Every year, millions of Americans resolve to “do better” with their money and 2019 will be no different. According to Fidelity Investments’ New Year Financial Resolutions Study, for the tenth consecutive year the top three financial resolutions among Americans considering one are: save more (48 percent), pay down debt (29 percent) and spend less (15 percent).
Of course, if those are the same three goals as previous years maybe we are not very good at keeping them. Not so, says the survey! Of those who had a financial resolution for 2018, a whopping 74 percent of them say that they stuck with it. This may be a self-selecting group, so don’t feel bad about yourself if you were not among those who were able to deliver the results.
The three top resolutions share something in common: they require that you actually understand how much money is coming into your household and the amount that you spend. BEFORE YOU STOP READING, I AM NOT GOING TO TELL YOU TO CREATE A BUDGET! Ok, with that out of the way, here’s more good news: technology makes it much easier to track your money.
Of the free apps, Intuit’s Mint allows you to see everything in one place, from bank account balances, to credit card bills to retirement accounts. Mint also comes with a free credit score. Another free choice is Marcus by Goldman Sachs’ Clarity Money, a personal financial management tool that helps organize your financial life and uncover unwanted spending so you can redirect those funds elsewhere.
In addition to the free app world, users of You Need a Budget (YNAB) say that the $6.99/month cost (after an initial free 34-day trial) is worth it. “Yes, I probably could do all this (and more) in Excel if I put in the effort, but for a rather low price I have an easy to use app, painless sync across devices, and an interface already set up the way I'd probably set it up,” and “The peace of mind it gives me, knowing my finances are easily accessible, generally up to date, and I have a plan for the future, is well worth the cost.” The service is free for 12 months for students.
If this sounds about as much fun as having root canal and you are inclined to blow it off, here’s the problem: If you don’t know how the cash is coming in and out of your household, it’s hard to make informed decisions about your financial life. For example, how much money is really available to pay down your outstanding debt? Can you afford to push a little bit more towards your emergency reserve fund so you have that comfy 6 to 12 months of living expenses socked away? Ditto for your retirement plan or college funding.
If you already have the cash flow nailed and want to resolve to make 2019 the year of firmer financial footing, here are other ideas worth considering.
** Consider buying a $149 subscription to ES-Planner’s software. Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff developed it to help people conduct their own planning. The service uses technology to “do lifetime budgeting, calculating how much to spend, save, and insure each year to maintain your family's living standard.”
** As Cher said to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck: “Snap out of it” and once and for all, schedule an appointment with a CFP Professional, a CPA-PFS or a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Make sure that any professional you engage adheres to the fiduciary standard, where they put their clients’ interests first at all times.