Last year, what I wanted most for you was clarity, remember?

How would your life be better if you were absolutely clear about what you want your life to look like, the resources you have or will have at your disposal, and the obstacles that you’ll have to get over, around, or through to make it happen? 

 

Would knowing how you’re invested make it easier to make decisions about the uncertain future? Would having a clear debt-free date encourage you to keep on keeping on? Would a precise knowledge of how you spend help you understand why you spend and when to cut back (or spend more)?

 

I submit to you that it would. At the risk of really oversimplifying your complicated life, understanding where you are now is the only way you can make plans to get to where you want to go. Clarity about your direction is the only sure defense against getting lost when bad news spins you one way and good news spins you the other.

 

One thing to understand about the pursuit of clarity is that it’s not a once and done activity. Life changes. Goals change. People change. My husband and I have been married for fourteen years, and I don’t think there were two in a row that were the same in terms of jobs, homes, cities, or plans.

 

My hope for you this year is that – no matter what your circumstances – you take the time to get really, really clear about what those circumstances actually are, and plan to repeat the process when they change.

As we face 2016, what I want for you hasn’t really changed, just matured: I want you to have clarity, but I also want you to be engaged. To make an effort.

To take ownership.

Now, let’s be clear (there’s that clarity thing again), because words like “ownership” and “effort” can easily convey a sense of finger-wagging accusation, as if any mistakes you’ve made or trouble you’ve encountered could have been easily avoided if you’d just been carrying your money around in envelopes like you were supposed to.

This coming year has nothing to do with guilt and everything to do with encouragement: now that you know where you are, I want you to commit to where you want to go.

If clarity about your current circumstances equips you to aim for what you really want, ownership equips you to act. The coming year is guaranteed to be full of surprises. Clarity – knowing how surprises have affected you in the past – is good, but organizing your financial infrastructure around adapting to surprises is better, and that’s ownership.

An easy example: the holiday season is almost over. Calculating how much you spent on gifts, food, and general ‘it’s the holidays”-type things and reflecting on how well that number matches up with what’s really important to you is an exercise in clarity. Ownership is starting a holiday savings plan in January or talking to your family about alternatives to gift giving in order to more purposefully align the kind of holiday season you have next year with what’s actually important to you.

Too often in finance we use grand goals to motivate behavioural change: “Save for your early retirement on the beach!” or “Fund a year-long trip around the world!” Most of us don’t have goals that glamorous; in fact, most of us don’t have specific goals at all. I’d bet that the overwhelming majority of folks reading this right now just want 2016 to be better than 2015. You’d like to be able to pay the bills with less worry. You’d like to save a little more. You’d like a little more wiggle room, a little more flexibility, a little more stability.

In the past, you wished for things to be better. You hoped for your circumstances to change, rather than your behaviour, but incremental improvement is a goal, you know, however unsexy it may sound. Just like the glamorous ones it’s a goal that needs to be worked towards, and that means taking ownership. This year you’re going to identify that small handful of improvements that you can make to better align your money with your life, that prepare you just a little better for all that 2016 might hold, and you’re going to actually pursue them.

This is the year you stop wishing and start doing.