Educate yourself. Find one or two podcasts or websites and commit to listening to or reading them each week, says Shelly Eweka, Senior Director, Financial Planning Strategy at TIAA, who recommends Wealth, ManagedOpens in a new window with Michael Finke and David Blanchett, or Earn Your LeisureOpens in a new window with Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings. You can also log on to TIAA’s website for a host of webinars and articles, recommends Daniel Ruppel, a Financial Planning Strategist at TIAA. “Get up to speed on a topic that you don’t understand as well, which will help you build your financial toolkit,” he says.
Commit to raising your contribution to your retirement plan. “Even if it’s just one percent more, you’re giving your future self a raise,” says Ruppel. If you really want to move the needle on your retirement goals, try increasing your contribution by one percent every month until you feel it, says Eweka. Unlike health benefits, most retirement plans allow you to dial back or increase your contributions throughout the year, so you can make changes if needed.
Do a deep dive into your expenses. One of the best ways to reach your financial goals is to really keep track of where your money is going. Thanks to a host of user-friendly budgeting apps available now (TIAA’s 360 is one example), it’s easier than ever to get a breakdown of your expenses—because who wants to comb through receipts and write them all down on a spreadsheet each week? “If you find yourself pulling money out of your savings to cover your expenses, you can see exactly where you went wrong and how you can course correct,” says Rob Stevens, a Financial Planning Strategist at TIAA. These budgeting apps can also help you determine where you might be able to trim the fat in your budget, like the money you spend on automated subscriptions or memberships. “Those are extra dollars that can be used to increase your retirement savings or pay down debt faster,” says Ruppel.
Deal with your debt. This is a twofold process, says Ruppel. First, make sure you aren’t increasing the debt you already have, and then work toward paying off what you do owe. “Tackle the high-interest debt first, and put a plan in place for when you do pay it off so you’re as financially fit as possible,” says Ruppel. (TIAA offers debt calculators and online tools to help you achieve this.) This may involve making some hard decisions, cautions Eweka. “The bottom line is that you can’t spend more than you earn,” she says. So that may mean downsizing your living situation or not taking your annual family vacation.
Hire a pro. If you don’t already have a financial planner, a new year is a good time to find one, especially if you’ve already identified your goals and need help strategizing how to achieve them. Many employers offer financial planning services (often complimentary), so start by finding out what benefits your company has in place. “And then use them,” says Eweka. Once you have a clear picture of your finances, you can move forward into the new year with confidence.