Three Financial Goals to Set This Year and How to Reach Them

Three Financial Goals to Set This Year and How to Reach Them
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The start of the new year is a good time to reboot your personal finance habits to reduce your debt, save for retirement and organize your finances.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to get healthy. So this year, why not focus on your financial health? The start of the new year is a good time to reboot your personal finance habits, reduce your debt, save for retirement and organize your finances.

Regions Bank’s Joye Hehn, Community Financial Education Manager, shares her tips on how to meet your New Year’s resolutions by breaking down your financial goals into simple, achievable steps.

Reducing Debt

Outside of their mortgage, most Americans owe money on credit cards, car payments, and student loans. The average American household with credit card debt owes around $16,000. Hehn recommends breaking down your debt reduction goal into something that is “actionable, attainable, and measurable.”

Start by writing down a well-defined, quantifiable goal, like paying off your credit card by the end of the year. Then figure out how much you’ll need to pay off each month.

Once you understand how much you want to pay monthly, evaluate your budget to see where you can easily find the money by cutting expenses. “Some easy ideas are to eliminate the daily $5 gourmet coffee or purge your subscriptions,” Hehn says. If your debt is high, you might need to take more significant measures like getting a roommate, moving to reduce your rent, or replacing your current car with one that has lower maintenance and operating costs. Paying off bigger debts can seem overwhelming, but by looking at your larger budget items, you may find ways to pay down your debt more quickly.

Once you have established the amount you’ll pay off monthly, set up automatic payments and keep tabs on your account balances so this recurring payment does not overdraw your checking account.

Finally, don’t expect perfection. Everyone overspends once in a while. The key is making sure you don’t miss a loan or credit card minimum payment because that will negatively affect your credit score. “I monitor my accounts at least weekly and look at the big picture of my finances monthly to ensure that I have positive momentum,” Hehn says. “I like to review my big financial goals quarterly so I can track my progress. Realistically speaking, I do better some months than others, but I’m determined to meet my goals for the year, even if I have to adjust along the way.”

Saving for Retirement

Reducing debt sets you up well to save for retirement. Not only does it teach you the healthy habit of saving, but it also enables you to save more toward your retirement. Hehn applies the same concept to retirement savings as she does to reducing debt: Break the process into manageable steps.

The first step is to decide how much to save. There’s no one rule that works for everyone, though some experts recommend putting aside enough to replace between 70 and 90 percent of your pre-retirement income. You need to identify an amount that’s right for you based on your lifestyle, when you want to retire, your income now, and your expected income in the future. An online retirement savings calculator can help you evaluate different scenarios, such as your desired annual income after retirement and the age you want to retire.

The next step: Pay your “future self” before your “current self.” Hehn recommends setting up an automatic transfer to your retirement savings account every payday so that the money for your retirement (your future self) is put aside before you consider it discretionary income. A lot of people save what’s left over after they pay other expenses, which means they are paying themselves last.

Finally, you should consider how to invest. For that, Hehn suggests consulting a professional, like a certified financial planner. According to a 2015 study by PwC, over the past five years only 27 percent of millennials sought professional financial advice on savings and investments, yet 81 percent of them have at least one debt that is long term.

When searching for a financial professional, look at how the financial professional charges for his or her services and consider his or her qualifications and experience e.g. what certifications he or she has.

“There are a lot of resources available online, but it can be overwhelming,” Hehn noted. “Find a trusted professional to help you chart a course that is unique to your specific goals.”

Organizing Your Budget

These days, most millennials use digital platforms for banking. According to a study by Telstra, this may be the first generation that doesn’t actually have to visit a traditional bank branch, and 62 percent of American millennials said technology is very important to achieving their financial priorities.

This is good news because there are a lot of digital tools available today to help you budget, track your expenses, pay off debt, and identify deals for ongoing expenses such as insurance. Many banks also offer do-it-yourself financial management tools for budgeting, saving, managing debit, borrowing, investing, and more.

Carve out some time early in the year to evaluate the online tools, apps, and calculators that can help you organize your finances, save time, and track and achieve your goals.

You can also make an appointment with your banker, who can help you organize your finances and integrate digital tools into your plan. “Whether it’s a calculator to determine whether to pay off your debt or to save, or a digital budgeting tool, your bank probably has tools to maximize your plan for success,” says Hehn.

In the end, the key to meeting your financial goals is to establish healthy habits like monitoring your budget and sticking to your savings and retirement plans. “Over time, smart money choices become habits, and habits become second nature,” says Hehn. “Keep your eye on the prize of reducing stress about debt and savings.”

Ready for a financial refresh? Consider assessing your financial wellness to establish your baseline financial health.

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This information is general in nature, is provided for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice or relied on for any decisions you may make. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation. Although based upon information from sources believed to be reliable and accurate, Regions makes no representation or warranties with respect to the information contained herein. Opinions of authors and contributors are their own and may not reflect the position of Regions and Regions neither endorses nor guarantees any such advice, opinions, products, or services. Regions neither endorses nor guarantees any websites or companies referenced in this publication that are not owned by Regions.