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5 New Year Financial Planning Resolutions

It's that time of year again: forget the diet and instead get your finances in order for a prosperous year ahead

Holly Cook 31 December, 2013 | 10:30AM

It's that time of the year again, when we draw a line under the successes and failures of the past year and shift our thoughts towards ideas of eating less, exercising more and perhaps doing something more altruistic over the next 12 months. Another year, another list of New Year resolutions only half completed. Economic and corporate confidence is clearly improving and the FTSE 100 index has rallied over 14% in 2013, but US fiscal uncertainties and faltering emerging-market growth remain on the horizon. Given this dichotomy, we offer some New Year resolutions to help you get your finances in order and put those finances to good use.

1. Draw Up a Budget and Live Within Your Means

It sounds straightforward—and it is—but many people struggle through each month worrying whether the cash will run out before the next pay cheque arrives or if they have enough saved up to cover a household emergency such as a kaput boiler. Calculating your total incomings and outgoings can go a long way to reducing these concerns as it will leave you with an ongoing idea of where you stand financially.

There are plenty of online budget planners that can be downloaded, but the general rules are simple: tot up your total annual income and your total annual expenditure, divide by 12 to get a monthly average and then do some rejigging to ensure you have a fair representation of monthly finances. For example, you may know that you're going to receive a company bonus in January or that you plan to visit family in Australia in July. Jot down these incomings and outgoings in their allotted month and you can then choose how much you need to save each month to afford your holiday or how much of your bonus will go towards some household DIY.

Organising regular payments, such as utility bill Direct Debit payments, to leave your account a day or two after your pay cheque has cleared is a good way of ensuring you don't get caught short at the end of the month when a bill you'd forgotten about suddenly appears on the doormat. Similarly, setting up a Standing Order to transfer a portion of your monthly pay cheque directly into a savings account, ISA or other investment vehicle each month is another tried-and-tested method of ensuring you're regularly putting money away without necessarily feeling the pinch. Plus, this way you'll also benefit from compound interest and pound-cost averaging.

2. Cut Costs Rather Than Cutting Back

Many people's knee-jerk reaction when they're struggling financially is to cut out life's little luxuries and reduce spending on anything that isn't completely essential. Though certainly not a bad rule of thumb, you may be surprised at how much you can actually save just by doing a bit of window shopping and rather than changing your lifestyle you can simply change how much your lifestyle costs. Using comparison websites to find which utility providers offer the best rates and sign-up deals is one example, while ensuring you pay off your credit card debt in full each month will also save you valuable pennies…and, therefore, pounds.

3. Make Sure You're Maxed Out

Have you taken full advantage of all the tax-sheltered options available to you, namely, funding your company pension scheme and ISA up to the maximum allowable levels? For 2013-14, the maximum ISA contribution limit is set at £11,520, rising to £11,880 from April 6, 2014, up to half of which can be saved in cash. 

There are just three months left to top up your 2013 tax-free savings account so make sure you've done your research and selected your ISA-wrapped investments. 

Why not also increase your pension contribution to the maximum allowable level for the year ahead to make the most of your employer's contributions? If you're not signing up for the total amount your employer is willing to pay into your plan then you're leaving free money on the table. Depending on who your employer is, you may already be automatically enrolled in your company's pension scheme. 

4. Give Your Portfolio the Once Over

Overzealous trading can lead to excessive costs and overemotional investment decisions so we recommend checking up on your portfolio just once a quarter, or every six months. The purpose of this portfolio check-up is to systematically troubleshoot problem spots and identify changes you may want to make as part of your rebalancing programme. (You should plan to rebalance your portfolio, i.e. remove money from those investments that have performed well and plough it into your portfolio's underachievers, at least every few years.)

Our five steps to kickstarting your portfolio in 2014 revolve around: making sure your asset mix is in line with your targets; ensuring you're concentrated in the areas you want to be and diversified in others; reviewing your individual holdings; examining performance; and then planning your next move.

5. Make Charitable Contributions

If this is something that you're also interested in doing but it seems to always get pushed to the bottom of your to-do list, one way to do something charitable that comes with an added bonus to you is to make charitable contributions. Though therefore not an entirely altruistic action (but then what is?), this can still enable you to tick that box without worrying that you never seem to have the time to spare.

Contributions--be they cash, securities or land to qualified charities--are tax deductible, and not only do they reduce your tax bill but the tax you would have paid goes direct to your chosen charity. Anyone subject to Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax can make charitable donations direct from their gross pay or pension, making it tax-effective giving. Best of all, by doing this around the end of the year you'll be aligning your spending with your values at a time when many charities are very much in need of funds. Alternatively, you can spread the cost by setting up monthly payments. The government website has plenty of information for individuals and companies on charitable giving.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

About Author Holly Cook

Holly Cook  is Managing Editor of Morningstar.co.uk