The end of the year is finally on its way, and you know what that means: It's time to reflect on how your financial goals and dreams panned out in 2014. Did everything go as planned?
If you're like most people, many of your financial aspirations simply fell to the wayside as the year progressed. Still, if you hope to make a positive financial change in 2015, you're not alone. A recent study from Fidelity found that 54 percent of Americans say they consider financial resolutions.
Whether you're happy with the direction you're headed or not, nearly everyone has some room for improvement. Fortunately, the dawning of the brand new year can serve as an opportunity for a fresh start when it comes to your financial goals. Here are five financial moves everyone should consider making in 2015:
Raise your standards (and your savings rate). According to the Fidelity 2014 New Year Financial Resolutions Study, which surveyed over 2,000 adults ages 18 and older, the biggest financial goals for Americans consistently involve saving more money. And it's easy to see why. Having more money saved and invested could lead to increased financial security, the ability to weather financial storms and even the privilege to retire earlier than planned. No matter your financial situation, raising your savings rate is always a noble goal -- and one worth exploring.
Leave debt behind. For most people, 2015 will be brighter and more prosperous if they can leave their debts behind for good. If becoming debt-free is one of your goals, start by taking a hard look at your monthly spending and seeing if there are any obvious expenses you can cut. Look for the low-hanging fruit -- how much money you're spending at restaurants, for example, or how much money you're shelling out for entertainment. Look for places you can save, and throw any extra money you can find toward your debts until they're gone for good.
Revisit your retirement plans. A recent study from Bankrate found that 36 percent of Americans aren't saving for retirement at all. So if you're saving for retirement in any sort of capacity, you're already ahead of the game. Still, it might not be enough. If you save for retirement in a work-sponsored 401(k) plan, start by making sure you're saving at least enough to get your full company match. After that, push your retirement saving percentage upward as far as it can go -- just until it feels uncomfortable. Save, save and keep saving. One day you'll be glad you did.
Create a monthly budget. A monthly budget is the cornerstone of any successful financial plan. Why? Because having a budget forces you to plan how you spend your hard-earned dollars -- before they accidentally spend themselves. To get started, sit down and list your monthly expenses and compare it against your monthly income. Create reasonable spending limits for the categories that cost you the most -- things like groceries, entertainment and transportation. Explore any areas where you might be able to save, and make plans to do just that.
Start an emergency fund. If you don't have an emergency fund, you're already at a disadvantage. Because as we all know, life happens: cars break down, furnaces quit working and surprise medical bills materialize when we least expect them to. Having an emergency fund with three to six months worth of expenses can protect you from falling victim to life's uncertainties. So when life happens, you're prepared.
The end of 2014 can be much more than that; it can also be a new beginning -- a time to think about what you really want out of life and create actionable goals to help you get there. So craft your goals wisely and set yourself up for a year of success. Meanwhile, don't let last year's failures continue into the new year and beyond -- the past should stay there.
Make the right moves, and you could end the year in a much better place than where you started, but only if you keep moving forward.
Holly Johnson is the founder of personal finance website, Club Thrifty, which provides tips for frugal living, budgeting, and more. Holly also writes about frugality and travel at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and her other website, Travel Blue Book.
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