I admit it. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. If I see something I’d like to change in my life, I’m more apt to tackle it right away, no matter what month it is. But for many, money matters top their list of desired changes going into the New Year. Need some direction? Here are some worthy goals.
Resolve to …
Plan for next holiday. Too many families start the New Year off with a holiday debt hangover. You fill your cart with dazzling Black Friday deals, blowing your budget. Or maybe your gift list is so long you feel pressured to spend more than you can afford.
Now would also be a good time to talk to friends and family about your need to cut back next year. With the holiday months away, it should be a far easier conversation. Just remember to stick to your guns when November rolls around.
Also, consider a “Christmas Club Savings Account.” Save a small amount each month and the bank will make the money available in time for holiday shopping, plus interest. Online piggy bank smartypig.com has a goal-setting feature that would also work for this purpose. Plus it pays around 1.75 percent interest, one of the highest rates for savings accounts in this low-rate age.
Resolve to …
Save more. If you’re like me, I have two large financial goals in my future: paying for college and affording retirement. While both goals are daunting, I employ the same savings strategy I suggested for buying gifts without credit — save small amounts over time. For retirement, look to your workplace retirement plan first. Make sure you’re saving enough of your own paycheck in your 401(k) or 403(b) to receive free matching money from your employer, if your company offers it.
Next, consider a Roth IRA, a retirement account you set up outside your workplace through a bank or investment company. The account, which begins to phase out for couples making more than $167,000, is attractive because you invest after-tax dollars, which grow and can be withdrawn in retirement without being taxed. Plus it’s flexible for life’s curveballs, allowing you to use the money you contribute before retirement for any reason.
For college, first talk to your partner about your college contribution strategy. Do you want to foot the entire bill, or do you plan to contribute a small fixed amount per year and require your child to handle the rest? Then, check collegeboard.com or savingforcollege.com to research college prices and calculate how much you need to save. While an account such as a Roth or plain savings account can be used for college savings, 529 college savings plans, which work kind of like 401(k) plans, are a popular and affordable option.
Resolve to …
Take care of your family. Who wants to think about death? But it’s important to plan for the unthinkable so your family isn’t left grieving and broke. Research life insurance. Term insurance, which covers you for a set period of time, is much more affordable than you think, with a 10-year, $250,000 policy for a healthy 35-year-old costing less than a couple of pizzas per month. Research prices at a site such as insure.com and insurance options at lifehappens.org.
Finally, get your will in order. I’m guilty, too. Our will predates our third child. You can fork over some cash to meet with a lawyer specializing in wills or check out a program such as Quicken WillMaker.
Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother
of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to