A 12-Month Plan to Revitalize Your Finances

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With a little planning and effort, these 12 financial goals can help make 2013 a success.

Financial Goals

With the start of a new year, it seems appropriate to think about how we can make 2013 a financial success. But rather than making some New Year’s Resolution about getting out of debt that we won’t keep, let’s look at a month-by-month plan instead.

By breaking down our goals into smaller pieces, we are much more likely to accomplish them. So below is a 2013 monthly guide for your finances. Of course, feel free to change the order of these goals or to add your own.

January: Max out your retirement savings

January is a perfect time to set your retirement contributions for the year. The 401(k) contribution limits edged up for 2013 to $17,500 (plus an additional $5,500 for those age 50 or older). So make sure your contribution percentage is high enough to take advantage of the increased limits. And if that’s more than you can afford, make sure your contributions are at least enough to take advantage of your employer’s matching contributions, if any. And the same goes with IRA contributions, which also increased by $500 for 2013 to $5,500..

Resources:

401k and IRA Contribution and Deduction Limits for 2013

Roth IRA Contribution and Income Limits

List of the Best Online Discount Brokers for IRA Retirement Accounts

February: Improve your credit score

Your credit score is important for so many reasons. There are the obvious reasons—qualifying for the best rates on mortgages and car loans. But there are some less obvious reasons that your FICO score matters—getting a job, securing lower premiums on car insurance, or even renting an apartment. So if you credit score is not in tip-top shape, make 2013 the year of excellent credit.

Resources:

Free Credit Score

All About Credit Scores

How to Improve Your Credit Score

March: Tackle your debt

There’s no greater feeling than getting rid of all your debt. My wife and I have struggled through everything from credit card debt to car loans to school loans. But with a determination to avoid new debt and a lot of hard work, we finally became debt free, with the exception of our mortgage. And key for us was (1) avoiding new debt, and (2) earning a side income. It’s the side income you don’t hear much about when you read articles about tackling your debt. But it’s the best way to supercharge your efforts to climb out of debt. So make March your month to begin the journey to financial freedom.

Resources:

How to Get Out of Credit Card Debt

The Debt Snowball | How to Get Rid of Credit Card Debt Fast

Best 0% APR Balance Transfer Offers (yes, 0% credit cards can help you get out of credit card debt faster and cheaper)

April: Audit your spending

I love this approach to budgeting. Rather than setting aside a certain amount to spend on eating out or buying clothes, audit your monthly bills. The idea is to go through every one of your monthly bills (e.g., rent or mortgage, cable, Internet, cell phone, insurance) and ask these questions about each one of them: (1) Do I really need this service at all (e.g., a home telephone, a second car); (2) if I do need it, can I get it from my current provider for less, and (3) can I get the service from another provider for less. This approach can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month, and without changing your lifestyle one bit.

Resources:

Money Saving Tips – 55 Painless Ways to Save Money

Save Money | 97 Frugal Living Tips

How to Find Extra Cash to Put Toward Your Debt

May: Rebalance your investments

Diversifying your investments enables you to maximize your returns with less risk. As the stock and bond markets fluctuate, however, the amount of each that you have in your portfolio changes. The same is true of large cap versus small cap investments, and U.S. versus foreign investments. As a result, it’s important to rebalance your portfolio once a year. It’s an easy thing to forget about, but should only take most folks about an hour or less to do.

Resources:

How to Rebalance Your Investment Portfolio

My Annual Investment Portfolio Tune-Up: The Asset Allocation Plan

June: Get in shape

It may seem odd in a list of personal finance and investing resolutions, but getting in shape has a lot to do with finances. Your physical condition affects the premiums you’ll pay on both life insurance and individual health insurance. Staying in shape will reduce the number of days you miss work. And your condition has a direct affect on your stamina, which goes a long way toward your productivity at work and life.

July: Rethink insurance

Insurance is a necessary evil. While we wish we could forego the premiums, insurance plays an important part in protecting us from the unexpected. But we should still examine our policies once a year to see if we could lower the cost. There are several ways to reduce the cost of insurance. We can increase our deductibles, lower our coverage, or shop for less expensive options. The key is to evaluate your insurance needs each year to make sure you aren’t paying more than you must.

Resources:

Car Insurance Deductibles: A Complete Guide to Picking the Right Deductible

How Much Life Insurance Do You Really Need?

15 Auto Insurance Discounts You May Be Missing

August: Save for emergencies

This is the first step toward financial freedom. It’s a great feeling to know you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, and that begins with an emergency fund in an interest savings account that covers at least one month of expenses.

Resources:

How to Build an Emergency Fund

Should a Credit Card Act as Your Emergency Fund?

September: Start tracking your net worth

It’s not how much money you make that matters. It’s how much you keep. In fact, I know lawyers that make in the top 1% of wage earners, but spend everything they make and then some. Sure they make a lot of money, but their net worth is abysmal. So start tracking your net worth and focus on how you can increase it over time. It should be the measure of your financial independence, not how much you make.

Resources:

Three Important Ways to Calculate Net Worth

3-Step Financial Checkup

October: Save for your child’s education

If you haven’t started already, it’s never too late. Ok, it is too late if your kids are grown. But for the everybody else, funding a 529 Plan is a great way to save for your child’s education. If you haven’t started one, now is the time. And if you do have one, make sure you fund it each year.

November: Study

The one thing blogging about personal finance has taught me is that you never stop learning. No matter how much you student money management, investing, financial planning, or business, there is still more to learn. While learning should be a continual process, it’s helpful to take one month out of the year to focus on learning new things that can help your finances. So put down the Steven King novel (although 11/22/63 is fantastic), and pick up a good book about money.

Resources:

The 7 Best Personal Finance and Investing Books

December: Dream

This one probably should have been listed in January. So often we focus entirely on the here and now. We focus on paying the bills, getting the kids through school, what’s for dinner, and whether our boss really appreciates our hard work. While these are all important, it’s worth stepping back and looking at the big picture. Even in my late 40s I continue to ask what I want to do when I grow up. I hope I never stop asking that question. And sometimes we need to shut out all the distractions in order to truly listen to our dreams. They are in each of us; we just need to find them.

Have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.

This post is part of Betterment’s Blogging for a Better New Year series, so be sure to check it out. And if you are scratching your head wondering exactly what Betterment is, check out my review.

Published or Updated: April 21, 2014
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Julie says:

    It always surprises me how fast people loose steam with their New Year’s resolutions. Each year the majority of people fall flat on their face regardless of how wonderful their intentions are. Mapping out a year of change in bite size pieces is not only a way of doing it, it is THE way of doing it. The one thing I would add is to measure the distance you’ve come and celebrate milestones to keep the momentum going all year long!

  2. Julie says:

    It always surprises me how fast people loose steam with their New Year’s resolutions. Each year the majority of people fall flat on their face regardless of how wonderful their intentions are. Mapping out a year of change in bite size pieces is not only a way of doing it, it is THE way of doing it. The one thing I would add is to measure the distance you’ve come and celebrate milestones to keep the momentum going all year long!

  3. Julie says:

    I am always surprised by how many of us fall flat with our New Year’s resolution. Breaking down the goals into small bite size pieces like you’ve done here is the only way to make real progress.

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