December is a time of year that is filled with celebrations. It can feel very hectic, as we can be spending our time shopping, gift wrapping and party planning, in addition to our normal activities. The hustle and bustle can leave us feeling drained and not so merry or bright.
Even though we can be feeling the overwhelm, the end of December offers an excellent opportunity to reflect on the past year and begin planning for the year to come. It is a time to get a jump start on strategizing for reaching financial goals. Rather than waiting until the first of January to start thinking about what you might want to change, you can start the new year ready to take action!
I suggest you start with a discussion about what went well. This is the fun part and can build momentum as you reflect on the accomplishments you have made. As you reflect on these achievements, ask yourself what inspired you and kept your motivation going. Was there a theme around the goal? Knowing what triggers you to stay on track can help with the goals that are eluding you.
This is also a time to ask yourselves what didn’t go well. Were there some goals that you had that fell off the radar? When considering these, ask yourselves:
- Was this more important to one of you, rather than as a couple?
- What role did you take in working towards achieving this goal?
- What role did you take in not reaching this goal?
- Did one or both of you change your mind about this goal being a priority?
- What did you learn about yourself in not reaching this goal?
When thinking about setting financial goals, I suggest the best place to start is by asking yourselves about what you value. It’s important that your money is funding things that bring you joy and meaning in your lives. It may be that you each have some different ideas about this, but finding the “sweet spot” where you both can feel fulfilled can be a starting point in prioritizing where you are spending your money (and time).
A crucial part of your annual financial planning is your budget. Without knowing where your money is going, and when, can lead to false assumptions about what you can accomplish in the upcoming year. Here are some parameters in evaluating your household finances:
- What is the after-tax income you are working with?
- What are your fixed expenses? These are your bills that are fairly regular every month.
- How much is left over after you’ve paid your committed expenses?
- How much are you spending on food every month? I suggest breaking this number into two categories: groceries and dining out.
- To get a clear idea of this type of spending, review several months’ worth of bank statements and use different color highlighters to categorize these expenses.
- Do you have enough money in your emergency fund? I suggest 3-6 months of all of your expenses be put aside in an account that is easily accessed.
- If you are employed, are you contributing to your retirement plan? This part of your planning may be best evaluated by a Financial Advisor, who can give you feedback on how much you should be putting aside and how best to invest it.
When planning for the upcoming year, couples need to find ways of creating teamwork so that they can support the action steps they each will be responsible for and help each other stay accountable to any adjustments to spending and saving. As the year progresses, plan to have regular money talks to gauge the progress that you are making.
Planning ahead is a mindset that can jump-start your success for the upcoming year. So, take a break from the holiday commotion and spend some quality time in creating the financial goals that can lead to your best year ever!