Once you get past the hangover (of good feelings, course), it's time to focus on your "next". Facing transitions in your job, your family or your financial stability? Then now is the time to take stock. What changes, challenges and opportunities are at hand? The best place to start is, as the King says to Alice's White Rabbit, "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop."
The beginning is simple: Assess (Step 1). Where are you right now? Maybe you practiced financial debauchery over the holidays and are expecting credit card statements that fill you with dread. Well, if it’s reality, it must be faced, dealt with and—ideally—learned from.
Then you need an Action Plan (Step 2). If you've been flying solo and the challenges outnumber the successes, it's time to create a team to help. Look for a Fee-Only Financial Planner (the NAPFA.org website is a great place to start). What you're looking for here is someone you can really talk to and who is really listening (you'll know it when you find it). With the help of your Advisor, you can begin to get strategic about your money—defining your "musts" and your "next". You’ll want to understand your money mindset (and whatever has financially battered and bruised you) so that you can avoid the mistakes of the past.
Now you’re ready to Initiate your plan (Step 3): slowly, simply, understandably and with purpose. If you're buried in debt, it's going to take time to fix it. But just like the King said, when you get to the end—you can stop. There is a process—saving for retirement or college, getting an estate plan created, establishing an appropriate level of risk management—with a beginning, middle and end.
The last part, I call Test (Step 4). It’s to check your progress and make adjustments as necessary. Sometimes even the best plans need tweaking. These changes can be created by a new situation that crops up or an inefficiency that needs changing. It's like changing your eating habits to lose weight and deciding that while you can eat one piece of dark chocolate per day, you can't eat six Hershey Bars.
Feeling rich is more than a dollar amount on your net worth statement. It is how you feel about your ability to live the life that best reflects your values.
So as we move into the New Year—give this approach a try. Assess, Act, Initiate and Test. And savor your decision to take charge of making your life better. Let's keep the party going!