As the new year unfolds, this is an opportune time to reflect on your financial plan for the months and years to come. No matter your financial circumstances or goals, the dawn of the new year invites us to strategize for success and explore key financial planning issues that deserve our attention. Here are some actionable tips to continue on the journey of financial well-being for the future:
Assess the Progress You Made in 2023 Toward Reaching Your Financial Goals
The beginning of the year is a great time to look back and review the year prior. Take a snapshot of where you are today versus a year ago (and even a prior year!). It is also a great time to remember your recent accomplishments and see how you can build on them in 2024. What strategies worked well? Which ones did not?
Also, you should identify new goals for this year and/or the coming years – separate them out into short, intermediate, and long-term. Prioritize them and incorporate them into your overall plan. These could be related to certain life events you expect will likely occur to you or your family in the coming year – e.g., a move, marriage, birth, education, change in job or career, retirement, etc.
Keep in mind age milestones you and your family will reach in 2024. If you are unsure which milestones you might reach this year, reference our guide here. If you are concerned about any circumstances that could impact your financial plan this year, reach out to your respective advisor – financial advisor, tax preparer, attorney, etc. – to talk it through and see if anything can be done to help.
Review Your Income, Savings, and Expenses
A lot can change over the course of a year, and it is essential to keep your financial plan as up-to-date as possible. With that in mind, some areas to think about include:
Cash Flow – Do you expect your household income and expenses to be different this year? If so, it may be a good idea to review your cash flow plan, evaluate your actual income and expenses, and make adjustments to your spending plan as necessary. Also, are you adequately saving toward your goals? The beginning of the year is a great time to review your target savings and funding rates. You can also look back comprehensively to last year and see how your cash flow plan aligned with your income and expenses.
Boost Your Savings Before the Cutoff – If you have an IRA and are eligible to contribute to it, the IRS allows you to make a contribution before tax day (April 15). Also, if you are married and your spouse has no earned income, you could explore contributing to a spousal IRA. Since eligibility to contribute to an IRA depends on your earned income and whether you are an active participant in an employer-sponsored plan, it can get quite complicated whether this applies to you. We recommend talking to a financial professional if you are unsure. You can schedule a complimentary, no-obligation call with us here!
Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) – If you have been previously taking out RMDs or this is your first year having to take an RMD, it is worth considering the timing of those distributions to satisfy the RMD while simultaneously supporting goals. Whether it be taking the RMD in pieces throughout the year or letting compound interest work its magic to take it out later in the year, taking the time to craft the best strategy can have great benefits. Be sure also to review your withholdings with your tax preparer.
Revisit Insurance Amounts – it is a good idea to review your insurance coverage annually upon renewal. Perhaps you need to revisit your life insurance coverage, or you need a new or increased disability policy, or you should explore long-term care insurance, or you made improvements to your property recently and need to increase coverage or add riders to your homeowner’s insurance.
Gifts – If you are charitably inclined, having a conversation with your financial advisor or tax preparer about the most efficient way of doing so is a great thing to do at the beginning of the year. That way, you can ensure you are maximizing the tax benefit when donating to charities or tracking the use of your annual exclusion amount for noncharitable (i.e., natural persons like family or friends) gifts.
(Re)Create Your Net Worth Statement (Assets and Debts)
Keeping track of your net worth can be supremely impactful year after year. It can give you a significant boost of confidence to see that number tick up over time and keep you motivated to reach your goals. Naturally, the number will ebb and flow as events unfold, but updating your net worth statement at least annually helps keep you organized and focused on achieving financial freedom. With that said, here are some areas of your net worth statement to review at the beginning of the year:
Emergency Fund – Perhaps in 2023, life circumstances had you dipping into your emergency fund. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to create a plan to replenish it.
Investment Accounts – If you have not reviewed your investment accounts recently, check to see how your investments performed. 2023 was a good year for the stock market, and yields on bonds are higher than they have been in years. Do you need to review your risk tolerance? Perhaps you are being overly conservative, or conversely, you have been too aggressive and want to take a more moderate approach. Also, this is an excellent time to check your asset allocation. Maybe at the end of 2023, you did some tax loss harvesting or offset gains from the year resulting in excess cash. If you need to rebalance or otherwise adjust your portfolios, consider the tax consequences for taxable accounts and reposition yourself strategically. You may also have inefficiency from a tax standpoint with some of your holdings. Here, aset location plays a pivotal role – consider holding tax-efficient investments in taxable accounts and tax-inefficient investments in tax-advantaged accounts.
Use the Snowball Method to Eliminate Debt – If you have debts that you would like to eliminate this year, we like to use the ‘snowball’ method with our clients. This involves targeting debts with the least favorable terms first and prioritizing paying those off quickly. If you will need to borrow funds this year, see how the terms would compare to your other loans and how it will affect your cash flow and overall net worth.
Spend Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Funds – FSAs have a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy, meaning if any money is left in your FSA at the end of the year, you forfeit those funds. However, you may have been able to roll those unused funds from last year over into this year. Additionally, some FSA plans allow participants a grace period of two and a half months to use the funds from last year or lose them. If you had excess funds in your FSA from last year, check to see if your plan allows for this grace period and consider spending such funds before the expiration date.
Review Your Credit Report/Score – everyone can pull their credit reports from the three major reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) once per year without penalty. You can do this on AnnualCreditReport.com. We recommend our clients take advantage of this to monitor the reports for accuracy and ensure they are error-free. If you see a discrepancy, there is a petition process you can go through with the credit reporting agency.
Every year, things change in your life that warrant a second look at your financial picture. Laws change, life events happen, new opportunities arise, and adventures unfold. If you feel behind on some aspects of your financial life or are confused and do not know where to begin, make 2024 the year you start off on the right foot and get on track to achieving your financial goals!
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About the Author
Holzberg Wealth Management is a family-owned and operated financial planning and investment management firm based in Marin County, CA. As your financial advisors, we serve you as a fiduciary and are fee-only, so we never receive commissions of any kind. We help individuals and families like you in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and virtually nationwide with the financial decision-making process to organize, grow, and protect your assets.
** This writing is for informational purposes only. The author and Holzberg Wealth Management do not guarantee or otherwise promise any results that may be obtained from using this report. No reader should make any investment decision without first consulting their financial advisor and conducting their own research and due diligence. These commentaries, analyses, opinions, and recommendations represent the personal and subjective views of the author and do not constitute a recommendation, offer, or solicitation to make any securities transaction. The information provided in this report is obtained from sources that the author believes to be reliable. External links to third parties are being provided for informational purposes only. Holzberg Wealth Management is not affiliated with the third-party websites linked to, unless otherwise explicitly stated, and does not constitute an endorsement or approval by Holzberg Wealth Management of any of the third party’s products, services, or opinions.