Eight Steps to Start Living Your Ideal Financial Life in 2019!
January is the time of year we declare year-long goals and put our ambition to the test. More than one-third of Americans make a Financial Resolution with the top three proclamations as follows1:
- Save More
- Pay Down Debt
- Spend Less
Like physical health, financial wellness is not accomplished in one month but rather over several years through daily effort. Financial wellness starts by developing a healthy relationship with money and all areas of personal finance. You must do the work to realize financial wellness, there is not a magic pill or product that will instantly make your finances perfect. Rather, it is the process of getting yourself financially organized, understanding your family’s financial risks and then tackling your financial goals over time with financial planning.
So, if you are ready to make your finances a priority this year, try these eight steps on your own, with your existing financial advisor or evaluate hiring a Certified Financial Planner™ professional at http://www.letsmakeaplan.org.
- Be determined to be your own financial plan. Most individuals will be solely responsible for their personal finances. This is particularly true for women of which 95% will be their family’s primary financial decision maker at some point in their lives2. Fully relying on a family member, your spouse or on your financial advisor is simply not a good idea. No one knows your financial picture and your life goals better than you so make sure you are part of the financial conversation. Only you will have to live with the results of your financial planning (or lack of financial planning). Make your future financial self a priority and get to work with steps two through eight.
- Know your Financial Picture. – Getting yourself financially organized can be an amazing gift to yourself and your family. What exactly does this mean? A great place to start is putting together your Personal Net Worth Statement (search for a pdf or excel template online or check out an interactive template at https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/smart-spending/personal-net-worth-calculator.aspx. As part of this process it is also a great idea to pull your credit report at annualcreditreport.com to make sure you have included all your debts within your Net Worth statement but also to make sure all debt is current and there are not any fraudulent accounts attached to your record.
- The “B” word – Budgeting! There are plenty of excuses as to why budgeting is not for you but please understand that budgeting is for everyone! Budgeting is really a map of how you prioritize your financial resources and a great way to see if you are living out your values. To start budgeting, numerous online templates are available for download or feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can share the template we use with our clients.
The exercise should include your gross income (what you make before taxes and deductions are taken out), then itemize and subtract your deductions, taxes and other expenses that are taken out of your paycheck. This is your income available for spending. Next list all your expenses – fixed, variable, needs and wants. Then compare your income available for spending to your total expenses –is your net number positive or negative? How do you feel about how you are spending your resources? – are you spending on what is important to you and your family? Now try tracking your expenses for three months and see how close your actual spending is compared to your budget. From this information you can set your future spending budget and then it is time to prioritize what to do with your extra cash, which leads us to step number four.
- Pay yourself first and start with a fully funded Emergency Fund. Once you know what you are spending, it is time to make saving and investing a priority. A good rule of thumb is to save at least 10-15% for retirement (your future self) and allocate another 5% to other goals like funding a child’s education, future purchase or travel goals. Employer retirement plans can be a great place to save for retirement and be sure to understand and take advantage of any employer matches. Ask your Human Resources department if you have questions.
Before you start funding future goals, make sure you start with a solid emergency fund. This should be 6 months of your required household spending for single income households and be 3 months of your required household spending if you are a dual income household. As an example, if a dual income family spends $120,000 on their home, childcare, autos, and all other household purchases in a year, they would want to have $30,000 in their emergency fund – held in an FDIC insured bank account. If there is a lot of volatility with income sources, you may want to increase that number to 9 or 12 months of required household spending.
- Talk about money! Why is money such a taboo topic? 68% of people engaged to be married have negative attitudes about discussing money with their soon-to-be spouse3 and 74% of parents have some reluctance to talk with their kids about money4. Much of it has to do with what we learned as children and our overall society’s lack of financial conversations.
When you can make money a safe topic you can build up your family’s financial literacy, confidence and improve relationships. You can start by simply having a conversation – with your spouse, partner or siblings and parents.
Trying to answer these questions together:
- How do I think and feel about saving, spending, investing, and gifting?
- What are the messages and beliefs I learned early on about money? Are they “in my way” now?
- What kind of resources would I like to have for the things, people, and ideas I care most about?
- What kind of planning have I done or need to do to take care of my needs and my family’s needs now and in the future?
