Thursday, January 1, 2009

Five Financial Resolutions for 2009

I like New Year's resolutions -- even though they're often futile and left by the wayside within days, sometimes hours. Because once in a while a resolution sticks and we succeed in making real change. Here are some financial resolutions for 2009 you're welcome to adopt:

  1. Procrastinate in a productive way. We're all great at procrastinating-- I do it constantly when it comes to tedious work, household chores, doctor's appointments and other less than exciting activities. Try taking that natural ability to procrastinate and using it to postpone and maybe avoid unproductive habits, like impulsive spending. Put off buying those great new shoes for a few day; wait another month to shop for a new rug. It's likely you'll forget about the items that seemed so essential and move on. This sometimes works for binge eating too (admittedly not a financial issue). Wait an hour to eat the cookie that is calling your name (I hear one now). The craving may pass and you'll be glad you waited.

  2. Save and invest regardless of market conditions. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, saving and investing consistently is by far the best way to build wealth over your lifetime. Stopping because of market conditions (or because you have increased your spending) puts you at risk of dropping a good habit. Moreover, investing when the market is beaten up, as it is now, is like buying everything on sale. Many advisors and economists think that we are in for higher than average growth in the markets over the next few years as a result of the dramatic declines that occurred in 2008. There's no guarantee this will happen, but it's a good bet that this is a bad time to stay completely out of the equity markets.

  3. Start a family conversation about money issues. This might be with your parents, your children, your siblings or your spouse. Money is one of the last taboos -- most people would rather talk about their sex lives than discuss money with their family. Do you know if your parents have adequate resources to support themselves through their lifetimes? Have they prepared wills, durable powers of attorney and any other appropriate estate planning documents? If you explaing why, even young children can understand that saving for the future is an important family value and we can't buy everything we want just because we want it. It's much easier to learn and keep good habits when you are young than it is to change bad habits as an adult. Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to spending, saving and charitable giving? Opening the lines of communication with your family about financial matters a good way to avoid hurt feelings and potentially unwelcome surprises down the line.

  4. Have your estate planning documents reviewed. If your documents are more than five years old or you have had significant changes in your life or family structure (e.g. birth or death of an immediate family member, divorce, all children now over 21) it's likely you'll need to update your estate plan. There have been changes in estate planning laws in many states that make it important to update the language in any wills or trusts as well. And if you don't have, at a minimum, a will, a general, durable power-of-attorney, and a medical power-of-attorney you need to see an attorney who specializes in estate planning to draft and execute these basic documents. Estate planning documents that are clear and properly drafted are especially important for unmarried partners who are not protected by most states' laws.

  5. Diversify, diversify, diversify! Yes, every asset class was hit this year, but some more than others. No one can consistently predict the future (even the smartest guys in the room) and successful investing is more often than not the result of diversifying as broadly as possible and keeping your emotions out of your investments. Falling in love with a stock or a piece of property (we saw a lot of this in recent years with real estate investments) will almost inevitably break your heart and your bank.

Here's to a better year. Cheers!

Annette Simon

Copyright 2009 Garnet Group LLC

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