Financial planning slipping among New Year's resolutions

  • Article by: WALTER WHITE
  • Updated: January 5, 2014 - 3:46 PM

Fewer respondents in a recent survey reported bad financial habits. But don’t forget to make a long-term plan.

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Americans are good at forgetting. We pick ourselves up, brush off disappointment and difficulty, and leave the past and its troubles behind us. In most respects, this is an effective and desirable trait.

But not when it comes to finances.

Although only a scant five years have passed since the Great Recession began, many Americans have forgotten the financial trauma it wrought. A new study suggests many people may have a false sense of security about their financial well-being.

According to the fifth annual New Year’s Resolution Survey from Allianz Life Insurance Co., only 16 percent of respondents said they would include financial planning among their resolutions for 2014.

That’s about half the 33 percent of respondents who said they would make financial planning a priority in our first poll in 2009. Also, nearly half of U.S. adults in the most recent survey don’t think they’ll seek financial guidance in 2014, a 5 percent rise from the previous year.

One reason people may feel more financially secure is that they’re shedding some financial bad habits. Fewer of the Americans surveyed recently said they were “spending too much money on things not needed” and “spending more than I make.” And nearly a quarter said they are guilty of “none of these bad habits” — a noted improvement from 2012.

Ditching bad financial habits is a good first step. But while disciplined spending and saving can increase personal wealth, these tactics fall far short of a long-term financial plan. Such a plan should account for income needs in retirement and attempt to anticipate the impact of significant market changes.

The economic plunge in 2008 painfully illustrated the need to anticipate market changes. At the beginning of that year, the total value of global equity investments was roughly $60 trillion. By March of the following year, that number shrank to less than $30 trillion. Anyone set to retire during that short window could have lost as much as 40 percent of their overall portfolio. That’s the difference between a comfortable retirement and running out of money far too soon.

While the markets have improved and the economy is generally moving in a more positive direction, circumstances can change quickly — as 2008-09 proved. Without a plan that establishes contingencies to address the vagaries of the market and other risks, too many Americans — and their retirement plans — may be vulnerable.

The new year is a time of reflection and resolve, when we identify those things we can change to better our lives. When it comes to financial planning, all Americans, regardless of income, would benefit by focusing on a few simple ways to improve the state of their finances in 2014.

Budget. To be able to save effectively, you need to know how much you spend and how much you are likely to spend in the future. Establishing a budget is a key step toward building a financial plan.

Get help. Whether you work with a financial professional or rely on other resources, recognize that financial planning is complex and your choices are broad. Get help to make better decisions.

Set goals. Not just for today, but for the future stages of your life. These goals should encompass how much to save, how to turn savings into investments and how to turn investments into income. You should also consider the sensitivity of your goals to changes in the market and your expense and income picture.

Get engaged. The more involved you are with your financial plan, the more likely you are to make informed choices. We have learned this lesson with our physical health, and it applies equally to our financial health.

Consider adding financial planning to your resolutions.

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  • Walter White is president and CEO of Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, based in Golden Valley.

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