A dozen financial resolutions for 2012

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:10

    The new year has just begun so there is still time for resolutions. Of course, it's always a good time to focus on investing and retirement planning. Beth Blecker, CEO of Eastern Planning, runs the business with her son, the company's president Matthew Blecker. The two offer the following 12 financial planning resolutions that should help people take control of their financial future in 2012. 1. Have a clear, concise financial goal for 2012. It isn't good enough to say, "I want to have my credit card paid down and more money in the bank." Instead, you should say, "I have the balance on my credit card paid down to $0, over $5,000 in my savings account, and a fully funded IRA." 2. Prioritize your debts. Not all debt is created equal. Make a list of your liabilities and organize them by the annual interest rate. Those with the highest rates (most likely your credit card debt) should be paid off immediately. It does no good to invest money while you are paying 19 percent or more each year. Some debt is "good" debt. A debt is "good" if it brings you income. If you buy a rental property, you're paying a mortgage, but that's considered a "good" debt because you're getting passive income from the rent payments. 3. Open an IRA. If you haven't done so already, open an individual retirement account (or IRA for short). Your financial planner or accountant should be able to tell you whether a traditional or Roth IRA is better for you. Both offer important tax advantages that can add up to a significant amount of money by retirement. You have until April 15, 2012 to open an IRA for the 2011 tax year. 4. Enroll in an Automatic Savings Plan. Automatic savings plans are now offered for everything from brokerage accounts to bonds. Simply call your financial advisor and tell him/her you want a certain amount of money withdrawn from your checking or savings account each month, on a certain date, and deposited into your investment account. This way, you are forced to save because the cash is drawn directly from your bank before you can get your hands on it. 5. Review your retirement plans at work. Make sure that your contributions are as large as you can afford. Pay yourself first. If it isn't in your paycheck you may never miss it. 6. Close unnecessary accounts. Banks and financial institutions charge fees for everything under the sun. Is it really necessary to have several credit or checking accounts? Although there are exceptions, in the vast majority of cases the answer is a firm no! To put things into perspective: Imagine your bank charges you $8 each month for your checking account. In 30 years, that $8 will have added up to more than $2,880! 7. Collect your change. Any time you make purchases with cash, only spend whole dollar amounts. If you go to the grocery store and your ticket comes to $67.39, pay $70 in cash and pocket the change. The first thing you should do when you go home is throw the money in a large container (empty water jugs are perfect.) If you adhere to this policy and don't spend any of the change, you are likely to save several thousand dollars over the course of a year. 8. Give money. One of the most effective ways to realize the value of money is to give it. The next time you get your paycheck, take five percent of your salary in cash (the greenbacks in your pocket will make it seem far more real than if you simply wrote a check or used a debit card). Walk into a coffee shop and anonymously pay for the other customers in line. It is a powerful and effective way to change other people's lives for the better while giving you a better sense of freedom financially. Suddenly, you realize just how much promise $20 contains. 9. Keep track of your spending. One way to do this is to begin using personal finance software. Knowledge is power. There are many personal finance software packages available that can teach you a great deal about how and where your money is spent. 10. Read a financial book each month. If you want to learn to cook, you read cookbooks. If you want to learn to fix an engine, you ask someone to show you. The printed word is amazing in that it allows you to communicate directly with the most brilliant financial minds of the past century. A great recommendation for your first financial read of 2012 is "The Retirement Savings Time Bomb.. and How to Defuse It" by Ed Slott (Jan. 2012, Viking Adult). 11. Manage expectations. It's neither the bulls nor the bears that you need to beware of — it's the pigs. Although we were blessed with extraordinarily high rates of return in the 1990s, they were just that: Extraordinary. Managing our expectations is just facing reality. Whenever we do even a little bit better than the averages with a little less risk, we are doing very well. 12. Remember it's not what you make, it's what you keep. The direction of taxes — income, estate, and/or local — will likely be higher over time. Despite all the hype, our federal, state and local tax burdens will probably not become smaller; the only thing that may change is how they camouflage the increase. If your tax planning isn't current, it's as good as non-existent. For more information on Eastern Planning, visit www.easternplanning.com. The company has offices in Rockland and Westchester counties, New York.