At the beginning of each year, we like to provide some guidance to help you start your financial year off in the right direction. Many of these tips are the same year after year, however, updates are provided given market conditions and IRS rules. All of these are very achievable and will require some effort to accomplish, but they can lead to major benefits. Hopefully many of you have already turned some, if not all, into good habits to carry forward in the new year and beyond.
- Review Last Year’s Spending
If you had a budget in place in 2023, review it and make modifications based on layering in last year’s actual income and expenses and adjustments to financial goals. Evaluate those variances with consideration given to the inflationary environment, which certainly impacted this past year. This analysis helps you gain a full understanding of where you are financially and plan more effectively for the new year. You may also find a need to change the budget style to one that is more beneficial and motivating for you. If you have not been operating off a personal budget, there is no time like the present to get started! More on budgeting in Tip #5.
- Review Your Retirement Savings
How much are you currently setting aside for retirement? Starting in 2024, the maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) will increase from $22,500 to $23,000. Are you over the age of 50? You can save an additional $7,500 in “catch-up” contributions in 2024.
In addition to 401(k)s, you could also save with Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) – either Roth or traditional pre-tax – with the annual limit increasing to $7,000 in 2024 with a catch-up of $1,000 for those over 50.
Contributions to Roth IRAs are subject to income tests, and tax-deductible contributions to traditional IRAs, depending on whether you or your spouse are covered under an employer retirement plan, are also subject to income limitations. However, if neither spouse is covered, there is no income limit to making tax-deductible contributions.
And if you are married and your spouse does not work, you can still contribute to a Spousal Roth IRA, subject to the same income limitations mentioned above.
You have until April 15, 2024, to make your 2023 contributions. Be sure to reach out to your financial advisor and or tax preparer to discuss further.
- Review Beneficiary Designations
Be sure you review the beneficiaries listed on your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and annuities to confirm that they are still appropriate or if any changes need to be made. Remember, beneficiary designations pass outside of the direction of your will and/or trust. In addition to designating a primary beneficiary, be sure to name contingent beneficiaries as well to cover any unexpected contingencies. This can be a complicated topic, so you may want to discuss it with a trusted individual, most likely your financial advisor.
- Review Your Investment Strategy & Financial Goals
As we turn the page on another year, make sure to review your investment portfolio and your asset allocation to ensure that it is still in alignment with your financial goals. Whether you are planning for retirement, helping your family with education funding, or purchasing a new home, double-check how you are invested to be confident you are on the right path to achieving them.
If needed, seek professional guidance. These items can quickly become overwhelming and complex. Our colleagues at Strategic Wealth Partners (“SWP”) can assist you in developing your financial objectives and constructing investment strategies to achieve your financial goals. SWP’s goal is to remove the complexity that comes with managing wealth and deliver simple solutions.
If you’d like to learn more about SWP, reach out to your team at MPB or check out the SWP website.
- Create Your Budget for the New Year
In conjunction with creating goals, create your budget to help you accomplish both these short-term and long-term goals. A clear budget with detailed categories can help you set guidelines for what you can afford to spend and help identify areas where you could cut back, as well as ensure you are saving sufficient funds to meet your goals.
Having both a primary and secondary savings plan is ideal. A primary plan is for emergencies, i.e., job loss, car wreck, or medical issues. That should cover 3-6 months of expenses, so it does not disrupt your budget. The secondary plan is discretionary savings, say you want to plan a big trip or buy a home. Typically, these are events that are 3-5 years down the road.
A key financial goal for the coming year that should also be incorporated into your budget, if applicable, should be to reduce or completely pay down any personal debt you carry. The most common source of personal debt is credit cards and certain types of loans. If market interest rates continue to go in an upward direction, so will your interest and payment on these debts. Once you can clear up the debt, paying your full credit card balance on time each month is critical so you do not end up in the same situation. This will also help improve your credit score and your overall financial (and probably personal) health.
- Make Progress Toward Organizing Your Financial Life
The overarching objective here is to position your personal finances in an organized manner and create good habits as you move forward to ensure you reach your financial goals. There is time involved in this process, and with so many demands on that precious commodity, it is good to know there are resources available to help you track your progress and be a second set of eyes and hands. The MPB team can do just that. We can help by cleaning out and organizing your paper and digital files, setting you up in a financial application to monitor your income and expenses, working with you to create and hold you accountable to a budget and savings plan, or overseeing more routine tasks such as bill pay, cash flow management and reconciling bank statements.
Taking time to review these six tips is a great way to start your year off financially. Again, you do not have to be alone in this undertaking. The team at My Personal Bookkeeper, along with your trusted financial advisor, can guide you in your journey, hold you accountable to your goals, and be your partner in achieving financial success and well-being. Visit our website or call us at (847) 972-6822 to learn more about ways we can help.
About the Authors:
Eric O’Brien, CFP®
Financial Planner at Strategic Wealth Partners
Eric works with clients to provide a comprehensive understanding of their financial situation while advising them on how to best achieve their short-term and long-term financial goals. He enjoys working in a team-based environment that is centered around acting in the best interest of the client.
Community Outreach & Development Manager at My Personal Bookkeeper
Lisa focuses on community outreach, prospect intaking, and marketing for the personal bookkeeping service line. Her responsibilities include creating and nurturing relationships with professional partners, providing direction and content for online and print marketing, responding to inquiries, and onboarding new clients.