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Somewhere between last night's champagne toasts and this morning's hangovers, millions of New Year's resolutions were born, many centered on financial security.

In fact, fiscal fitness trails only physical fitness in the list of top New Year's resolutions, according to a survey by myGoals.

But just as many dreamers won't stop smoking or lose weight, many financial-based resolutions will fall to procrastination.

Vowing to repay all debt, invest for retirement, save for college or pay off credit card balances monthly are meritorious and obtainable goals, said Central Illinois financial planners Jeff Telling of Family Credit Counseling Service in Normal and Carol Burroughs of Forward Financial Planning in Normal.

Unfortunately, great resolutions in January often don't hold their flavor into the spring, so Telling and Burroughs offered a few tips to make financial resolutions more palatable throughout the months ahead.

Start small

Building a multimillion-dollar nest egg for retirement sounds fantastic, but such a resolution is doomed for failure. Start simple with small steps toward financial security, rather than giant leaps.

For example, set a resolution to read financial magazines, books or informational Web sites.

Through education, people can clear their own financial path, choosing which route is best for them “ stocks, individual retirement accounts, bonds, CDs, mutual funds or any of a number of investment tools.

"Everyone is looking for a quick fix, but there isn't one," Telling said. "You must educate yourself. Become educated on the basics of financial planning. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat forever."

For Internet sites, Burroughs recommends bankrate, fool, and finance.cch.

"My company motto is strengthen your financial confidence. Self education is the best way to do that," she said.

To succeed with a resolution, people must get gratification from it. They must see positive effects early or they won't stick with it, Burroughs said.

Education builds confidence, which is rewarding in itself, she said. It feels good to hold conversation with the financially savvy, she said. The monetary perks will follow in the future.

Another small resolution may be as simple as obtaining your credit report online for free via Equifax, Experian or Transunion, the three major firms that calculate scores.

Knowing what's on your report will help you improve it, and a slight 20-point difference on a credit report can cost a consumer thousands extra on everything from mortgages to life insurance.

"Any kind of insurance is now going to be based on your credit score," Telling said. "These things can save you money."

Draw a map

Deciding exactly how much you want to save each month for retirement or college, for example, will also help you stick to the task.

Set exact goals, Burroughs said. When do you want to retire? How much do you need for retirement? How long will it take to build the necessary funds?

Drawing a financial map, then, could be a New Year's resolution. And once you've taken time to devise a plan, you're likely to follow it. But there's a catch to making a plan.

"Part of that plan must include saving," Telling said. "You have to make that decision to save. Don't just scribble some promise somewhere."

Many of those forced to seek debt-management counseling, Telling said, have a savings account or a retirement account, but they've either depleted the savings or borrowed against the retirement funds. To protect the savings, people should invest into retirement accounts with early-withdrawal penalties, like individual retirement accounts, he said.

But no matter how it's done, saving money is essential, Telling and Burroughs agreed.

"Start small at first. The larger that savings gets, the more inspired you are to say 'maybe I'll put a little extra in this month.'" Burroughs said.

"And have a reason to save. Don't just save to save," she added. "Maybe you want to save for a mutual fund. If you've never saved, maybe you need to save for a tangible goal."

Again, gratification becomes a key to successful resolutions.

Telling also suggests saving toward a goal and making more purchases with cash rather than paying the interest on credit cards. Another simple resolution would be to vow to only use the credit card for emergencies, not to buy clothes, gadgets or other discretionary items.

"Save money to make all major purchases in cash, like appliances," he said. "I'll go all the way to say buy cars with cash. People say that's impossible, but not necessarily. Not everyone needs a new car. Buy a used one."

Accountability factor

It's much easier to quit smoking when someone's prodding you with a stick. By the same token, it's easier to save cash if someone is making sure you do.

Spouses, for example, can make money-saving resolutions together, acting as inspiration to keep each other going, Telling said.

Any trusted loved ones, mentors, family members or friends can really hold one accountable. Failure is embarrassing and loved ones tend to push people to go the extra mile.

"With all of these, it requires discipline and accountability," Telling said. "Resolution is the key word. You must resolve to do this. People just don't follow through. You will not follow through if you don't have accountability."

Another option is hiring a financial advisor to help manage savings and investments.

If taking this route, Burroughs said people should always ask what fees apply. Some planners charge an all-inclusive fee that covers services some may not need or ever use. Others let clients pick desired services and pay accordingly.


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