2022 was a challenging time for everyone. Investors faced high volatility in both the stock and bond markets and steep losses at times. Consumers grappled with four-decade-high inflation. The good news? A strong jobs market and excess savings from the pandemic left many in a decent financial position, despite all the turmoil.
The calendar now flips to 2023. It’s a fresh start. Setting the right goals, developing sound habits, and taking steps one at a time can lead to dramatic results. That goes for health, wealth, and beyond.
Here are the key moves and financial strategies you can take action on today to get you on the fast track toward financial freedom.
1. Write down your goals. What’s important to you?
You are unique like everyone else...as the old saying goes. But it’s true. A financial priority you strive for, or a challenge you face, probably looks a lot different than what your friends or family members feel. It helps to write down goals so that you have a higher chance of success as 2023 progresses.
Perhaps you want to pay down high-interest debt, maybe boost your retirement savings, or even save up for a goal like a down payment on a house. These are all worthwhile efforts, but step one is confronting them head-on by making them known to yourself.
2. Plan for your goals by creating a (here’s that “b” word) budget.
Only personal finance nerds like us enjoy budgeting. Tracking your income and expenses, then planning for future cash inflows and outflows feels tedious to just about everyone. But here’s the thing – you do not have to do it now and forever.
Planning for your goals through a budget helps you uncover how much money you have coming in and, usually more impactfully, where it’s going. Seeing down which rabbit holes all that cash goes makes it so easy to cut back on frivolous areas when you have a serious financial goal in place. Once positive habits are engrained, you don’t have to track everything all the time.
3. Examine your emergency fund.
You know your emergency fund? That account that holds between 3-9 months’ worth of expenses you can dip into in case there’s some kind of emergency… like an unexpected period of unemployment (looking at you 2022 layoffs), or a sudden medical issue. We recommend giving that account a once-over in case it needs to be replenished. Knowing you’re set financially just in case something unexpected comes up can give you peace of mind.
4. Do your student loan homework.
Forgiveness. Forbearance. Deferment. Oh my. The ever-complex world of student loans has become increasingly convoluted. With the average total student loan debt coming in at around $30,000, doing your homework to figure out how to manage this debt, without it weighing on your financial future, is critical. Make 2023 the year you make a solid plan for how to tackle your loans.
5. Put money to work for you in a 401(k).
Once you’re aware of your income and spending patterns, now you’re in a prime position to be a personal finance pro. It’s almost always a wise move to invest up to the match in your employer’s 401(k) plan to capture that free money. It can be like an instant 50% or 100% return on your investment. Early in the new year, establish automatic contributions that snatch the match to the fullest. You can even set up an “auto-increase” feature that bumps up your retirement contribution percentage periodically.
6. Invest through a Roth IRA.
Free money from your employer and tax-advantaged investing supercharge your path to financial freedom. A Roth IRA is an effective vehicle to get you to retirement sooner. While a traditional 401(k) offers an up-front tax deduction on your contributions, helpful for those in a high tax bracket, a Roth IRA uses after-tax dollars that once in the account can grow tax-free forever. Put it on your to-do list to use extra cash to max out your Roth. For 2023, folks 50 and under can contribute up to $6,500 to a Roth IRA.
7. Figure out your investment strategy (or let the experts do it for you).
You might already know that investing for tomorrow is good financial advice. Where a lot of people get tripped up is when they go to actually invest in stocks or other assets. There are so many individual stocks, broad funds, and new asset classes out there that make it confusing and even paralyzing to hit the buy button. The solution is often to diversify through stocks, bonds, and alternative investments like real estate and commodities and employ dollar-cost averaging. Moreover, the longer your time horizon, the more risk you can accept.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a financial expert to invest like one. Just use Allio, and let the experts take care of your asset allocation based on your personal financial goals and risk tolerance.
8. Engage in some risk management (through the right insurance).
Seeing your net worth swell when markets rise is the sexy side of personal finance. The dull area is risk management by way of insurance coverage and planning. But it’s so critical. The start of the year is an ideal time to review your policies such as health, life, auto, homeowners, disability, and umbrella coverage. Are your legacy policies still a good fit? Could you scale some back, or bundle some together to get more coverage for your money?
9. Know your employee benefits.
Companies offer so many perks that people overlook. While sipping champagne on New Year's Eve, take time to read through your employee benefits handbook. Or maybe a few days later. You might come across key programs and even more free money nobody you overlooked back on your first day on the job. A common benefit is a Health Savings Account (HSA) in which the company plops in a certain dollar amount if you contribute, much like a 401(k) match. Other helpful services like assistance with writing a will, cybersecurity protection, and mental health programs are also not uncommon these days.
10. Get your tax ducks in a row.
Make it a point to gather up all your financial paperwork from 2022. The earlier you file, the quicker you will receive your refund and the less you’ll pay for tax-filing services. The last thing you want arriving in the mail is one of those dreaded letters from the IRS on a warm summer day! (By the way, you have until Tax Day to make prior year IRA and HSA contributions!)
The Bottom Line
Let’s toast to a prosperous new year. Kicking 2023 off the right way financially involves just a few basic steps. We’re not talking about a life-changing process here. With some intentionality, a thoughtful plan, and good old-fashioned tenacity, you can get on the highway to financial independence quickly.