2014 financial resolutions: An update

Posted by on April 14, 2014 @ 9:00 am in Personal finance

I posted a blog in early January 2014 outlining my seven financial resolutions for the new year. I’ve made some progress, but frankly, I have some considerable work yet to do.

Here’s an update:

Increase 401(k) plan contribution. Completed on January 17, but admittedly, this one was low-hanging fruit. I raised my contribution rate to 7% on vanguard.com with a few clicks of the mouse. My total savings rate in my 401(k) plan is now 11%, including a matching contribution of 4%.

Your action item. Call your 401(k) administrator or visit their website and increase your contribution. Better yet, sign up for automatic yearly increase of your contribution amount if your plan offers the feature.

Your savings rate is one of the most important factors in determining the size of your retirement nest egg, and even a small increase can make a big difference over time. See for yourself with Vanguard’s contribution increase calculator.

Fund IRAs. Completed. As planned, I made a full contribution to my traditional IRA via a simple phone call in mid-January. Getting the contribution in early is important. Recent Vanguard research demonstrates that there’s a considerable “procrastination penalty” paid by last-minute IRA contributors.

Note that I plunked the contribution in a money market fund, which for some investors can be a no-no. Splitting your IRA contribution and investment choice decisions can be costly. Vanguard researchers found that two-thirds of those opting to park contributions in a money market fund maintain that holding four months later. (I moved my contribution to an equity fund within a few days.) The average yield on the average taxable money market fund is hovering around 0%, according to Crane data. So, what seems like a prudent temporary decision can become an ill-advised long-term investment choice.

Your action item: You have until 11:59 p.m., Eastern time, on Tuesday, April 15 (the federal tax return filing deadline), to contribute up to $5,500, or $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older, for 2013.
Pare duplicate holdings. I admitted in my earlier post to being somewhat of a fund collector. As such, I vowed to trim some duplicate holdings, but I’ve failed to do so. Simple inertia.

Your action item: Examine your first-quarter statement when you receive it, and, if necessary, look for opportunities to cull your holdings. Be careful of any tax consequences of selling fund shares and make sure you don’t alter your target asset allocation to any significant degree if you decide to exchange some of your holdings.

Rebalance. I rebalanced my portfolio in December because my stock position was about 5% over my target allocation. My allocation is close to target today, but I plan to revisit later in the year and look for the opportunity to harvest losses for tax purposes.

Your action item: Take a look at your target allocation. If one asset class has strayed more than 5% from your target, consider rebalancing. For tips, watch this Vanguard video.

Review insurance coverage. I called my automobile insurer on February 13 to see if I could squeeze some savings out of my policy, which experienced a recent premium increase because of an addition of a new car and new driver. I was able to save a few hundred dollars by dropping collision on an older car.

I have my homeowner’s policy with the same insurance company, which gives me a discount on both. After discussing the coverage with the agent during the same call, we increased the general deductible and reaped another couple hundred dollars in savings. The commercials may be true—a 15-minute call equaled more than $500 in annual savings.

Your action item: Call your insurance agent.

Prepare a will. The most important of my resolutions remains incomplete. Got to do this! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Or is it: I will find a way to complete a will!
Your action item: Just do it.

Create a financial inventory. I took the opportunity on Presidents’ Day to make some progress on completing Vanguard’s Personal Financial Inventory Form, but the effort has since stalled. I’ll pick this up in mid-April.

Your action item: Print this form, and fill it out.

The bottom line: I have several unfulfilled resolutions. No excuses, but life tends to get in the way: Work, play, errands, doctor appointments, and a slew of swim meets. I read on the back of a t-shirt that if you have one day left on Earth, spend it at a swim meet . . . because they last forever.

My son’s swim season ended this month. Perhaps I’ll get to the remaining resolutions before summer swimming starts in June. But maybe not.

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