Real Resolutions for the New Year

Holidays are over, Congress is in session, and it’s time for a serious list of 2011 objectives.

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Now that the holidays are over and the world has gone back to work, it's time for a real list of resolutions for 2011. Beyond losing those extra pounds, being nicer to family and friends, building a legacy worthy of a Nobel laureate, and generally being the best person on earth, what are you really going to accomplish this year? Here are some suggestions—mine and those culled from an opinion poll.

[See 10 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2011.]

Real bucket list. With due apologies to Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, my real bucket list is not about skydiving and boat rides down the Nile (although I actually did the latter more than 20 years ago and highly recommend it). My buckets are labeled: stuff I enjoy doing, stuff I don't enjoy doing but have to do anyway, and stuff I don't enjoy doing and don't have to do. My goals are to do more things in the first bucket, as little as possible in the second, and none in the third.

Focus. Maybe it's true that your legs are the first thing to go as you get older. But for me, it's been my focus. My wandering mind needs a disciplined drill sergeant but I must make do with computer calendars and reminders and lots of sticky notes. So, I have started doing what I long tried to avoid: I make daily and weekly lists of things I want to accomplish or otherwise need to do. In a good week, many of the things are in the bucket of stuff I enjoy doing.

Don't waste time. There's a difference between stopping to smell the roses—one of the joys of retired life—and wasting time in a doctor's office, in line at a store, or doing anything in that third bucket. Time may seen endless to the young but is, as older folks know, a most precious commodity. If your time isn't really valuable to you, ask yourself why that is, and whether you can and will do anything about it.

Plan for the worst; live for the best. I admit to being an odd duck. I actually like insurance. The peace-of-mind pitches really work for me. For example, I bought as much long-term care insurance as I could afford. I hope I live to pay out a bundle for my policy and never have to use it. A day without worry is a good day.

Forward is better than back. I don't care how old you are and how much you've experienced in life, you still have to have new things to look forward to. Who's to say the next 10 years for an 80-year-old are going to be any less significant than for a 20-year-old? Nostalgia can be great; I engage in it all the time, surrounded by pictures of the family when the kids were young (and I had hair!). But they live 2,000 miles away and have their own lives. So do I. So should you.

[See 11 Key Numbers to Watch in 2011.]

Enough mush from this wimp. Here are the top priorities for Americans of all ages in 2011, according to online responses from more than 2,000 people conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Northwestern Mutual. Respondents were asked to name their top two priorities for the year:

1. Personal finances: 36 percent

2. Personal health: 36 percent

3. Time spent with family and friends: 24 percent

4. Personal well-being: 21 percent

5. Spiritual fulfillment: 14 percent

6. Career: 14 percent

7. Love life: 12 percent

8. Personal appearance: 11 percent

9. Personal education: 8 percent

10. Helping the less fortunate: 5 percent

The survey also asked what steps people planned to take in 2011 to keep or get their "financial house" in order. Here are the top 10 replies:

1. Pay down my debt: 39 percent

2. Save a portion of my paycheck regularly: 30 percent

3. Build up an emergency fund: 28 percent

4. Develop or stick to a budget: 27 percent

5. Contribute to my retirement savings: 19 percent

6. Improve my credit score: 17 percent

7. Organize financial documents: 17 percent

8. Create or update a financial plan: 13 percent

9. Design a will or estate plan: 12 percent

10. Take steps to prevent identify theft: 11 percent

[See 10 Reasons to Feel Optimistic About the Future.]

People who described themselves as retired had different financial priorities for 2011. Here are their top replies:

1. Pay down my debt: 29 percent

2. Build up an emergency fund: 24 percent

3. Organize financial documents: 22 percent

4. Develop or stick to a budget: 20 percent

5. Take steps to prevent identify theft: 19 percent

6. Save a portion of my paycheck regularly: 17 percent

7. Design a will or estate plan: 17 percent

8. Rebalance my investment portfolio: 15 percent

9. Work with a professional: 15 percent

10. Create or update a financial plan: 14 percent

Twitter: @PhilMoeller