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Jill on Money: Money goals to strive for in 2020

We're a couple of weeks into 2020, which means that millions of Americans are in the midst of doing something different with their lives. In his book, "When," author Daniel Pink says that the date you choose to motivate yourself is no accident.

"The first day of the year is what social scientists call a 'temporal landmark,'" or a date that stands out from most others on the calendar. New Year's Day certainly qualifies, and its passage provides us with "a chance to start again" and to leave behind our "mistakes and imperfections."

I'll leave you to deal with your goals around diet and exercise — and instead focus on three financial to-dos for 2020.

Goal 1: Track cash flow

The most common financial resolutions that I come across are to save more, spend less and to pay down outstanding debt. I'm lumping them into one category because each requires that you understand how much money is coming into your household and the amount that you spend.

I know it may sound simple, but if you don't get this core concept right, it's hard to make informed decisions about your financial life. To track your cash flow, download a free app like Mint or Clarity Money, or use your bank's app.

Goal 2: Put your money on autopilot

With your trusted cash flow in hand, make your life easier by using technology to manage due dates on bills and to establish auto pay on available accounts. The idea is to synchronize payments for recurring bills when you receive income.

If you are paying down debt, establish automatic payments, even for a small amount, so your most important expenses get paid and you can avoid, or at least minimize, penalties and fees. If you are saving on your own, you can automatically transfer money from your checking or savings account to a Roth or traditional IRA.

Goal 3: Embrace the unthinkable

Nobody wakes up on Jan. 1 and says, "I want to contemplate my death," but that is what I am asking you to do. As I said in my book, "The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money": "Of all the off-the-hook stupid mistakes you can make with your money, failing to have a will is indisputably the worst. Not only can it result in massive financial losses for your loved ones, depending on the size of the estate, but it can also cause them any number of other hardships."

It's important that you overcome the anxieties associated with this emotional topic and take control. Start with a will, which is a legal document that ensures that your assets are passed to your designated beneficiaries, in accordance with your wishes. In the drafting process, you name an executor, the person or institution that oversees the distribution of your assets.

If you have minor children, you need to name a guardian for them. Although it can be hard to agree on a suitable person for such an important role, don't let it stop you; make the best choice you can now and then you can always change it in the future.

Two other documents are a health care proxy, which allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so, and a durable power of attorney, which allows you to appoint someone to act as your financial agent in a variety of circumstances.

Although I prefer hiring an estate attorney to do it the right way and in accordance with state laws, having something basic, like what's available online, is better than nothing.

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes comments and questions at askjill@jillonmoney.com.

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