New Year’s resolutions for retirement

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New Year’s resolutions for retirement: Only a few days are left for 2023 to kick in, and it’s time to reset yourself. The new year is a time for reflection and setting goals. Whether you want to get in shape, learn a new skill, or make a plan to save money.   

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Maybe you like the idea of a fresh start, or perhaps you’re tired of the whole “new year, new me” mindset. As inflation rises to its highest rate in a decade, many of us are making financial resolutions for the year ahead.

Here are six things you can do to get 2023 off to a good start.

1. Create — or replenish — your emergency fund

While experts differ on how many months’ worth of expenses you should have on hand in case of need, their basic philosophy is the same: Make sure you have an emergency fund to get you through any unexpected hard times. Some experts suggest setting aside three months’ worth of expenses, while others advocate having enough in reserve to cover your expenses for up to 18 months. 

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“You want six months or more saved and readily accessible,” says Laura McHugh, vice president and client adviser at Spinnaker Trust. But don’t just keep it under your mattress, she adds: “Shop around for the best place to park this money. It’s not a good year to be complacent. There are savings accounts and short-term accounts paying 4% interest.” 

2. Pay off your credit cards

With higher prices caused by inflation over the past year, many people, including retirees, “are racking up credit-card debt,” says Craig Ferrantino, president of Craig James Financial Services. He recommends that you clear any credit-card balances before adding to your retirement fund. “The 18% or more [credit-card companies are] charging you erases any benefit of retirement savings you might be making,” he says.

Better yet, says Hawley, don’t spend more than you can afford in the first place. “You never spend money on credit cards unless you can pay them off each month,” he says. “It’s a mindset issue. Pay careful attention to how you spend money so you can accumulate wealth.” 

3. Emphasize your retirement over college savings

“The whole idea of retirement savings needs rebranding,” Ferrantino says. “It’s got the word ‘tired’ in it. It’s about future life planning — putting money away for your future. The mindset needs to change so that you budget for your ‘now’ life and your ‘future’ life.” 

Instead of seeing saving for retirement as a chore, he recommends thinking about what the life you want in retirement might look like. Then, he says, “putting money away for your future life … can seem more exciting.”

And while it’s never an easy balance, he thinks it’s a good idea to prioritize your retirement savings over college savings accounts for your children.

“Before you invest in your child’s future, invest in your own future,” he says. “Parents are the foundation of the family. They need to do everything to take care of the daily cash flow and retirement needs, then put away money for college.”

4. Check your risk allocations

If you’re close to retirement, Ferrantino recommends that you take some risk out of your portfolio. But if your retirement is further away, it’s safer to ride out the day-to-day market volatility, he says.

“Get out of the mindset of trying to find the optimal timing,” he says. “People get stuck in analysis paralysis and need to realize that just the fact that you’re doing something toward saving is a positive thing.” 

Hawley, meanwhile, urges people not to try to time the market. “A thousand points comes off the Dow — take a moment to reset your brain and slow your thoughts down so you can make the right decision,” he says. “Studies show most people make the wrong moves at the wrong time. Take a breath. Don’t sell your investment portfolio now.” 

5. Give your estate plan a checkup

“People are woefully unprepared for estate planning,” says Morgan Hill, CEO and owner of Hill & Hill Financial. “They did it 15 years ago, they’ve moved, they can’t find it, the beneficiaries may need updating. There’s a lot. Start the year off fresh and look at that,” he says.

McHugh agrees. “Create a will and an estate plan, because you just never know,” she says. “Check your beneficiaries on all your accounts and make sure everything is [the way you want it]. Things change, and you want your wishes to be current.”

6. Get a retirement tuneup with a financial adviser

One of the most important things you can do, McHugh says, is to improve your financial literacy. She also recommends meeting with a few different planners. “Get ideas and talk through some strategies with potential advisers,” she says.

Hill backs up this recommendation. “You need someone to look at your financial life strategically,” he says. “You don’t want to overreact, and you don’t want to just hang in there. Get some advice.”

7. Save more

Unsurprisingly, the top financial resolution is to save more money. There are nearly countless ways to go about this — you can increase your 401(k) contributions, set up automatic transfers to a high-yield savings account and cut back on unnecessary spending, especially during holiday shopping season. Many of the top high-yield savings accounts are currently offering APYs of 3% or more, including LendingClub High-Yield Savings and UFB Best Savings.

You can also use a credit card to your advantage. Many of the best cards offer competitive rewards and statement credits that can earn you cash back, points or miles that can be used to offset purchases. For example, the American Express® Gold Card offers an annual $120 dining credit ($10 statement credit a month) at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Terms apply. Enrollment is required.

8. Improve my credit score

If you have a less-than-stellar credit (scores below 670), make it a priority to raise it in 2023. You can improve your credit score in several ways, including paying your bills on time and in full (which may include setting up autopay), paying off debt, limiting how many new accounts you open and cutting back on spending. You may also want to consider signing up for *Experian Boost®, which is a free service that lets you get credit for paying utility, cell phone, streaming and other eligible bills on time.

9: Investing in a plan

Making an investment plan involves more than just choosing a few stocks to put money in. You have to consider your current financial situation and your goals for the future.

It’s also important to define your timeline and how much risk you’re willing to take on in order to determine your optimal asset allocation. All of these steps help mitigate any risk you might encounter in the stock market. In turn, planning before you invest your hard-earned money is extremely wise. This may require a lot of research or consulting with a financial advisor to help you through your unique financial situation.

10: Build up a retirement pot

It really is never too early to start saving for your pension. The reality is that the earlier you start to build your pot, the better.

Royal London pension specialist Helen Morrissey says: “Pensions are not just for old people. You are never too young to start a pension.”

11: Build an emergency fund

Managing unexpected circumstances such as medical emergencies, job loss, home renovations, or automobile repairs can be difficult. To prepare for such situations, you can build an emergency fund by setting aside a part of your income. An emergency fund enables you to handle unexpected financial needs without straining your regular cash flows or disrupting your financial plans.

12: Make It Realistic

If your goal is to start saving or investing, and you’ve never done it before, don’t set the bar too high. For investing, a realistic goal may be to try to save a certain amount each month or year.

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