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New Year’s resolutions have become so cliché that the process of making them has become a joke. People settle for mundane goals for the year like “losing weight,” “quitting smoking,” and “getting out of debt.” These are great goals, of course, but most who think about these only when the calendar changes soon forget their plans, continue their lives as before, and lament their failure when they reflect as next year approaches.

Part of the problem is that these goals are not specific enough for anyone to take seriously. Gurus and bloggers are pushing forward the idea that goals need to be “SMART” — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based — as if it’s a new concept. This is a helpful way to look at your resolutions if you want to approach your life as a project manager. A better approach is to realize that time moves very fast, and with busy lives it’s better to make modest goals and focus on each small step that moves you in the right direction.

New year hatThe most popular New Year’s resolutions are tiresome. It’s no wonder people don’t keep them. Few people can be passionate about losing weight or getting out of debt, and even if they are, it will take a lot of work to change the behaviors (or medical conditions) that caused the circumstances needing improvement. These can be multi-year goals, and if your entire success relies on completion within 365 days (366 in a leap year) you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Here are some different ways at looking at financial resolutions that are not only achievable within the year but are more interesting than what many may typically resolve to do. While there are twelve listed here, you’re more likely suited for success if you focus on just one. The year will be over before you know it, but your resolutions should always be aligned with long-term goals for yourself or your personal mission statement.

1. Spend money on things that are important.

Your spending habits reveal what is important to you. If you spend more money buying video games for yourself than you spend on activities with your significant other, you have decided on some level that you favor your time with a computer game more than the one you love. The higher value each dollar has to you, with the importance of one dollar related to your level of disposable income, the bigger the importance of whatever you choose to spend that dollar on.

Look where your money goes. You may need to track your spending if you’re not sure. You’ve defined what’s important to you by your expenses. Your shelter (rent or mortgage) and food are obviously important and form the basis of your expenses, but beyond that, you can rate how important any activity is to you by comparing your level of spending. If you don’t like what you see, resolve to spend your extra money — after you cover necessary expenses and saving — on the things you want to be important to you.

2. Create something every month.

FoodThe culture in this country is one of consumption. We consume food, media, and resources. In order to consume, we spend money. This year, change your role in society. Become a creator rather than just a consumer. You can create something that other people consume or something that you consume yourself.

  • Cook more often than you prepare frozen meals and dine out.
  • Create your own adventures instead of watching movies and television.
  • Write in a journal rather than reading a best-selling novel.
  • Engage your mind creatively, taking photographs, making art, or performing music.

3. Learn a new skill.

This could be the year you focus on trying new things. The best new skills to learn would be those that are related to your interests and passions. Here are a few examples, but think about the things that make you happy and decide on a skill that enhances your attitude.

  • If you’ve had a favorite vacation destination in mind in a foreign country, start learning the language and culture.
  • If you like running but haven’t taken this type of exercise seriously yet, train yourself for a 5K race.
  • Learn how to play the piano.

Many new skills can take more than a year to learn. Don’t consider your year a failure if you don’t complete your mission to learn something new. Keep taking small steps that move your life in the right direction, and whether you complete your goal within one year is less important.

4. Earn money from your hobby.

Coin CollectionConsumerism Commentary started as a hobby, but after a while, it became apparent that writing could also be a business that generated income. In some cases, though, turning a hobby into a business can turn an enjoyable activity into a chore. Turning your hobby into a business is not the best option for everyone, so this has to be a personal decision. If you like collecting coins, do you want to be a coin dealer? If you’re particularly skilled at photography, do you want to market yourself and compete with professional photographers?

Not everyone wants to start a business, but keeping your activities small can keep the business aspect of your hobby to a minimum. Strike the right balance between hobby and business so you still gain a maximum amount of pleasure and satisfaction from the activities you enjoy.

5. Start a blog to track your finances.

I have first-hand experience about how helpful it has been to publicly track my own finances. This is a great way to maintain focus on any goal. By making your progress public, you are holding yourself accountable for your success. And if your goals are interesting to others, even strangers, they can join you in your quest and offer support — and more often, criticism — when you need it. Draw some inspiration from Naked With Cash as well as how I tracked my finances from 2003 through 2011.

