It’s a new year, and that means new resolutions. Like many people, you may have made financial well-being one of your resolutions for 2019, but how do you go about achieving it? We’ve included five easy-to-implement steps to help increase your financial health and meet 2020 with confidence.
1. Set Up a Budget
We know—budgets are boring. We hear that all the time as financial planners. Yet in our work with clients, we see budgets as an opportunity. They show what’s possible and provide the structure to make the possible a reality.
A well-designed budget will help you understand how much you’re making versus how much you’re spending. Did you end up short one month? A budget will help you pinpoint where you went wrong (dining out too much?) and help you create a plan to achieve your goals (like traveling across Europe).
A financial planner can create a detailed budget that adapts with the changes in your life. If you want to take a DIY approach, you can go with online programs like YNAB or Mint. Either way, go ahead and give a budget a try. You may never agree with us that budgets are exciting, but you may find them indispensable in achieving financial well-being.
2. Build an Emergency Fund
We believe an emergency fund is just as indispensable as a budget. When life goes wrong, an emergency fund can help you meet the crisis with confidence. You’ll have the money in the bank to help you stay afloat while you work through whatever life threw at you.
We generally recommend that people save four to six months’ worth of living expenses. Your situation may be different, of course. If you’re self-employed and have variable income, for example, you may want to save more.
Don’t put the money in an investment account. You want to be able to access the cash as soon as you need it, and you want to protect it from the vagaries of the stock market. Consider a high-yield bank account, a money market account, or a no-penalty certificate of deposit (CD).
3. Tackle Your Debt
It’s true that debt can be leveraged smartly, and some debt, like a home mortgage, is practically unavoidable. However, debt can also sap your ability to save and can keep you up at night, worrying how you will pay the bills.
Make a plan to reduce or eliminate your debt so that you can increase your ability to live the life you envision. One popular method is to pay down the highest-interest debt first; alternatively, you might start with the smallest balance. Whatever your method, the sense of accomplishment in paying off each succeeding bill can keep you going until you’re done with them all.
4. Review Gaps in Your Insurance
So you have a budget, have built an emergency fund, and are watching your savings increase as your debt burden goes down. What’s next? A good option is to make sure you’ve protected what you built. A car accident, a slip-and-fall on your property, a natural disaster—you can’t really prepare for these events, but you can make sure you and your family are protected should they occur.
Make a list of your insurance needs, such as homeowners, renters, and automobile. You may want to consider an umbrella policy, and if you’re a business owner, you should consider how to protect your livelihood as well.
If you’re unsure about your needs, consider talking with a financial planner who can make recommendations based on the entirety of your situation (see the next step for details).
5. Get the Help of a Financial Planner
We’ve tried to present easy-to-implement resolutions in this article; however, financial and investment planning can still be complex. For example, you may be wondering how much you should be saving toward your emergency fund versus paying down your debt.
The right financial planner can help you craft the financial, tax, investment, insurance, and estate strategies to help you achieve your unique goals. They will provide ongoing advice and implementation to help ensure that your financial strategies remain in sync with your life and objectives.
And who is the right advisor? That depends on your needs, but we believe everyone is best served by a fiduciary advisor who doesn’t earn commissions and always puts your best interests first. And seek out a fee-only advisor so you can rest assured that commissions aren’t attached to the advice.