AJC Article: Financial Resolutions for 2014

I recently completed a project designed to identify the secrets of successful retirees.  We surveyed more than 1350 people in 46 states to determine the financial, investment, and consumer habits of “happy” vs. “unhappy” retirees and near-retirees.  This project turned into a book called You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think – The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees, which will be published in May.

The project revealed an important truth of personal finance: If you are happy living within your current means and adopt a few powerful financial habits, you have a very good chance of being in a position to retire when you want to – regardless of your income level.  Here are some New Years Resolutions that can put you on the road to being one of my Happiest Retirees.

  1. Pay Down Your Mortgage. Paying an extra $100 to $500 a month towards your mortgage could shave years off of your mortgage payment schedule and save you thousands of dollars in interest.  Pay it off by your retirement date and you’ll free up a ton of cash to spend making your post-career dreams come true.
  2. Continue to Believe in Stocks. The stock boom of 2013 is unlikely to continue in 2014.  However, we are still the best economy in the world, and if you believe we will be a better place in 10 years than we are today, then you want to own a piece of the action in the form of wisely chosen stocks.
  3. Max, Max, Max Out the 401k!  Saving pre-tax via your employer’s 401k will actually leave you with more in your pocket than if you save after tax.  Here’s why:  If you take $200 from a $1,000 paycheck and contribute that  $200 to a 401k you are taxed on the $800.  Assuming a 20 percent tax rate, you are left with $640 in after tax dollars.  So $200 in the 401k and $640 after tax leaves you a total of $840.  If you save nothing in the 401k and pay taxes on the whole $1,000 at 20 percent, then put aside $200 in savings, you are left with $200 in savings, and just $600 in after tax dollars for a total of $800.
  4. Take Up a Hobby.  Happy retirees have more passions and interests than their less-happy friends.  From golf to cycling to traveling to painting to Scottish dancing – budget time and money for passionate pursuits and your chances for happiness skyrocket. 
  5. Plan a Vacation.  Or better yet two vacations.  The happiest retirees in my survey prioritized vacation time in their lives and budgets.  So, don’t feel guilty about planning an extra vacation in 2014 – the world will still be here for you when you get back. 
  6. Work The Plan:  Happy retirees spend nearly double the amount of time each year doing financial planning than those who are in the unhappy group.  It’s always important to budget so that you have a clear picture of your monthly and annual inflow/outflow, but in 2014 set aside time at least once a quarter to review your saving and spending
  7. Remember TSL – Taxes Savings, Life.  If you have trouble with an actual budget, this may be a simpler way to spend and save.  Commit 30 percent of your gross income to taxes and 20 percent to savings, leaving you with 50 percent for your wants and needs.  This is a simple but powerful tool that will dramatically increase your chances of an early retirement. 
  8. Stop Renting.  While renting does offer certain benefits, buying is currently the better option for many people.  In 2008, average monthly rent in the US was $700, while average mortgage payments were $800.  Today, average month rent is $736, while the average mortgage payment is $615.  SEE AJC article on this topic.  If you are planning on staying in the same city for more than five years, buy a home as soon as economically feasible.

Certified financial planner Wes Moss offers financial and accessible investment advice to Atlanta Bargain Hunter readers. See his weekly column on AJC Bargain Hunter.

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