The beginning of a new year brings renewed hope, excitement, anticipation, and a new level of motivation to achieve our goals. Common resolutions for a new year include increased physical fitness – but what about getting financially fit as well?
Financial health is particularly important this year, as we continue to deal with high inflation and a possible recession in the next year or two. Utilizing a comprehensive financial checklist will help you organize your finances and make sure everything is in order for the coming year.
Setting the Right Financial Goals
A year-end financial checklist allows you to make sure you’re on the right track to achieving your financial goals. A new year is the perfect time to reflect on your financial goals. These types of goals work best when they are as specific as possible. They can be broken down into short (0-5 years), medium (6-10 years), and long–term (10+ years) goals.
They can also be further categorized into the type of goals they are. When it comes to our finances, we can rely on cold hard data to assess our progress (numbers-based goals) and/or we can base our goals on our attitude and behaviors (habits-based goals).
Goals and priorities change as we move through different phases of our lives. What matters to you now might be drastically different than what you cared about five years ago. Perhaps you’ve got a steady income now and can expand your investment goals, or perhaps you have children and need to plan for college funding.
Below is a breakdown of financial categories to help you start to form your personalized goals and aspirations. As you’re thinking through these categories, place your goals into short-medium-, or long-term, then determine if they are numbers-based or habit-based.
Career and Education
Think about your level of satisfaction in your current position and whether or not you’d like to many any changes, such as pursuing a higher position, joining a different company, or choosing an entirely new career path.
Will you, your children, or grandchildren be pursuing higher education within the next 1-5 years? Can you set aside money in the budget now to help pay for those costs?
Continually assessing your career and education goals will help you feel more prepared, and hopefully feeling satisfied and content. You don’t want to come to the end of your working life and realize you never pursued what you’re truly passionate about.
Here are some examples of 2023 career and education financial goals:
- Ask for an 8% raise at my next annual review (be prepared to justify your request).
- Cash flow 3 online photography classes so I can create a photography side hustle.
- Read 2 personal finance books in 2023.
Think about your short, medium, and long-term savings goals. Do you have any major purchases coming up in the next year? Consider these categories as you think about your goals.
- Emergency Fund: Ideally you should have 3 to 6 months of expenses saved in a fairly liquid savings account.
- Housing: A major life goal for many people is to save for a down payment on a home. If you’re considering buying a home, refinancing, or making upgrades to your home, be sure to create a savings plan.
- Higher Education: Whether it’s for yourself, your child, or a grandchild, the cost of higher education forces us to save early and often.
- Vacation: Don’t forget to allot for FUN! Is saving for your dream getaway on your list of 2023 financial goals?
- Retirement: More than half of Americans admit they are behind on their retirement savings. In conjunction with saving for a house, vacation, etc., be sure your retirement is getting consistently funded as well.
Maybe you need to make changes regarding your savings habits and behaviors in the new year. Are you happy with your mindset regarding saving money? Or is it something you struggle with? Consider adding behavior goals to your 2023 financial checklist.
Investing is a fantastic way to make your money work for you, while building wealth. However, knowing how to get started can certainly feel overwhelming. Short-term investing options include brokerage accounts, money market accounts, bonds, and CDs, while long-term investing options include 401(k)s, pension plans, real estate, and Roth IRAs.
If you want to feel more empowered about your investing options, create goals that will help you increase your investing knowledge. Read books, listen to podcasts, take a class, speak with a financial advisor, etc. Knowing your options and gaining confidence are the first steps in building a healthy investment portfolio.
Whether it’s eliminating credit card debt or paying down your mortgage, what goal would you like to accomplish in the next year?
Your 2023 Financial Checklist
Unfortunately, most people form their early retirement plans using faulty logic without even realizing it. They begin their planning with a number in mind: “If I can save up $1 million,” they think, “I’ll be able to retire early.”
However, this type of goal setting isn’t very effective, if you want to achieve an early retirement that you’ll comfortably enjoy. This is because saving up $1 million (or any arbitrary retirement savings number) without proper future forecasting doesn’t give an indication of the lifestyle you’ll be able to live. Consider the following scenarios.
For example, imagine you live in a nice, 3,000-square-foot home in the Washington D.C. Metro area. You’re within walking distance of your favorite local hangout spots. You drive a nice car and can take a luxury beach vacation every summer. A $1 million nest egg, while seemingly a cushy savings balance, may not be enough for you to continue enjoying the lifestyle you’re accustomed to.
If, on the other hand, you live in a small townhome in Springfield, Missouri, a $1 million nest egg might be plenty to live on. Your townhome is located just a half mile from your workplace, so you can bike or walk to work most of the time. And you’re more of a homebody anyways, so you don’t like traveling to exotic locations when you’re off work. You’d rather spend time at your local golf course with your friends.
As you can see, retirement plans can differ drastically from one person to another. Each person’s financial roadmap includes different levels of income, sacrifice, and strategies to get there. To truly learn how to retire early, you have to plan for what your early retirement looks like—and then create a financial plan to get there.
How to Save Money for Early Retirement
Now that your financial goals are at the forefront of your mind, use this 2023 financial checklist and make this year your financially strongest one yet.
1. Reevaluate your budget
Long gone are the days of endless spreadsheets and confined spending. Budgeting has become increasingly popular and – thanks to popular budgeting software – easier than ever. If you don’t have a consistent method of tracking your income and spending, now is a great time to start!
