It’s never too late to start working on financial resolutions

January 26, 2014 

Good intentions are what New Year’s resolutions are all about. There’s the usual kind: Lose weight; quit smoking; learn a new language; spend more time with the kids.

And then there are the money-minded, dollars-and-cents resolutions. In a recent survey by Fidelity Investments, 39 percent of adults said that New Year’s resolutions about money were easier to keep than most others.

The top financial resolves: Save more money (54 percent), pay off debt (24 percent), spend less (19 percent), stick to a budget (12 percent) or reduce credit card debt (8 percent).

For more specifics, we asked some experts for their favorite resolves for 2014:

GET ORGANIZED: Tackling the overload of financial paperwork can be daunting. For some, it’s simply a matter of sorting it into file folders: Bills to Pay, 2014 Taxes, Donation Receipts, Credit Card Statements. That way, it’s readily accessible, not stuffed in a drawer or piled on your kitchen counter.

“Paper in a home office is one of the biggest challenges,” said Grace Bamlett, owner of Organized Outcomes in Orangevale, Calif. She recommends creating 12 file folders for monthly bills, labeling them January through December. The following year, when the first January bill goes in, you can shred the old one, unless it’s needed for taxes.

For those who like visual cues, she suggests buying colored files: Purple for bills, blue for health insurance, green for investments, etc.

Buy a “good quality” filing cabinet, she said, not a cheap version that’s apt to jam, break or tip over. And don’t get hung up on formal labels. “Make your files speak to you: Use labels like ’Stupid Stuff I Gotta Do,’” if that works.

It’s also a good time to start gathering your 2013 tax paperwork, everything from last year’s charitable donations to childcare deductions. Sorting it now can save a lot of last-minute scrambling ahead of the April 15 tax-filing deadline. And further eliminate the paper mountain by shredding old utility bills and credit card statements once you’ve cleared them with your monthly or end-of-year statement.

‘DECLUTTER’ INVESTMENTS: If you have multiple bank and investment accounts scattered among several financial institutions, now’s the time to consolidate them, says Jane Bryant Quinn, a longtime personal-finance columnist and author who writes for AARP’s monthly magazine. “Everyone is better off if they simplify their financial lives,” Quinn said in an email. She suggests making a list of all your accounts: annuities, mutual funds, bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement funds.

If you have a couple of IRAs, roll them into one. If you have a handful of checking, savings or money-market accounts, consider putting them under one roof.

TRY TECH TOOLS: Maybe this is the year to try one of the personal finance online tools, like Mint.com or Manilla.com, which help organize your financial life by tracking your spending/saving, monitoring your accounts, setting financial goals. They’re also free. A new entrant is Finovera.com, whose money tools include alerts when a credit card charge is duplicated or your utility bill seems unusually high.

Also, consider signing up with your bank or credit union for email or text alerts when an account is running low or a bill is coming due.

TRACK YOUR PENNIES: Not literally, of course. But if you’ve never tracked your daily spending, it can be an eye-opener. Write down all of your spending for two weeks, from your morning coffee to fast-food drive-thrus to weekend movies with the kids, said Jana Castanon, spokeswoman for Apprisen, a Columbus, Ohio-based network of consumer credit counseling centers.

Why two weeks? “Any longer than that, people lose interest. It’s to figure out where you’re nickel-and-dime-ing yourself. ... After two weeks, you’ll have a general idea of your spending patterns and can see where you can cut back.”

BUMP UP RETIREMENT: Increase what you’re socking away for retirement. If your company offers a match for your 401(k) contribution, be sure you’re putting in enough to hit that match, which is essentially free money. Or simply boost your current retirement contribution by 1 percent, especially if you got a pay raise.

Claudia Buck writes for The Sacramento Bee

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