Rather than using a blog to track your success, allow the blog to be your success. Start a website using WordPress or Tumblr and write anonymously about the financial issues in your life. You don’t need to be a great writer, but if you continue, your writing will improve. Don’t be concerned about building an audience or earning money. Writing for its own sake helps clarify financial issues, particularly when you read what you’ve written over a period of time.

Tracking your finances in software like Mint.com or Quicken isn’t always enough. When you look at your finances with the intent of writing about them, your brain performs at least a minimum amount of analysis, and this is a step further than most people take with their finances.

6. Support local businesses.

The 3/50 Project is an initiative that encourages consumers to spend $50 among three local businesses each month. Keeping your money local helps improve the economy in the community where you live, and it helps you build relationships with your neighbors near you and across your town. Similarly, as much as I don’t like the real motivation behind American Express’s Small Business Saturday, many mom-and-pop business do in fact see benefits to encouraging AmEx customers to enter their stores.

Following an initiative can provide extra motivation for achieving a goal, but you can do this without an initiative as well. Supporting local businesses is a possible resolution that most people don’t consider. Usually, people resolve to save money, and that could mean shopping online or visiting big-box or warehouse stores. Spending money in these locations does not help a community thrive — at least, not directly.

The same is true about local community banks and credit unions. By moving your money away from big banks, you are taking a financial action that is more beneficial in the area where you live. This is a simple, achievable resolution for the new year.

7. Sell or give away your stuff.

ClothingThis could be the year you focus on decluttering your life. When I moved into my current apartment a few years ago, I seemed to have so much space available. I fell into the typical habit of expanding the way I live to fit into my new environment. If you look around your living space, you can probably find a number of things you don’t need. Here are just a few suggestions of where to start:

  • Look through your closet and give away the clothes you no longer wear.
  • Sell your old games, electronics, movies, and books on eBay or Amazon.com.
  • Organize your papers and shred old documents you no longer need to keep.

This sounds like a good weekend project rather than a New Year’s resolution, so to make this worthwhile, consider running through this process on the first Sunday of each month. Each time, you’ll find more to eliminate. If unchecked, “stuff” can take over your life. If you have so much it’s burdensome, your possessions can own you rather than the other way around. Reduce and eliminate your dependency on things that take up space.

8. Spend more time with activities that make you happy.

I mentioned above that you can determine what’s most important to you by following the money. The same thing is true about time. If you were to analyze every waking minute of my day, you’d see that I spend most of my time working on my business and most of the rest of that time with my girlfriend. Or that’s what I’d like to believe. I, for one, spend a good portion of time entertaining myself with movies and television. Productivity nerds would fairly criticize me, but I do find value in resting my brain by allowing a local grumpy doctor solve medical mysteries so I don’t need to or by watching a clever con game unfold.

But buy spending my time this way, I’ve traded my enjoyment in creativity, like photography and music, for sitting in front of a television. Decide what’s important to you and schedule time to dedicate to those activities. I’m not a fan of keeping a schedule, but when you can schedule activities you enjoy rather than scheduling corporate meetings, you will end the year happier and more fulfilled.

And the reason we make resolutions at all is because we are unhappy with something in our lives. If we can spend more time on enjoyable activities, we won’t be nearly as unhappy.

9. Volunteer with an organization that matches your values.

Until the government decides to offer a tax deduction for volunteer work, this potential resolution won’t have a direct effect on your finances, but it could inspire you in ways that do affect your money. The first step is creating a mission statement for your life. In fact, defining your mission can be a complete resolution itself for the year, as defining a meaningful mission requires thoughtful self-reflection that goes beyond the confines of a lunch break at work.

Once you have an accounting of your values and life goals, it’s easier to determine what organizations share your view of the world. Spending time with these organizations and the people who share your philosophies can be rewarding. Often, the reward is through personal satisfaction and pride but there can be a financial aspect, as well. You may decide that you want to use your wealth to improve life for a community, or you may decide that you would like to motivate yourself harder to build your own wealth to help you complete your life’s mission.

10. Be happy with what you have.

The drive to want more for ourselves creates motivation to move forward, to earn more money, and to improve our financial habits. When there’s a mission behind this drive, a purpose in life, it makes that motivation more meaningful. Your should also stop wanting for a moment to consider that if you are reading this article, you were most likely lucky to be born in a situation or community where wealth-building, education, and even sanitation are possible. The “pursuit of happiness,” along with life and liberty, concerned the founders of the United States, but happiness is easily within reach.

