Ask Carrie: Are You Ready for a Financially Healthy 2017?

Ask Carrie: Are You Ready for a Financially Healthy 2017?
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Dear Readers,

At the beginning of each New Year, I'm filled with a sense of new direction. At the same time, I like to look back at the previous year, evaluate what worked, and make a fresh commitment to keep going on whatever path proved most successful.

One of the things that was a real boost to me in 2016 was a 30-day food cleanse that left me feeling stronger and more in control of my physical health. If you followed my columns last year, you may remember that I turned that idea of a physical cleanse into a 30-day financial cleanse with the goal of giving people a way to supercharge their financial health. The response I got was so positive that I decided this is one of those ideas that really should be repeated.

The path to a healthier--and more productive--you
It's pretty generally acknowledged that financial health and physical health go hand in hand. And it's all about stress. In fact, studies have found that financial stress leads to a whole range of serious physical problems from heart attacks to ulcers to migraines to depression.

Plus, according the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), financial stress can also significantly impact your professional life. A 2016 IFEBP survey found that financial issues result in employees' inability to focus at work as well as increased absenteeism. So it only makes sense that paying attention to your financial health not only potentially improves your personal well-being, but may also have a positive impact on your professional productivity--a clear win for both employees and employers.

It starts with mindful spending
To me, one of the best ways to reduce financial stress is to refocus on where your money is going--and where you want it to go. Sound difficult? It's not. You just need to zero in on three things: 1) Your spending and saving patterns; 2) Your short- and long-term goals; 3) The changes you need to make to align your spending with your personal priorities. And the financial cleanse is designed to help you do just that.

Four weeks to a financially healthier 2017

The New Year is the perfect time to detox your finances and commit to financial health. So for those of you who followed my financial cleanse last year and want a refresher--and those who are looking for a way to lessen financial stress in 2017--here in a nutshell is the four-week program:

  • Week 1--Set the stage for success. If this were a food cleanse, you'd start by cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator to get rid of unhealthy foods. For your financial cleanse, this means temporarily putting away your credit cards and using cash for your day-to-day expenses--things like lunches out, hair appointments, morning coffee, outings with your kids, date nights and impulse purchases. To increase your awareness even more, keep a written record of where your money goes (a spending tracker worksheet can help). Can you identify areas where you could easily cut back?

  • Week 2--Track ALL your expenses. From mortgage or rent to utilities to insurance premiums to subscriptions and club memberships, add up all your monthly expenses--essentials as well as day-to-day. Then project your total monthly expenses and compare them to your take-home income--try using an online budget planner to make it easier. Will you fall short or have extra? Where can you make changes?
  • Week 3--State your goals. Rainy day fund? House? Vacation? College? Dream a little, but also be realistic. To make your goals concrete, pick one short-term, one medium-term and one long-term goal and assign a dollar amount to each.
  • Week 4--Put the pieces together. Look at the evidence you've collected and be honest with yourself. Does your spending align with your priorities? Do you need to adjust your budget? Can save more toward your goals? Use this information to take positive action.
  • Are you ready to make a change?If I've peaked your interest, the next step is to make a personal commitment to improve your financial health--and stick with the program. But don't think you have to do everything all at once or necessarily all by yourself. To help you get going--and keep going--I've developed a
    with simple to dos for each week plus tips to help you keep motivated and on track. You'll also find more information at

    One more thought. In my experience, change doesn't have to happen all at once; it can be incremental. Just take it one small step at a time. Within a few weeks those baby steps can build into a formidable habit that will soon become second nature and put you on a lifelong path to financial health. Believe me, it's worth the effort!

    For more updates, follow Carrie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

    Looking for answers to your retirement questions? Check out Carrie's book,"The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty: Answers to Your Most Important Money Questions."

    This article originally appeared on You can e-mail Carrie at, or click here for additional Ask Carrie columns. This column is no substitute for an individualized recommendation, tax, legal or personalized investment advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager.


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