Been on a health kick? Peter Sharkey says if January is the time for your body, February is all about your cash...

Congratulations if 'Dry January' or 'Veganuary' have cleaned up your digestive system, cleared your head, contributed to your weight loss, or generally made you feel good about yourself; ideally, you're currently enjoying the benefits of all four (and more) fruits of your labour.

Should you be basking in some well-deserved back-slapping, even if it is self-administered, just imagine how healthy your finances could be if you applied the same level of determination and focus to managing your money.

No, no. Don't leave: apply some of that newly-discovered determination and read on…

It's a sad fact of life that while many people are prepared to dig deep into their physical reserves and, with impressive displays of dedication, run, skip, walk, swim or cycle through the year's opening month, the majority continuing the good work into February, they shy away from the relatively simple task of addressing their finances.

I doubt very much it's because the task is too difficult. After all, the prospect of going without a drink for the whole of January, or tackling a challenging new year resolution probably looked impossible at the start of the month, but consider what can be achieved, health-wise, when you set your mind to doing something.

Fortunately, the same is true of what might be called personal financial management, a fancy phrase for 'getting your house in order', a comparatively straightforward exercise that has a number of benefits, not least the fact that you don't have to do it every day.

But where to start?

Here's a useful 'heads-up'. 
A few weeks from now, banks, fund managers and others will go into 'ISA Overdrive', spending millions of pounds urging people to invest in this or that ISA (Investment Savings Account) before the end of the tax year on 5th April.

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Encouraging folks to utilise as much of their ISA investment allowance as they can before April's cut-off date cannot be faulted, but just because firms blow colossal sums promoting their ISA products doesn't necessarily mean they're the best.

Admittedly, this is true of any product, from firms selling washing powder to banks selling you money, although thankfully, January is not only a great time for applying ourselves to improving our minds and bodies, it's also the perfect month for assembling and comparing lists of investment performance over the previous year, something I've spent much of the past week examining.

Steering clear of the often predicable ISA offerings made by banks and insurers, I focused instead on returns made in the so-called 'robo-investing' sector, ostensibly because fees here tend to be extremely competitive, while investing is generally straight-forward, almost irrespective of how much you want to save every month.

The 'robo' sector might still be in its infancy, but its appeal is obvious: you can invest via your smartphone, tablet and a host of other devices. It's also incredibly simple: most firms offer a range of pre-selected investment portfolios, the suitability of which is determined, amongst other things, by the would-be investor's age, income and attitude towards risk.

As is the case with many online comparison tables, where companies often pay for positions near the top of 'best buy' lists, it's important to consider such activity when analysing the robo sector.

Several of the sector's biggest firms, two of which continue to rack up enormous losses, dominated the 2019 annual ISA returns tables having generated between 11% and 12.8% over the preceding 12 months. Fortunately, I also receive dozens of emails from other - and significantly more profitable - robo investment firms, one of which, TAM Asset Management, reported a particularly impressive performance last year.

The company's Ethical Growth portfolio, for instance, returned 17.4%; its Ethical Balanced fund returned 12.8%, while another of its ethical portfolios generated more than 21% during 2019.

The commentary accompanying the figures was equally 
striking. "This performance," it noted, "was achieved without trying to second guess 
short-term market movements caused by the political backdrop [but] through sticking to our tried and tested strategy of defensive management to provide…risk-adjusted returns over the long-term."

Knowing where and how to start is hugely important when addressing a new year's resolution. The same is true when getting one's house in order, financially-speaking. In both instances, it's worth remembering that the most satisfactory returns are not necessarily available from outfits spending millions on marketing.

For more financial advice, check out Peter Sharkey's regular column, The Week In Numbers.