Having conversations with children can be as simple as incorporating money lessons into everyday activities like paying bills and grocery shopping. Share your values with your children and demonstrate and communicate how you make financial decisions because of those values. Visit your local library or check out a fun interactive website. Some of my favorites include:
For Young Children:
The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money, Stan & Jan Berenstain
Just Saving My Money, Mercer Mayer
American Girl a Smart Girl’s Guide – Money, Nancy Holyoke
Pigs Will Be Pigs, Amy Axeirod
For Older Children:
The Teen Money Manual: A Guide to Cash, Credit, Spending, Saving, Work, Wealth, and More, Kara McGuire
Raising Financial Fit Kids, Joline Godfrey
The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron Lieber
For Women & Couples:
Women’s Worth – Finding Your Financial Confidence, Eleanor Blayney, CFP®
The Couples Retirement Puzzle, Roberta K. Taylor, RNCS, MEd and
Dorian Mintzer, MSW, PhD
For Your Aging Parent(s):
My Two Elaines, Martin J. Schreiber
AARP The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking with your Adult Children about the Rest of Your Life, Tim Prosch
Words From the Heart, Dr. Eric L. Weiner
- Estate Planning is not just for old and rich people. There are so many reasons to get your estate planning documents up to date including health care decisions, financial wishes and taking care of loved ones. Most individuals are already doing estate planning through beneficiary designation forms for retirement accounts and insurance policies owned. Key documents can be completed with the help of an attorney and typically include a Will, Revocable Trust, Financial Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will. Ask your family, friends, accountant or financial advisor for a trusted estate planning attorney referral. Once documents are drafted and signed be sure to follow-up as your attorney advises with recommended titling and beneficiary changes.
One other important piece of planning is to make sure loved ones can access your digital assets (online accounts and passwords) should you pass away or become incapacitated. Sometimes referred to as digital estate planning, there are a variety of ways to inform loved ones of your online accounts and access include securely stored written passwords or online password sites like www.dashlane.com or www.lastpass.com.
- Insurance is a Tool – Many have had a negative experience with an insurance salesperson, myself included! Insurance is typically sold on a commission basis which means that once the product is sold the salesperson receives up-front payment for that sale. So, it is important that consumers do their homework before purchasing insurance.
First, start with what risk you need to insure. Two very common risks include premature death and becoming disabled. Secondly, quantify the risk – what income would you need to replace? What extra expense would occur or what need must be funded if the worst happens? A helpful tool to run preliminary numbers can be found at http://www.lifehappens.org/ . From here, engage a qualified, insurance-licensed professional that will walk you through their own needs-based insurance calculation and review the types of insurance that can cover the risk you wish to mitigate.
- Invest in Yourself – Finally, take some time and evaluate what resources you need to live your ideal financial life. There are many emotions tied with money so take stock of what might be helping and hurting your ability to reach life and financial goals. How can you use your resources to live a life of financial wellness? A few ideas to try:
- Stay in touch or rebuild your professional network. This is important for those working outside and inside the home. Keep your resume and LinkedIn profile updated and have a business-professional outfit you feel great in.
- Evaluate hiring a coach – this could be a life, career or professional coach depending on what you are looking to get out of the coaching engagement. Find a coach at https://coachfederation.org/find-a-coach/.
- Evaluate substituting or adding expenses to make your life more enjoyable. (Yes, I told you to spend more if your budget allows!) Hiring someone to help with meal-prep, laundry, homework after school or personal shopping are some examples that might allow you to then spend what little free time you have in a more meaningful way with those you care most about.
Wishing you Financial Wellness in 2019!
Brooke Napiwocki, CFP®, MBA
Crescendo Wealth Management LLC
- Fact Sheet: Fidelity Investments® 2017 New Year Financial Resolutions Study. Fidelity Investments. 2016.
- What do Breadwinner Women Want?Family Wealth Advisor Council. 2015.
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling. 2013.
- T. Rowe Price 2014 Parents, Kids & Money Survey. T. Rowe Price 2014.
- Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, Certified Financial Planner™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
- The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax planning or legal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified tax or legal advisor.
- Securities offered through J.W. Cole Financial, Inc. (JWC) Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through J.W. Cole Advisors, Inc. (JWCA). Crescendo Wealth Management, LLC and JWC/JWCA are unaffiliated entities.