Resolve to consider all the positive things in your life: your family, your wealth (no matter how bad your financial situation is, it could be worse), your friends. Consider the opportunities you’ve been given that helped you achieve what you have so far as well as the work you’ve put into shaping your life.

11. Don’t settle for low-quality relationships.

Unfortunately, there are often people in your life who bring you down. You don’t want to surround yourself with yes men, but if you look at your extended circle of friends, chances are you have a few with whom spending time makes you feel good and a few who often dampen your mood. While you don’t want to eliminate relationships with people from whom you can receive kind criticism, it is beneficial to reduce time with people who consistently have a negative attitude.

I’ve discovered this over a long period of time. I’ve always held onto friendships, regardless of the quality, because I believed that every close connection was as important as another. Perhaps I grew up, or perhaps I just had less time to spend with people. Perhaps there have been a few events where I had placed faith in a friend and had been disappointed, and another friend advised me I shouldn’t have such “high” expectations for my relationships. There are enough great people in the world not to have to settle for mediocre people in your life. If you feel you are consistently lowering your expectations, it may be time to spend time with others — as long as you are doing as much as possible to be a good person, yourself, in your inter-personal relationships.

This is the age of Facebook. People brag about how many “friends” they have, and it’s more of a thrill of collection than an enjoyment of real connections. Resolve to enhance the quality of your relationships rather than quantity. Although this goes against most “networking” advice for professionals who want to advance their career, it’s an approach for people who want to advance their life.

12. Let go of your grudges.

Just like it will benefit you to reduce your exposure to people with negative attitudes, consider expelling the negative feelings you’re harboring towards others. I don’t believe that positivity in itself brings about wealth — you can’t increase your bank account by just thinking about how nice it would be to have a bigger bank account, regardless of what New Age aficionados tell you — but letting go of thoughts that prevent you from accepting opportunities and greeting the world optimistically will help put you in a better position to take advantage of good things that come your way.

The above resolutions are not specific. You can use them — or better, just one or two — to guide your thoughts and attitude for the coming year, or you can use them to create a basis for measurable targets that come December 31 you can say you reached. Some tie directly into your finances, and others are related laterally. All of them can help you go beyond the typical neglected resolutions like “losing weight” and “saving money.”

Do something worthwhile and meaningful with your self this coming year..

Photos: L. Marie, Ancient Art, LizMarie_AK

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As one year comes to a close, many people like to take a few moments and think about the year ahead. The setting of New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored tradition and a recurring theme at the end of each year. The new year has always been a chance, although somewhat arbitrary, to give yourself a fresh start. It’s a second chance. It’s an opportunity to recommit yourself to the things that are important to you.

Discussions of New Year’s resolutions are almost always followed by statistics showing how people generally fail at keeping the promises they make. News reporters and authors cite the spike in new gym memberships after the new year and the quick fall-off of gym participation as one example of how people with good intentions don’t stick to their plans. Studies show how financial New Year’s resolutions fail.

The backlash against the process of setting New Year’s resolutions is taken over by management experts who say the problem is that resolutions do not take the form of goals. If people stated their resolutions in a format enjoyed by corporate project management gurus, the SMART goal system for instance, people would have a better chance of sticking to their resolutions.

SMART is an acronym that most Consumerism Commentary readers are familiar with. These SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. It’s not a bad system for evaluating employee performance, and the SMART concept can be extended into other areas of your life, like planning the activities you want to undertake in the new year.

Guess what? Whether you define your plans for the new year as broad resolutions or specific SMART goals, you’re just as likely to fail. People don’t want to stick to specific goals in the personal lives when they already have pressure from work-related goals, assigned by their employers, their clients, or themselves as business owners. The probability of people making charts to track progress on personal goals and sticking with it for more than a month is the same as the probability of sticking with a resolution.

SMART goals might make you feel better about your plans if you like treating your life as a business, but in the end it’s no more effective than setting resolutions. You can’t take someone who wasn’t going to keep his resolution, teach him about SMART goals, and expect that he will turn into a productive individual in his personal life. Now, treating your life as a business can be a good idea — after all, you are not only the Chief Financial Officer of your own life, you’re also the CEO. And if you are in the habit of looking at your life from that approach, you’re all ready more likely to keep your promises to yourself, whether they be resolutions or SMART goals.

