3 Easy Financial Resolutions Couples Can Make for the New Year The new year is right around the corner, and itís time to get your financial house in order. Here are some great tips on where to start! BY KIMBERLY FOSS, CFP
Financial resolutions are much easier to keep when you do them as a couple.
“ Itís important not to attack your spouse about spending that you view as excessive, but rather to identify places where you both agree you can cut back.”
Itís easier to commit to a New Yearís resolution if you have companyóand who better to team up with than your spouse? Like many couples, you may resolve to work together to improve your financial wellness. Just as youíll have better luck shedding a few pounds if you have support eliminating sugar from your diet, adopting healthier financial habits can be easier if you both commit to the goal.
Getting your financial house in order generally involves these three steps: save more, pay off your debt and plan for the future. The trouble is, many people simply articulate these goals. While listing these resolutions is terrific, itís just a first step. You need a plan to make each happen. So, how can you become more proactive to ensure your success?
Begin with a comprehensive accounting of your net worth by listing all of your assets and liabilities. As I tell my clients, "You need to know where you are before you develop a plan to get where you want to go." Next, review your monthly budget to ensure there havenít been any big changes, such as financing a new car or an increase in college tuition.
If you donít have a lot of discretionary income, saving more requires developing a plan to spend less. So look at the past yearís spending habits to target instances of overspending.†Itís important not to attack your spouse about spending that you view as excessive, but rather to identify places where you both agree you can cut back. Naturally, it makes sense to go after your budget extras, but reviewing your "fixed expenses" can be productive, too. Spend some time evaluating the best†plan for your cell phones, as well as cable/satellite, phone/internet and other items like pest control services. However, donít go overboard. If you have a gardener or housecleaner and they are doing a great job, I wouldn't make changes, as it can be difficult to find those services. Also, review your insurance. Perhaps youíre insuring a car thatís not being driven, or qualify for a low mileage or student away discount.
If you received a large tax refund this year, then youíre giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. Adjusting your withholdings can free up that cash to pay down debt or invest.
Also, consider the distinction between "saving more" versus "saving smarter." To save smarter, youíll always want to begin with your 401(k) and contribute enough to get any company match. If your spouseís company offers a match and yours does not, you may need to adjust some of the responsibility for household expenses to ensure thereís extra cash to capture that "free money." In addition, if your company offers a high deductible health plan with a health savings account (HSA) option, that can be a good way to offset medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. So dig into the details of your benefit plans.
Pay Off Your Debt
Many couples trying to dig out of debt concentrate on controlling impulse shopping. That is, you wait 24 hours to evaluate a purchase to distinguish "must haves" from "nice to haves." However, thereís a more essential primary step. You need an emergency fund with three to six months of expenses. That way, an unexpected car repair bill or the need for a new appliance wonít have you reaching for your plastic. To get some motivation to pay more than the minimum payment, take a look at the calculation on your statement to see just how longóand how muchóyouíll be paying if you stick with the minimum. Finally, the closer you are to retirement the more important to eliminate debt as it can be a drain on your retirement income stream.
Plan Better For The Future
Iím not talking about college funding or the retirement home you have your eye on. All the planning you do can be worthless unless you do some estate planning, and itís never too early. For most couples, planning for heirs is easier than it used to be thanks to the American Taxpayer Relief Act. Because of the estate exclusion amount, the amount an individual can give away free from transfer taxes is now $5.25 million; trusts to hold property may no longer be necessary. However, there are still three must-have documents: a will that specifies who inherits your assets and who will be the guardian of any minor children; a power of attorney naming someone to handle your financial affairs if you become disabled or seriously ill; and a health care directive stating your wishes should you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
You can keep these important financial resolutions going strong in the new year by setting specific, realistic goals. Rather than say youíll save more, agree to save 10 percent of your income and note how youíll invest. Rather than say youíll pay off debt, agree to pay an extra $300 a month on the credit card with the highest balance credit card. Rather than say youíll address estate planning, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Be definitive with your financial resolutions.
Kimberly Foss is a Certified Financial Planner and personal finance expert with 30 years of industry experience. Kimberly is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management (Roseville, Calif.) and author of "Wealthy by Design," a best-selling book.