While many might consider the beginning of a new year primarily a chance to work on self-improvement resolutions, it is also a good time to review one’s finances and to make plans for the coming year. Arguably, it might be more important this year than many others.
“The number one thing, and all new this year, is the whole healthcare situation,” says Dean Hudgeons, senior vice president and location manager for Arvest Bank. “People will need to assess their personal situations because it appears almost all people are going to be paying more with higher costs and co-pays. People need to budget for more healthcare expenses, particularly if they have a pre-existing condition or needs. If you normally have $1,000 set aside for medical expenses, you might want to look at increasing that to $1,500 or $2,000, because healthcare expenses are likely to affect 50 percent of Americans.
“The biggest issue,” he continues, “is that 70 percent of Baby Boomers don’t have enough money for retirement, and healthcare costs are really going to hurt these people.”
Secondly, Hudgeons says he still sees people living with too much debt. “People started to shave off debt after 2008, which is a good thing, but many still have too much debt. It’s a good idea to refocus on getting all debt cut down, except a mortgage if you have a good rate. If you do have a good rate, try to pay off other debts.”
Hudgeons’ third suggestion is less finance and more strategy.
“Start having family meetings once a month to remind family members of financial goals,” he says. “You can make it fun. We do graphs so kids can understand what they’re getting for what they’re giving up. Besides reminding the family of goals, you also celebrate achieving them. When you celebrate milestones, it helps keep everyone focused. Get together and discuss goals and strategy. One of the major mistakes of my grandparents’ generation was that they never discussed money.”
When it comes to reviewing one’s personal financial holdings, Hudgeons says, “The bond markets are places that make me nervous now. People on a fixed income are caught between a rock and a hard place. People living off their holdings are having a hard time because interest rates haven’t increased. The bond market has taken a big hit. People have gotten used to seeing bond rates increase. This year, they have seen their principles go down.”
Hudgeons says one way to gain income is to find good dividend-paying stocks.
“In terms of investment sectors, Hudgeons says energy is difficult to invest in because energy prices are down. He advises to look into sectors into which money is pouring, such as healthcare and biotechnology in particular.
Still, Hudgeons says his biggest fear is that people will hand pick individual companies in which to invest. “Unless you’re Warren Buffett and you’re analyzing data all the time, it’s better to let professionals help you make choices. It’s too dangerous otherwise,” he says. “However, I think we’re in an emotional stage now where people are focused on saving and putting money away.”
Proper analysis and planning early in the year can help make for a smoother financial 2014.