Yes, indeed, another year has passed and perhaps, like so many of us, you realize that you still have financial goals that you’ve yet to attain. If this describes you, I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts to help. The first is to “start where you are.” One of the great things about finance is that there’s always more we can learn, set our sites on, and achieve. But this doesn’t have to be an overwhelming thought when we realize that at any given moment we can begin again. If you’re ready to “start where you are”, begin by taking a sheet of paper (or a spreadsheet) and drawing four columns.
Column 1: “What am I doing financially right now?” If you have a financial planner you’re working with, perhaps have this conversation with them. If not, you can write out the answer to this question, or if you have a spouse or partner, have the conversation with them. For instance, “saving in 401k” and “making car payments”. This is such an important step in identifying where you are, as it becomes the starting point for where you intend to go next.
Column 2: “What do I like about what I’m doing financially?” Next to the items you’ve listed in Column 1, you can now review the list and next to the items you like, describe what you like about them. For instance, next to “saving in 401k” you could write, “deferring taxes and saving for retirement”.
Column 3: “What do I not like about what I’m doing financially?” Next to the items you’ve listed in Column 1, you can now write a description of what you don’t like. For example, next to “making car payments” you could write, “paying interest on car payments”. This example implies, of course, that perhaps there is a more effective way to paying for your car, such as paying cash. This idea leads us to the last column.
Column 4: “What do you want to see improved financially?” Now, next to the items where you wrote what you don’t like, come up with a possible solution to address the issue. For example, next to the “paying interest on car payments” you could write, “begin saving cash to buy next car outright,” or “research alternative methods for purchasing cars”. Note that it’s possible that some items in Column 4 may not have counterparts in the other columns. For example, you may simply want a broad goal such as “Talk to my financial advisor”.
In the end, the process of solidifying where you are and where you want to go can be a very enlightening experience, one that will give you new direction and hope for a better financial life in the year ahead.