New Year resolutions have a high failure rate. The long-term behavioural changes that do work out normally do so because you've hit rock bottom. Your motivation for change is rooted in shame – the kind produced if, for instance, over the holidays you ate so much your pants' button snapped off, shot across the room and blinded your nephew. In instances like that, the way forward is clear.
This doesn't mean, however, that you need to wait for your finances to tank to take action. (In fact, please don't.) I've gathered a few simple, one-time goals that can be easily achieved. No pain, no gain? How about low pain, a lot of gain?
Get your credit reports checked
You've heard time and time again that you need to get your credit score checked. How about actually doing it? I asked myself this question a few weeks ago, after assuming everything was fine for years. I ordered the instant online reports from Equifax and TransUnion. The credit scores were within 30 points of each other, but I noticed I had a credit card revolving credit facility with a limit of $3,000 that I had no recollection of signing up for. Luckily the balance was $0. I promptly had it closed.
The report from TransUnion Canada cost $30.85 and the Equifax report was $23.95. I recommend getting both to make sure you cover all the bases. My phantom credit card only appeared on one of the reports. The procrastination in getting your score is one of two things: complacency or a fear of what you might find. Just get it over with.
You know what the great thing about financial fitness versus physical fitness is? Physical fitness requires a plan and a laborious execution of that plan over and over again. Financial fitness just needs a plan and the laborious execution of it one time. Tick a few boxes, make a few mouse clicks and you could be on track to save a few thousand dollars a year by setting up an automatic transfer to a high-interest savings account. Most people don't notice it after a few months – we get used to spending what is in the bank account. No need for a wall-sized budgeting spreadsheet; just don't go below $0 in your chequing account.
If you already have an automatic savings or investing plan, increase it by at least 10 per cent. It was $50 a week last year? Now it's $55.
Get a financial plan already
According to the Financial Planning Standards Council, only about one in five Canadians has a financial plan. Perhaps some people feel intimidated by the thought of a binder full of charts and advice written in incomprehensible jargon.
Luckily, the size of your financial plan correlates fairly well with your age. If you're younger and just starting out, it might simply be a few pages showing you how to disaster-proof your life, run a surplus and pay down high-interest debt. Ideally, you'll want to look for an adviser with a Certified Financial Planner designation. Many get paid through the products they provide, but more and more are offering hourly or flat rates.
As they say, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. And if you are one of the few Canadians who actually has a financial plan, don't forget to review it to make sure you are on track or to incorporate any changes in your situation or goals.