Not Just Another Stupid New Year's Resolution Article

I have a love-hate relationship with New Year's resolutions.

On the one hand, the idea that I can use a change in the calendar as a springboard to rework my approach to life is very seductive. Of course, I never set modest -- or even remotely reasonable --goals: Starting tomorrow, I'll devote all of my nonwork time to exercise and language study, and by the end of the year I'll be fluent in French and an accomplished long-distance cyclist. And next year I'll ride the Tour de France!

Sounds easy, right? Of course, I'm 40, and I haven't biked seriously -- or studied French, for that matter -- since high school. Hmm.

You see where the "hate" comes from
It's all too easy for me to get down on myself if I set an unreasonable goal with a lot of components needing huge amounts of time and effort, and then utterly fail to stick with those components and achieve the goal. And after my first four-hour training ride through the January snow and slush, "stupid" would definitely be an apt word.

I suspect a lot of people go down this path, though maybe not on the cosmically stupid scale that I've been guilty of in past years. But when you get to resolutions involving money, you don't need to be cosmically stupid to choose unrealistic goals and then psych yourself out of achieving them.

Take a daunting situation that seems to need improvement (like, say, your retirement planning), fold in fears about loss, social status, the future, and (often) a plain lack of knowledge, and it's no wonder that so many folks who resolve to do better with their retirement savings get off course quickly.

But at the same time, getting your financial life together is important, particularly with respect to your retirement planning. And the idea of a New Year's resolution is as good a springboard as any to get yourself going. It's easy to get daunted, and I can't do the work for you, but I can point you to the best retirement tune-up checklists I've ever seen. And if you sit down and work through them, you'll satisfy some pretty ambitious financial resolutions -- with a minimum of drama and fear.

Go get 'em!
This month's issue of the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter, available online at 4 p.m. ET today, is devoted entirely -- and I mean entirely -- to a series of checklists that will guide you through a thorough retirement tune-up without fear -- and will help tune up the rest of your financial life at the same time. It starts with a simple checklist of basics:

  • Get organized by putting all your important personal financial documents in one place. Even if you're normally a disorganized klutz like me, keeping it all together will prevent you from having to hunt for what you need, tempting you not to manage your finances at all.
  • Have a specific asset allocationto make sure that your risk exposure is in line with both your goals and your comfort level. The new issue of Rule Your Retirement links to special online tools that make it a simple task to find your ideal allocation.
  • Review your insurance coverage to see if it still makes sense. If your kids have grown up or your financial situation has changed, your insurance may be out-of-date with your needs. Although it's not always thought of as part of retirement planning, your insurance is a key part of your -- and your family's -- future. A quick annual review takes only a few minutes and will keep you on track.

There's more inside the newsletter, of course. After that basic list, there's a series of lists custom-tailored to people in different stages of their work life: more than 10 years from retirement, approaching retirement, about to retire, and in retirement.

Now, working your way through these lists won't necessarily help you with specific investment questions. You won't find out whether it's time to sell Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) as it hovers around $200 a share, or buy Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) now that it's below $20. You won't learn whether financial firms like Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) have hit bottom yet, or whether the latest turnaround attempt at General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) will finally work. But the lists will help you stay on top of things; and include some points you might not have thought of -- when to take a sabbatical from work, when to think about refinancing (and when not to refinance) your home, or why holding an annual yard sale might be a good idea.

The best part is, you can check it all out for free. If cleaning up your finances is on your New Year's list, do yourself a favor and grab a complimentary one-month guest pass to Rule Your Retirement. The pass will give you full access to today's new issue, all back issues, all of the members-only resources that support the checklists in the new issue, our special members-only discussion board for your questions and ideas, and a unique set of planning tools to help you create your own plan for retirement.

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