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Put your goals in writing — then stick to them

Plenty of people make resolutions to lose weight, get a new job or make other things happen in their personal life, but relatively few make solid resolutions about money. Make 2010 the year you’ll live a better life financially. Here are a few resolutions to think about:

Write down the things you really want in life. Have you ever written down the big things that matter to you? Granted, not all great dreams cost money, but many of them do. Money buys freedom — to travel, to retire early, to start a business, to change careers. Putting goals in writing gives them a formality and a starting point for the planning you must do.

Evaluate your risk tolerance. One of the most beneficial things financial planners do is help you articulate your financial goals and establish (or re-establish) your tolerance for risk. With the recent recession and market turbulence, many individuals would benefit from an analysis of how much risk they want (or need) to take based on what they want to achieve with their money.

Track your spending. If you haven’t bought financial accounting software or set up a reliable accounting method of your own, this is the year to do it. Diligent expense tracking is the first critical step to getting personal finances in order whether you do it on paper or on your computer. Mint.com or QuickenOnline.com are free online programs that help you do this.

Get tax and planning advice toward retirement and other goals. Maybe you’ve always winged it with your taxes and considered your company 401(k) the ticket to your financial future. Chances are your planning is inadequate. Start getting references on good tax professionals and consider sitting down with a professional to discuss your whole financial picture.

Cut your debt. If you can’t ever seem to get out of credit card debt, make this the year to do it. Take inventory of your balances, figure out if you can consolidate them under your lowest-rate card, and resolve to pay off an amount that exceeds the minimum — on time, every month. And if you can pay extra toward mortgage, auto, student or other borrowings, do so.

Start saving, or save more. If you haven’t signed up for your employer’s 401(k) plan or begun a savings plan tailored for the self-employed, this is the year. Resolve to save at least 5 to 10 percent of your take-home pay based on your cash flow, and place the maximum amount in your retirement plans and savings.

Invest in yourself. If going back to college or taking specific coursework will help you advance in your career, plan to do it. If investing in a health club membership (one you will actually use) makes sense for your health as well as your insurance costs, do it. Keep in mind that bettering yourself is always a good investment.

Gary Williams, a Certified Financial Planner practitioner and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor with Williams Asset Management in Columbia, is a registered representative of Commonwealth Financial Network, a member firm of the NASD/SIPC. He can be reached at 410-740-0220 or at gary@williamsassetmanagement.com.