Happy new year! It’s the beginning of 2023, and you may be working on your new year’s resolutions. Many individuals select financial wellness as one of their top goals every year, but it can be tricky to know where you can start. Don’t worry - we’re here with a helpful financial planning checklist and roadmap to help you check in with the state of your finances and general life planning.
It’s natural to start thinking about your personal goals at the end of the new year, and at the start of the new year, it’s time to set those goals into action. This is often the hard part: how do you actually achieve those lofty goals?
Many experts agree that setting large, non-specific goals such as “achieve financial wellness” isn’t helpful. Rather, you should determine smaller, achievable, and actionable milestones that will eventually add up to the bigger picture. That way, you won’t feel overwhelmed and are much more likely to stay on track.
To get started, we recommend going through the following financial planning checklist. It contains a series of reflection questions and tasks. They’re designed to help you identify granular areas of improvement for your finances so that you can set achievable goals and take aligned actions.
How are you tracking against any financial goal you set each year?
Did you set any financial goals at the beginning of last year? How were you tracking them? What did you like or dislike about the tools you were using?
Tracking your financial goals provides both motivation and accountability. There are many ways to track your finances, including free applications and old-school spreadsheets. The key is finding the right tool that you’ll actually use habitually so that you don’t drop off part way through the year.
Evaluate what tools you’re currently using. If you lost motivation part way through the year, it could be a sign that it wasn’t the right tool for you. There are many personal finance apps that are designed for budgeting and tracking personal wealth, so take some time to find the one that fits your needs. You might even venture to create your own tracking system using a spreadsheet.
Review your recent spending habits
It’s time to address the skeletons in your closet and clear out those cobwebs. It’s easy to feel a bit of shame when we review our spending habits. Regretting that late-night Instagram purchase that you didn’t need? Cursing at yourself for swiping your credit card at the mall when you should have been saving?
Don’t worry - you’re not alone. Many financial experts believe that overspending tends to happen when we feel psychologically restricted. Try something new this year! Instead of shaming yourself every time you buy something frivolous, consider building in some “fun” into your budget. Set a modest monthly budget that you can spend on anything that isn’t considered essential. This can activate the reward center of your brain and also hold you accountable. You’re much less likely to overspend in this area because you feel so restricted and deprived. It’s the “all or nothing” mindset that often gets savers into trouble.
Check in on any outstanding debt & debt repayment progress (credit cards, loans, etc)
Spend some time creating a list of your outstanding debts, and review how much you were able to repay last year. Congratulate yourself if you made any progress, and evaluate what happened if you fell off track.
Recommit yourself to paying down more debt this year. Reducing your debt has many benefits, including reducing stress, improving your credit score, and freeing up more money that you can put toward other goals or even spend guilt-free.
If you’re eligible, consider transferring balances to a new account that offers zero interest or a lower interest rate to help you pay off your debt faster. If you don’t have room in your budget to pay off your debt, consider creating additional income sources.
How are your savings accounts doing?
What is the status of your savings accounts? An emergency fund is the foundation to any successful financial plan. Life is designed to throw curve balls at you, and there’s no way around it. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you probably experienced first-hand how much it can throw you off your financial goals.
Staying on top of your finances will feel much less stressful if you have an emergency cushion to fall back on for unexpected expenses. That way, when you do get a curveball, such as a flat tire that has to be replaced, or that auto registration renewal that you totally forgot about, you’ll have the funds ready. Don’t feel bad about dipping into your emergency fund — that’s what it’s there for.
In 2023, resolve to replenish and grow your savings.
Do you have any upcoming large expenses you need to start preparing for?
Another great way to set yourself up for financial success is to look forward into the future. Do you have any upcoming large expenses that you can start preparing for now?
For instance, how much did you spend on holiday gifts for friends and family just a few weeks ago? Do you have a large trip coming up later this year? These are examples of larger expenses that don’t make it onto your monthly budgeting plan but should still be accounted for. Draw up a rough estimated amount to set aside for larger expenses this year and make a plan to start tucking away funds for it today. Not only will this help prevent you from dipping into your emergency fund for non-emergencies, you’ll feel so much less stressed when it’s time to buy those plane tickets.
How are your investments performing?
If you’ve gotten into the investing game, now is a good time to check in on the health of your portfolio. Many financial markets fell sharply in 2022, so now is a good time to consider fine-tuning your investment mix. Make an appointment with your financial advisor to rebalance your mix of stocks, bonds, and other investments. (If you use an app with a robo-advisor, then check in to see if the app has provided you with automated recommendations to approve.)
Is there more you could be doing for retirement?
Next, take a look at your retirement savings. Are you on track to max out your allowable contributions this year? Are you taking advantage of any employer-matching programs? If your answer is “no” to either of these questions, it may be time to make a change. One of the best ways to boost your long-term financial health is to optimize your retirement savings.
Experts advise saving 10 to 20 percent of your gross salary. Consider increasing your monthly pre-tax contributions so that you’re hitting at least 10 percent. Already there? It may be time to knock up your contributions so that you start inching toward that 20 percent mark. If your company offers any retirement contribution matching plans, be sure to enroll and meet any requirements to qualify.
Insurance & healthcare
Once you’ve finished reviewing that status of your finances, go the extra mile by reviewing your insurance and healthcare policies.
Review insurance needs & possible adjustments
We often purchase insurance plans and consider them a done deal. Examples of insurance policies include health insurance, auto insurance, renters or homeowners insurance, and life insurance. However, what we forget is that insurance plans are offered by many companies that are competing for our business. That means that there’s always room for improvement, even though it can feel like a pain to obtain new policies.
Call different insurance companies and ask for a free quote. You may be surprised to find that a lower, competitive rate is now available that may not have been available last year. If you find a similar insurance plan that offers comprehensive coverage at a lower rate, it’s a no brainer to make the switch.
New year, new you. A real sign of “adulting” is to include essential life planning in your purview of holistic financial wellness. An activity that can bring real meaning and value to your financial planning vision is to start creating your legacy. This is done through setting up your Estate Plan.
Review or update beneficiary designations
Chances are, you’ve already started participating in some estate planning activities without even knowing it. When you sign up for certain financial accounts or insurance policies that offer payouts, the company will often ask you to name a beneficiary. This is called a beneficiary designation, and it’s an important part of your estate.
If anything were to happen to you, the company that holds your account will automatically forward any financial proceeds out of that account to the beneficiary that you named. This could be your spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child, or any other loved one of your choosing.
That’s why it’s critical to habitually review and update your beneficiary designations.
Is it time to finally create that trust or will?
If you needed a sign to finally create that Trust or Will, here it is.
The process of planning your estate (and thus getting your affairs in order) has a wide variety of undeniable benefits. This is a topic that deserves its own discussion; we recommend checking out our guide, Why You Need An Estate Plan. It includes 8 motivating reasons why you should create your Trust or Will now, such as avoiding probate, taking advantage of major tax benefits, and protecting your loved ones.
Update or create your estate planning with Trust & will
Using a financial planning checklist such as the one we provided above can help you conduct a thorough review of your finances and identify areas for improvement. By getting very specific on what needs to change, you can better set your SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.) Doing so will help you stay on a better track this year so that you actually achieve your goals in 2023!
If you feel motivated to create your estate plan, why wait? At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement options today!
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