Tomorrow is the first day of 2006! It’s a time for new beginnings, a time to quit your old bad habits and change for the better. As with dieting, exercise and other New Year’s resolutions, financial resolutions are not always easy and they certainly aren’t fun. But you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.
What components of your personal financial plan need updating or improvement this year? For some of you, 2006 might be the year you establish a financial plan for the very first time. Where do you start? To help you get started, here’s a checklist of the most important components of a personal financial plan. In each area, you should set goals and work on them over the course of the coming year. Over the next few months, I’ll be delving a little deeper into several of these topics, so feel free to email any questions you may have.
– Household Budget. Establishing a household budget (and sticking to it) can help you avoid overspending and unnecessary credit usage. If you carefully take a look at your monthly expenditures, you may be surprised to find out where all the money goes.
– Property and Liability Insurance. You should take a careful look at your auto and homeowner’s insurance at least once a year. Make sure you’re carrying more than the minimum liability limits for auto insurance – the Colorado minimums aren’t enough to cover the costs of a serious car accident today. Be sure that your homeowner’s limits have kept pace with the increased value of your home. If you’re a renter, consider buying renter’s insurance – it’s very affordable and can save you a bundle in the event of a theft or if you’re sued for an injury on your premises.
– Emergency Savings. How long could you manage to pay your bills if you were temporarily out of work? As a general rule of thumb, you should have enough funds to keep your household afloat for 5-8 months. It doesn’t have to be cash in the bank – a credit line or short-term investments that can easily be sold to generate cash can also serve this purpose.
– Credit Management. American household finances would be a lot healthier if not for high-interest credit cards. While "plastic" is certainly more convenient than carrying cash, the money you spend on interest could be put to much better use. Credit reform this year will require the minimum payment on credit cards to include a little more repayment of the outstanding balance than previously was the case. But your New Year’s resolution on credit should go further – make it your goal to pay off high-interest accounts.
– Wills and Life Insurance. If you have dependents, you should have a plan for protecting them from financial hardship in the event of your death. A surprising percentage of American adults do not have valid wills in place. If you’re one of them, this is a serious oversight and should be handled immediately. Even if you don’t have much in the way of wealth or assets to transfer, you need to designate someone as guardian for your children. You should also have sufficient life insurance to meet their financial needs. The cheapest alternative is term life insurance.
– Retirement Plan. Take advantage of employer-sponsored opportunities for tax-deferred saving. If you don’t have an employer retirement plan, consider starting an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
– Saving and Investment If you’ve got everything else in place, then you can begin to think about establishing a plan for building your wealth through saving and investing. Depending on where you are on the other items, don’t feel bad if this goal gets put off until 2007.
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Vickie Bajtelsmit, Professor of Finance, Colorado State University College of Business, firstname.lastname@example.org, (970) 226-1473