Personal Finance

Clean out your 'financial junk drawer' and finish those money goals for the New Year

Key Points
  • The "financial junk drawer" is a hodgepodge of incomplete financial projects, goals and some secrets.
  • The one you’re least willing to talk about is the one you have to tackle first, says a certified financial planner.
  • From hiding a purchase to not saving for retirement to mounting credit card debt, here’s how to take on those hidden financial challenges.

Everyone has a kitchen drawer that accumulates packets of duck sauce, random pliers, rubber bands, old batteries and pens that don't write.

Most people also have a financial junk drawer, says Amanda Priebe, a certified financial planner and wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management.

It's a welter of unfinished financial goals and possibly some secrets.

Frederic Cirou | Getty Images

A common financial secret is making a purchase and lying about it, according to Kristy Archuleta, associate professor of financial planning at the University of Georgia.

Maybe it's paying full price but saying you bought something on sale, or claiming a new purchase is something you already own. "Hiding income, large credit card debt and having a secret bank account are bigger common financial secrets," Archuleta said.

These are all forms of financial infidelity, according to a paper in the Journal of Financial Therapy.

Just like slamming a closet door shut on clutter, Priebe says people can be just as tactical in steering others away from their financial realities. "Common strategies include not talking with partners or spouses [and] not seeking help from a financial advisor," she said.

Priebe recommends making a list of financial things on your mind.

"Rank it from what you are most likely to talk about with a friend, partner or professional to what you are least likely to discuss," she said. "What are the most anxiety-provoking things on that list?

"Then, reverse the order," Priebe added. "That is almost certainly the one that needs the most urgent attention."

Almost half of Americans don't expect to have enough to retire comfortably

Stop keeping secrets

Once you've identified your most closely held secret, bring it out into the light of day.

"These are the things that will sabotage your financial success," Priebe said, and possibly even your kids' success. Sometimes children pick up on parent behaviors and emulate them later on.

"Whether it's a financial planner or a therapist, advisor, CPA, even a religious figure, seek help," Priebe said.

If you've been using a secret credit card, take a moment to reflect and ask why you kept this a secret. Try to figure out what made you think you could not share this with your partner.

"Then, admit it to your partner and rebuild trust," Archuleta said. "This involves clear and regular communication about your financial affairs and not leaving anything out."

Organizations such as the Financial Planning Association or the Financial Therapy Association can help you find professional support.

Take small steps

"Most people don't know that much about personal finance," Archuleta said. And that, of course, makes financial projects overwhelming.

Instead, break down tasks into smaller pieces to make each task less daunting. "If you have credit card debt, start paying off one credit card at a time by paying more than the minimum balance," Archuleta said.

Choose the card with the lowest balance and add as much as possible to the minimum amount. Continue paying off any other cards at the same time.

"Finding the extra money may mean a few lifestyle changes," Archuleta said, such as eating at home more or taking lunch to work.

Set positive goals

Several things can get in the way of crossing things off your list from past years, Priebe says, but what it really boils down to is behavior.

Whether it's saving more money, getting a will written or changing jobs, Priebe says she's noticed that the best way to achieve a goal is by embracing an action, not avoiding one.

In other words, you're more likely to succeed in changing your diet if you decide to learn new salad recipes rather than vow to stop eating ice cream.

Priebe herself used this method to trim down her wardrobe. You might think saying, "I won't make any new purchases" would make sense. Instead, she decided to shop her own closet. It worked, and she went an entire year without buying anything.

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