Because of this backlash against New Year’s resolutions, people have yet another reason for not keeping their promises. When it’s a widely accepted fact that people do not, in general, maintain their resolutions more than a month or so into the new year, people don’t feel much pressure to continue. Well, the internal monologue goes, people don’t really keep these resolutions, so it’s no big deal if I don’t keep them either. The culture of mediocrity makes it easier for people to give up.

Setting New Year’s resolutions are beneficial, even if you don’t keep them. That’s because reflection and self-analysis are important pieces of living your life. If you take the time to make resolutions beyond “losing weight” and “saving money,” you’re asking yourself questions that get to the core of your identity. Having a good understanding of where you are and where you’d like to be provides more direction for your life.

The New Year is a time for renewal. It’s arbitrary, but so what? January 1 is as good a date as any to examine yourself and rededicate yourself not just to your goals, but to who you want to be as a person. This starts with a mission statement.

1. Define your personal mission statement.

Non-profit organizations have mission statements that define the purpose for which they exist. For example, this is the mission statement for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America:

… [t]o enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

Some organizations have mission statements that fit within one sentence, like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Some are several paragraphs long and go into great detail. I created a mission statement for Consumerism Commentary, even though it’s not a non-profit organization, because I feel every organization should have a mission. The mission of Consumerism Commentary is to develop financially literate, capable, and successful human beings by sharing educational, entertaining, and engaging writing. (I also developed a separate vision statement and purposes, including a hidden purpose for the website and business, which you can find out about here.)

A mission statement gets to the core of your identity and your values. Your mission statement could cover an area of interest you’re passionate about, it could pertain mainly to your role within your family, or it can even be based on values from your religion. I’ll write more about my personal mission statement in an upcoming article.

Once you have a mission statement, you can evaluate your goals and activities based on how closely they relate to your mission. When a non-profit I worked for received a project proposal, if it didn’t fit into the organization’s mission, management would not consider the proposal. At the same time, a mission statement is a living document, which means it can be reevaluated, updated, and changed over time, to fit changing demands of the world, the organization, or life.

2. Evaluate the last twelve months.

There have most likely been a few moments of pride in the course of the last year. You probably also had some disappointments in your life. The key is determining which aspects of your life in the past year were within your control and which were outside of your control. When you begin to look closely, you may see that more things are within your control than you might first believe.

How much time and effort you spend evaluating the past and present is up to you. You can’t dwell on mistakes you made in the past, but you can try to learn from them, and help your past determine the best strategies for improving your future. The bottom line is to determine whether you are closer to your mission today than you were a year ago. Your mission is an ideal, a wish that can never be completely fulfilled. It’s a non-SMART goal. It provides the path so you are always moving in the right direction — a journey, not a destination.

3. Where do you want to be twelve months from now?

With your present in mind, you can set your targets for the next year. This is where your mission and resolutions come into existence. Your mission helps you determine your resolutions — any resolution you pick must be somehow related to your mission. Whether you want to set SMART goals or operate at a higher level is up to you; the process of consciously contemplating these issues and making informed decisions is what will set you apart from people who blindly decide to “lose weight” and “save money” in the new year.

You may not end up exactly where you want to be twelve months from now, but if you live your life with a purpose and you strive to make informed decisions and best choices, you’ll move in the right direction.

4. Quantify yourself.

We’ve become obsessed with quantification in a number of areas of our lives, and it may have started in personal finance. We have software like Quicken to thank for that. Now it’s even easier, with mobile applications that provide us a way of tracking personal data on a minute by minute basis. Thanks to mobile apps, we know at any time how much money we’ve saved. We know how our investments are performing with real-time stock quotes. We know how many steps we’ve taken each day. We check our heart rate after each time we exercise. We know how many miles we’ve run over the past month. We know how much weight we’ve lifted and track when we beat our own personal records.

It’s easy to get lost in all these numbers, and there are privacy concerns about sharing these numbers with applications who may use the information to profit. But if there’s something numerical that can be tracked, there’s a good chance there’s an application that will allow us to do just that. And where there was a time that we’d have to track results manually and build our own charts, now that this is mostly automated, we can get the benefit of data visualization much easier.

Data visualization, in turn, provides great feedback when it comes to progressing towards measurable goals. That’s one of the primary purposes of Naked With Cash here at Consumerism Commentary. If you are interested in the typical New Year’s resolutions of saving money and losing weight, don’t just wish broadly, don’t just make SMART goals, but use these tools to motivate you.

