As the snow falls and the time comes to throw out those old 2006 calendars, many people's thoughts turn inward in contemplation of ways they can improve their lives. For me, it has become an annual ritual to see the influx of new people working out at my health club during January; by February, attendance is usually back to normal. Resolutions are easy to make but hard to keep.
Still, though, in order to make a real difference in your life, sometimes you just have to pick a few things to do and then do them. With that in mind, here's a list of 10 things you can do to make 2007 the best year of your financial life.
1. Know where you are.
As your December account statements start coming in, now is a great time to figure out exactly where you stand with your finances. By making a simple personal balance sheet of all your assets and liabilities, you can calculate your net worth and get a basic picture of your financial health.
2. Control your debt.
Too many people let their debt control them. Even if you can't get rid of your debt with a wave of a magic wand, you can still take charge of your financial situation by looking for the best interest rates on your mortgage, home equity loans, car loans, and credit card debt. Whether it's taking advantage of the low credit card rates that put platinum cards from Capitol One
3. Save for a rainy day.
If you've been living from paycheck to paycheck, you know just how devastating unexpected expenses can be both to your stress level and your bank account. Squirreling away enough emergency cash to cover your costs of living for even a couple of months can save you a fortune in late fees and finance charges, not to mention bring you peace of mind.
4. Have a plan.
Once you get your basic finances in order, it's time to turn your attention to the future. You can't reach your financial goals if you don't know what they are. Take some time and think about what's really important to you, figure out which of your goals take priority over others, and look into what you need to do to reach them.
5. Start a retirement account.
If you've been putting off opening up an IRA or starting to make contributions to your 401(k) at work, now's a good time to get started. If you start early, even just $20 a month can grow to almost $100,000 in 35 years at 11%. Add in a company match and profit sharing, and you can't afford not to start saving.
6. Buy a mutual fund.
Whether you're saving for retirement, educational expenses for your kids, or any other long-term savings goal, you'll probably want to take a look at mutual funds. Funds give you diversified holdings even with small investments, and they offer a wide range of investment types. Guidance from experts like the Fool's own Shannon Zimmerman can help you find a fund that's right for you.
7. Plan your taxes.
Tax laws are complicated, and it's easy to make mistakes that can cost you time and money. By being aware of tax issues throughout the year, you'll find it much easier to gather the information you need to get your returns done well before the dreaded April 15 rolls around.
8. Analyze a stock.
Once you've mastered the basics of investing, you should consider moving into the big leagues by taking a look at individual stocks. From the largest blue-chip stocks like ExxonMobil
9. Invest in something different.
If you've primarily focused your investments on big American companies, you should consider looking beyond your comfort zone. Although the superheated returns on international stocks in recent years are probably unsustainable, you'll still find plenty of good prospects in the global markets. Also, small-cap stocks like Continental Airlines
10. Reward yourself.
Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, becoming financially successful takes a lot of effort and diligence. As you work to improve your financial life, keep in mind that your real goal is to improve your life overall. So don't forget to take a break every once in a while to stop and enjoy yourself. You've earned it!
Managing your finances may sometimes seem like a daunting task, but there's nothing stopping you from taking the steps you need to feel more comfortable with money. All it takes is the resolve and determination to get started. May 2007 bring you happiness and prosperity.
For more great ideas for improving your financial life, take a look at The Motley Fool's GreenLight newsletter. In the latest issue, you'll find action items that will make a big difference in your financial life in justfive minutes or less, and next month's issue will include an article on how you can keep those resolutions going. You can check it out now with ourfree 30-day trial.
Time is running out for the 2006 Foolanthropy charity drive. Take a look at the five great charities chosen for this year's event, and click the links from there to make a donation today. Thanks for your support.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger is still working on his list of resolutions from last year. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy keeps its resolve.