us will make lofty goals for the new year, but few of us will actually stick to them as the year progresses. It is not enough to create a budget or a financial vision — you have to follow it through! Set goals for specific milestones throughout the year so that you have a way to measure how you are progressing against your plan. For example, if your goal is to build up an emergency fund, decide how much money you want to have saved by three, six and nine months. Then check in at each of these points in time to confirm that you have hit your target savings and adjust accordingly to reach your ultimate goal. Use the above tips to set your financial goals, write these goals down, and refer to these goals and your vision board often throughout the year.