5. Get an accountability partner.

Self-motivation is difficult, and there’s no reason to torture yourself for not sticking to your goals. The solution to waning intrinsic motivation is to team up. For years, I was looking for someone to be my accountability partner in terms of my health and fitness. I kept hoping my girlfriend would be interested in taking this journey with me, but despite my efforts, we did not share this interest. I joined a gym, and for some time, the monthly payments motivated me to seriously begin moving forward. That lasted about six months before I lost my motivation.

It wasn’t until I hired a personal trainer that things started to move in the right direction. My trainer is an accountability partner. I have regularly scheduled appointments that I know I can’t miss. I know I’m moving in a much better direction now.

Your spouse can be your accountability partner if they are just as passionate about your mission as you are. But if not, or if you don’t have a spouse, you may need to look to someone else. With a friend, mutual motivation is a strong bonding agent; but if you don’t have someone to support and motivate you, hiring a professional is not a bad idea if you can afford it.

It doesn’t matter whether you choose to make high-level resolutions or SMART goals when the new year comes around. The process of self-examination is what’s important. The reminder of your mission and your motivation to stay on a positive path is what brings you success year after year. Most people forget their resolutions and SMART goals after a month or two, but if you get in the habit of evaluating your choices and your progress, it doesn’t matter whether you reach your goal of losing 50 pounds or paying off $50,000 in debt by June. Continuous analysis guarantees you’ll be moving in the right direction, aligned with your values and your mission.

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Many people begin a new year with goals, resolutions and targets that define what they’d like to change within the next 365 days (or 366 days in a leap year). While most people fail to achieve these goals and resolutions, just the process of making resolutions and the self-reflection required can be helpful towards improving a life.

The ability to make and achieve goals relies on the belief that one can control an outcome, in this case an improvement in one’s life, by changing behavior or attitudes. One reason resolutions fail is that some are no entirely convinced they have control.

ControllerThere is a tendency in American culture, due its focus on the strength of the individual over the strength of a community, for people to take credit for success but look for external causes for failure. This tendency is apparent even in the choice of words; in the previous paragraph, I wrote “resolutions fail” rather than “people fail at achieving resolutions” without thinking about the possible causes. There are other examples:

  • Good performance in a portfolio is due to the investor’s own stock choices while bad performance is caused by market forces or the failure of a system.
  • A promotion at work is due to one’s own hard work and accomplishment while a lack of reward or being laid off is the result of having a bad boss or the economy.
  • A business’s success may be caused by the owner’s or CEO’s strategies, while a business’s failure would be the result of a competitor’s tactics.

Over the last decade, I’ve come to increasingly realize that I have more control over my life. My actions and choices — and sometimes, lack of choices — have a bigger effect on the outcome of my life than external factors. I haven’t quite fully accepted this in all aspects of life, but I’m getting there. With the knowledge that I am in control, there are certain ways I can exercise this control to affect the way my life moves forward.

Making active decisions. There was a time I avoided decision-making, particularly regarding important changes in my life, as long as possible. There are some decisions that can difficult due to the way a choice will affect the rest of one’s life, and like many people, I often preferred to ignore the need to make a decision in the hopes that someone else — or society itself — would make that decision for me. This is a great way to cede control of my life. Yet, I would still be responsible for the outcome because not deciding is a choice. It’s just a cowardly choice.

Impermanence. I often remind myself that life is short, and that is an idea that keeps me afraid to make mistakes with my big life decisions. I don’t want to make a decision and later discover that two decades or more of my life were wasted on an ultimately unsatisfying path. One way I can motivate myself to make decisions is to remember that almost every choice is not permanent, and I can change my mind most of the time.

Being able to change your mind and find a new path is a great benefit of life. Without some flexibility, it would be impossible for young people to choose life-long goals. Inevitably, external factors do influence our lives, and the ability to react and change course if necessary is key for maintaining control.

Accepting what is beyond control. I can’t control other people’s actions, but I can control how I react to them. I have no control over terrorist attacks, acts of nature like hurricane Katrina, or the day-to-day swings of the stock market. The best I can do is reasonably limit myself to potential exposure. I can prepare for the worst without sacrificing my needs for today and the future.

