Making Financial Resolutions? Look Back at Last Year

Each new year brings the chance for a fresh start, and the opportunity to improve your financial picture. As you make financial resolutions for 2012, looking back at what happened last year can help you make some positive changes this year.

Automate your retirement savings

In 2011: The economic slowdown took its toll on retirement savings.

In 2012: While the economy–and its impact on financial markets–may be out of your hands, you can still look for ways to increase your retirement savings. First, determine whether you’re leaving any money on the table. If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) or a 403(b), contribute the maximum amount you can–particularly if your employer matches some or all of your contributions.

Contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan can help you save more consistently. Because your contributions are deducted automatically from your salary each pay period, you won’t be tempted to skip one now and then. And this year, why not resolve to steadily increase your retirement contributions? Your employer may allow you to sign up for automatic contribution increases based on a certain schedule or triggering event (e.g., annually or whenever your pay increases).

If you’re self-employed or contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA on your own, you can still automate your contributions by having money sent directly from a savings or checking account to your retirement account.

Plan ahead for a cash crunch

In 2011: According to the Federal Reserve, use of consumer credit rose in 2011 after falling for two straight years.

In 2012: If you’ve reigned in your spending but are still burdened by debt (especially credit card debt), your lack of emergency savings may be partly to blame. For example, even if you pay much more than your monthly minimum credit card payment, you’ll be caught in an endlesscycle of debt unless you can avoid using your credit card for new expenses. Resolve to have at least three to six months of your living expenses set aside in a liquid account such as a savings or money market account so that you have cash on hand to pay for unexpected expenses (e.g., costly car or home repairs, large medical bills) instead of racking up new credit card debt and interest charges.

Review your investments

In 2011: Market volatility was the norm.

In 2012: You can’t control the market, but you can control your response to market volatility. Is your asset allocation still in line with your investment goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance? Is it time to rebalance your allocation in light of changing market conditions and/or your changing needs? Are you taking appropriate advantage of available investment products or offerings? Reviewing your portfolio periodically can help you stay on track.

Check your insurance coverage

In 2011: Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires were widespread.

In 2012: The federal government issued more disaster declarations in 2011 than in any other year on record, serving as a reminder that it’s important to review your property and casualty coverage to make sure you’re adequately protected. Is there coverage you really should have (e.g., personal umbrella liability, renters insurance, or flood protection), but don’t?

Update your estate plan

In 2011: New estate and gift tax laws took effect.

In 2012: Your estate plan should be reviewed in light of the changes made last year to estate and gift tax laws. Certain life events, such as changes in employment, family circumstances (marriages, divorces, births, illness or incapacity, and deaths), or even the valuation of your estate, may also affect your estate plan.