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The new year brings reflection and reassessment. Although a big list of New Year’s resolutions can be difficult to keep, it is worth making and keeping just one solid change each year.
Following are five changes that will move you toward a better future. Had you had acted on even one of these resolutions 10 years ago, you’d probably be in a better place.
But make one or all of these moves now, and you can thank yourself heartily a decade hence.
1. Boost your retirement savings 1 percent a year
Can you picture yourself saving 20 or 30 percent of your salary toward retirement? It sounds radical.
Yet, when you consider our growing lifespans and the potential shrinking of Social Security in years to come, the only guarantee against old-age poverty might be to save about 30 percent of your earnings and invest it intelligently.
Ten years ago, if you’d started adding a measly 1 percent more each year to your retirement savings, today your contribution would be 10 percent higher. If you were saving 10 percent at the beginning of 2009, you’d be at 20 percent now.
Here are a couple of tactics to get started:
- Divert money before you see it: Sign up for automatic payroll deductions so the savings portion of your paycheck never reaches your checking account. This will derail any temptation to spend the money. If your employer doesn’t offer automatic deductions, your bank should let you automatically transfer a set amount of money from your checking account to your savings account monthly.
- Automate your increases: Some workplace retirement plans let you choose to automatically bump up your savings each year, which makes the dent in your paycheck scarcely noticeable. If you don’t have this feature at work, muster your resolve and do it yourself, raising your retirement contribution by 1 percent each January.
2. Drop your defenses
Defensiveness — the impulse to meet every challenge with an attack — robs us of the chance to hear information we need. It cheats us of the chance to hear what friends, colleagues and loved ones want from or suggest for us.
That, in turn, robs us of chances to grow, to succeed and to make more and deeper connections. If you’d been listening better 10 years ago, your life might be much richer today.
Here’s how to do it: When someone asks you to listen, just do it — no arguing, no counterattacking. You don’t have to agree or respond. Just say you’ll think it over. You’ve got your own grievances, no doubt. Save them for later, for when it’s your turn to be heard.
3. Quit smoking
It’s not easy to be a smoker today. Scorned and despised, smokers are stuck puffing away in backyards and alleys, in rain and snow, because no one else wants their secondhand smoke.
We know that if quitting were easy, you’d have done it by now. But don’t give up trying. Even the most committed addicts can and do drop cigarettes for good. Often, it takes many attempts and many failures to succeed at quitting for good.
Smoking contributes to a catalog of ailments and diseases, including, of course, being a prime player in many types of cancer. Quitting is the kindest possible thing you can do for yourself.
If you’d quit smoking in January 2009 and stuck with it, you’d have a smoke-free decade by now, adding years to your life.
4. Ask regularly for raises
Raises are critical for your ability to keep pace in your field and progress financially. Even small increases are better than none, as they add up over time and build a larger base from which to negotiate next time.
Consider your request from your manager’s point of view. Prepare to demonstrate your value to the company, citing numbers and anecdotes. This might require you to put on the steam at work and keep careful track of your results so you’re armed with data.
If your company simply won’t part with the money, it might be time to look for a better job.
5. Decide whether to change careers
If you’ve spent years wondering whether to leave your career or double down and improve it, make a decision. Decisions that drag on sap your energy and make it difficult to commit enthusiastically.
Here’s how to proceed: Don’t just go back to school without researching and shaping a detailed plan. Higher education is expensive, and taking on student debt is risky. A certification program or vocational training might pay off better in the long run.
If you’re older, also consider “5 Things to Weigh Before Going Back to School After Age 50.”
Learn all you can about the field you are interested in, doing such things as interviewing and shadowing people who do the type of work you’re considering.
For help with the decision, including learning about employment and earnings after graduation, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s . It delves into the numbers on likely growth rate of specific jobs, what they pay and the education and training they require.
How are you planning to change your game in the new year? Share with us in comments or on our .