Being positive, friendly, and happy. While I wouldn’t want to be that annoying friend who is perpetually in a great mood, it is empowering to be able to remain positive in bad circumstances. Having a generally kind disposition can encourage others to be kind as well, though it can also encourage others to try to take advantage of your good nature. Find balance between kindness and strength to keep bullies at bay (adults can be bullies, too — not just kids). Choosing happiness allows you to survive and thrive in tough times and emerge a better person.

The points above are all aspects of life I try to remind myself in an effort to move my life in the right direction. It can be a struggle to accept blame and avoid frustration with the world. It’s still a struggle for me to make important decisions with my life. But these are all aspects of my life I’ve improved over the last decade, and this shift in personal philosophy has helped me arrive at the point of my life where I am now — a state where I feel generally successful and happy.

Photo: Ciaran McGuiggan

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Every new year provides an opportunity for self-renewal. The relatively arbitrary custom of recycling the dates on the calendar is like having a second (or a third, or fourth, etc.) chance to change the world. Although its history is a bit murky, the tradition of new years’ resolutions probably stemmed from this feeling. It took me a while to be comfortable with the ideas of making resolutions. I believed for a long time that it was pointless, since people overall tend to fail to keep their resolutions into the new year. Eventually, scientific studies confirmed what I already believed to be true.

Nevertheless, through Consumerism Commentary, I began to create resolutions and goals at the beginning of each year. The financial goals have proved to be easy; at least, I’ve been able to meet almost all of them for the past few years, possibly indicating I’m being too conservative in my planning.

It has been the non-financial resolutions which have been more difficult to stick with, mirroring the experience of most Americans. For example, while I’ve lost some weight in accordance with part of my resolutions for 2010, I don’t consider myself to be in shape. While I resolved to keep my home in presentable condition at any time, I failed in 2010 to make that a reality. That’s the most common failed resolution, and I don’t like being typical.

I don’t want to feel like a statistic in representation of the “average American male,” so my resolution for 2011 is to go beyond what has been comfortable for me. My non-financial goals will be more specific this year, as specific as I have been with my financial goals.

2011 is when everything changes.

NewYearsResolution1915FirstPostcardI’ll share my financial goals first, followed by the non-financial goals that pertain mainly to my quality of life and self-improvement. These are all short-term goals that are tied into my life-long personal missions.

1. Income

My single income goal for 2011 is to replace the income provided by my former employment and benefits. To make this easy to track, I’ll just use the figure of $100,000, which more or less represents the value of my former salary and benefits.

I will consider the year successful if I increase my income from my projects by $100,000. While I haven’t looked at my finalized 2010 income yet, I expect it will be well into six digits. I evaluate my income on a monthly basis, and if the current trend continues, I should reach this goal easily. I am every concerned with the volatile nature of the income, however, so I stay prepared for the worst-case scenario.

2. Net worth

I didn’t set a net worth goal in 2010 because it’s too difficult to predict. With a significant portion of my net worth invested in the stock market, this is a variable that is more or less out of my control. That’s an arguable point; I could keep my money in less risky investments and better predict my end-of-year balances, but that defeats the purpose of investing in the stock market for the long term.

I could set a net worth goal for my cash holdings, but I can affect that easily by moving cash in and out of investments. This is why I believe income goals are more relevant than net worth goals. However, I’d be comfortable setting a net worth goal in the form of a range, with the realization there are no consequences for not meeting this goal if the “failure” is due to the stock market. My goal is to increase my net worth by at least $275,000 in 2011.

3. Investments

Without an active investment in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, I need to change my approach to retirement investing. Thankfully, I shouldn’t have to change it by much. I’ve already researched my retirement investing options while self-employed and when the calendar changes I’ll open up some new accounts. I will invest one tenth of my gross income for retirement.

Why such a low percentage? As I’m now working for myself, I’m starting to reconsider the need to abide by the traditional retirement paradigm. If I’m getting paid for activities that I enjoy, I may not want to pick a specific age and stop. I want to be able to spend the time I want now doing a variety of activities that make my life interesting, so locking all of my money away is not my biggest priority. I consider myself lucky to have some flexibility now, and I do want to take advantage of that flexibility.

My other investing plans depend on my savings need, though if I buy a house (to live in, not as an investment) and therefore release myself from holding as much in savings as I am now, I will have a better idea of what I have available to invest with a time horizon of five to ten years.