If you budgeted throughout 2022, now is the time for an annual review.
- Look back over each category and see if the numbers align with your current goals and values.
- Did you overspend in any area? Was the overspending because of factors outside of your control like inflation? Or do you need to make some behavior modifications?
- Are there new budget categories that need to be added this year?
Your budget is the roadmap to your personal finances. An organized and concise budget can be the difference between hoping you’ll reach your financial goals and knowing you will.
Take a thorough analysis of your income and spending and fine-tune your budget for 2023.
2. Get ahead of your taxes
Preparing for tax season is one of the best ways to ensure you’re taking advantage of every tax opportunity.
- Tax Withholding: The IRS has a tool for you to estimate your upcoming tax refund or bill. You will need your (and your spouse’s, if applicable) latest paystub and information about your credits, deductions, and any additional income. The tool provides resourceful information, such as determining whether or not increasing your tax withholding will prevent you from owing money. Be sure to fill out a new W4 with any necessary changes.
- Retirement Contributions: Start by making sure you are getting your employer’s full match contribution – this is different for everyone so check with your HR department. You don’t want to leave free money on the table! Increase your chance of hitting your retirement goals by maxing out your retirement accounts with any leftover money. The IRS allows individuals to contribute up to $22,500 to their 401(k) plans. Individuals can also contribute up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re over 50 or older) to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).
- Charitable Donations: Reduce your tax bill by donating to causes and charities you care about!
- Healthcare Contributions & Spending: If you have a high-deductible healthcare plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA), consider maxing the account out for 2022 ($3,650 for individuals and $7,300 for families). If you have a Flexible Savings Account (FSA), be sure to spend all your money on qualified expenses before it resets in the new year.
- Prepare Your Documents: Whether you’ll use a tax professional or prepare your taxes yourself, save yourself a headache by preparing your documents now. Gather receipts for expenses, pay stubs, and tax forms sent out by your employer, bank, investing institutions, etc.
3. Review your insurance
Having the right amount and type of insurance is crucial to achieving financial freedom. You may discover you need more coverage to protect yourself financially, or you may be able to reduce your monthly costs. While going through your year-end financial checklist, be sure to fine-tune your insurance needs and update any beneficiary information.
Employee Benefits: Your employee benefits can be a valuable part of your financial portfolio and it’s important to know all your options.
Review all your benefits such as medical, vision, and dental coverage, profit sharing, retirement contributions, stock options, reimbursements, flexible spending accounts, and more. There could be a benefit you can start taking advantage of that you haven’t previously.
Health Insurance: Reflect on your medical expenses this year and determine if your current coverage was the right type and amount. If you had a life event this year, such as the birth of a child or marriage, your medical coverage needs to be updated.
If you rarely needed medical care but paid an exorbitant amount of money in premiums, consider switching to a high-deductible plan. On the other hand, if you have a high amount of medical needs, you’ll likely want to sick with a no/low deductible plan.
Car Insurance: You might be surprised how much money you could save by spending an hour shopping around for car insurance. There are many ways to lower your car insurance costs.
Do some research and find the right amount of car insurance for you. Then compare rates from a few different companies to find your desired coverage for the best price.
Home Insurance: The end of the year is a great time to review your home insurance policy. Newly acquired valuables, renovations, additions, safety updates, and even new pets can all affect your home insurance needs.
Life Insurance: It’s important to also review your life insurance policy because it protects your family’s financial future. A new life event, such as a change in marital status, taking out or paying off a mortgage, retiring, receiving a significant raise, etc., can change your life insurance needs. A change in your health can also affect your life insurance policy.
4. Review your portfolio
An annual portfolio review can help you determine whether or not you’re on track for your financial goals. Your portfolio is highly personalized based on your age, time horizon, risk tolerance, income, and other factors. Small changes can add up to major results – the “set it and forget it” approach should not be applied to your investments.
Take a look at all of your investments and see if your budget needs to be adjusted. Perhaps you’re making more money now and you can increase your retirement contributions from 10% to 15%. Or, maybe inflation is squeezing your budget and you need to adjust your investments to prevent going into the red each month.
Reviewing your portfolio can also help you develop an efficient tax strategy. Minimizing your tax burden can help you reach your financial goals more quickly.
5. Monitor credit and protect your identity
As part of your financial checklist, it’s a good idea to review your credit report and check your credit score, especially if you plan on making any major purchases soon. If you are not already signed up for free credit monitoring, now is a great time to enroll! Fraud prevention is an important step in protecting your finances.
You’ll want to make sure your accounts remain safe and secure. Utilize a password checkup extension on various devices to ensure your passwords are strong and protected, especially ones for your financial institutions.
Another important task in your 2023 financial checklist should be to protect your identity. Unfortunately, scams are increasingly present and you need to be protected. Signing up for low-cost identity theft protection and restoration services can help protect your finances.
Get Your Finances on Track with Lafayette Federal
At Lafayette Federal Credit Union, we provide our members with a variety of resources to help them grow their wealth, increase their financial knowledge, bank conveniently, take charge of their debt, and more.
We offer a premium savings rates, 2.02% bonus checking accounts, over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs and 5,000 shared branches, a HomeAdvantage program to help you save, buy, and sell your home, and more.