4. Savings

People often ask me why I’m still renting an apartment. Even with real estate prices down, friends point out to me that I could have purchased something when I left college more than a decade ago and come out ahead. I then remind them that I had no money when I graduated college and had I purchased a house then, at the time I was working for a non-profit organization earning little money, I would have been in debt over my head for most of the last decade. I will buy a house, though, when I’m ready to settle down somewhere for thirty years and start a family.

When I do, assuming I’d be fully responsible for the finances (which I may not be), I want to have a sizable down payment ready to go. I’m not sure paying for a house fully in cash is the best financial move from a leverage standpoint, though it would be great not to have any debt obligations. I may compromise by offering a down payment of 30 to 40 percent. There are many variables at play in this decision beyond the finances, so I must take care of those first before considering buying a house. I will be forever slow to move on the “important” decisions.

5. Charity

I’ve been taking a multi-pronged approach to charity. First, I have a donor-advised charitable fund housed at Fidelity. I now contribute automatically to this account on a monthly basis. With the account, I can recommend grants to charities and non-profit organizations that match my interests. For example, I’ve given to specific programs offered by my undergraduate university as well as to the non-profit organization where I worked after college. For the past couple of years, I’ve offered to match readers’ charitable contribution with my own to a different organization each year. In 2011, I’ll continue the Thanksgiving charity challenge and grant an additional $1,000 through the donor-advised fund to another organization.

6. Photography

Over the past few years, I’ve grown more interested in photography. Now that I’m not spending eight or more hours a day wasting my time in a cubicle, I have more flexibility to explore this and my other interests. I still plan to spend the bulk of my reclaimed time working on Consumerism Commentary and other related projects, I will set aside some time to practice photography as well. I plan to have two photo shoots a month. This could include walking around the local university town for some street or architecture photography, hiking with my camera equipment for some nature shots, or a portrait session.

I’d like to book three or four paying photography sessions in 2011, as well. I don’t plan on advertising my photography services as a business and expect to book these through friends. I don’t yet have a portfolio to share, but perhaps by the end of the year I will be ready for that step. It’s more important for me to learn more about the art and craft of photography first through practice as well as at least one additional class.

7. Personal health

In the past I’ve made vague statements about my desire to improve my health and get in shape. I’m serious about improving my physical appearance, and I am going to make that happen this year. While I’ve already changed some of my dietary habits and have managed to lose some weight, I haven’t achieved a point of physical activity that satisfies me. My plan for this year is to develop a system of rewards that is tied to my physical activity.

By the end of January, I’d like to be in the habit of getting 30 minutes of strenuous physical activity (running, doing push-ups, riding a bicycle, etc.) three days a week, rewarding myself for each successful day. By the end of the next month, I’d like the number of days per week to be extended to five. By the end of 2011, I want to have lost at least 15 pounds through more exercise and better nutrition. Now that I’m making my own schedule, I can set aside time during the day for exercise. With my freedom this year, I can make this happen.

Having seven different goals seems like it could be too much for one person. I don’t believe that I’m biting off more than I can chew. For the most part, since I’ve become somewhat disciplined (but not cheap) with money management, just taking care of my income should be enough for the other financial goals to fall into place. My struggle has been only with the non-financial goals, and I do believe that I have the capacity to focus on and reach these targets if I stay disciplined with them and dedicate myself to them, similar to the way I dedicated myself to getting myself out of a financial mess almost ten years ago.

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Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. In general, this resolution like all others tend to be forgotten within weeks. If you resolve to getting out of debt this coming year, here are some ideas for not losing sight of that goal. Don’t ... Continue reading this article…

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Flexo’s Financial Goals and Resolutions for 2008

by Luke Landes

I noted recently that most people fail at financial new year’s resolutions. That may because of the tradition that the typical “resolution” is a light-hearted attempt at improving one’s self, many times uttered in a drunken state, without much of a plan for attainment. If you want to succeed, set a real, solid goal, devise ... Continue reading this article…

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Christmas Day Roundup

by Luke Landes

To those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas! Here are some articles I’ve found recently that you might enjoy. AllFinancialMatters suggests the top 8 New Year’s Resolutions for You and Your Wallet. Since most people fail at financial New Year’s Resolutions, many within the first month, I suggest taking a different approach if financial changes are ... Continue reading this article…

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