Plan for Your Best Life
Developing your financial goals and determining how they will be achieved is essential. If they work together, the probability of achieving Your Best Life is greatly enhanced.
Setting Up an Effective Financial Plan
In order to truly manage your money, you should have a working budget for each month. A budget allows you to give each dollar you make a purpose. It puts you in control of your money. It lets you track your spending and helps to measure whether or not you are meeting your financial goals.
Although a budget may seem like a lot of work or too basic when you think about creating a long-term financial plan, it is the key to real, lasting financial success. A good budget will prepare to make each financial step as it comes. You should have a monthly and annual budget to make this work effectively.
It does not matter how much money you make, you can always spend more than you earn. A budget is your best tool for taking control of your finances. It is the key to helping you change your financial future. If you need help budgeting, you can use software or the envelope method to help you control your spending and find money to help with the rest of your financial plan.
Eliminate Your Debt
The second step is to get out of debt. This is important because it does not make sense to save or invest money when you are paying a higher interest rate on the money that you owe to others.
Getting out of debt takes discipline, but it is possible. If you have a lot of debt you will need to drastically cut your spending and increase your earnings in order to pay the debt off more quickly. You should include all of your debt in this except for your first mortgage on your home.
Once you are out of debt, you need to set up systems that will help prevent you from going into debt again. This means setting aside money for big purchases like your car and carrying the right amount of insurance so you do not take on unexpected medical debt. Carefully consider each major financial decision and stop using your credit cards.
Build an Emergency Fund
Once you are out of debt you should build an emergency fund of six months' worth of expenses that you leave in the bank. This cushion will allow you to leave your investments alone in case you fall on hard times. It should only be used for real emergencies such as a job loss, and it is set up to protect your investments and retirement savings.
If you dip into your emergency fund you should focus on bringing it back up to the full amount as quickly as possible. If you have an unstable job, you may want to consider saving up a year's worth of expenses.
If you are creating your financial plan before you get out of debt, you can set up a smaller emergency fund of $1,000 or one month's income that should help you cover most unexpected expenses. This will help you to move forward with getting out of debt and prevent you from adding more debt.
Save for the Future
After you have done that you should work toward building your retirement and investing savings. Many financial advisers, such as Dave Ramsey, recommend putting 15 percent of your gross income into retirement each year. However, if you have specific retirement goals you may need to increase this amount.
You should talk to a financial planner who can help you determine the amount you need to be able to retire comfortably. You can use your 401(k) at work as part of your plan, but you should also use a Roth IRA and other investment tools to increase your investments.
In addition to saving for retirement, you should begin to plan and save for future expenses like your child's education or a down payment for a home if you have not yet purchased one. You may be thinking about a dream vacation home in the future or retiring earlier than normal. All of these take a different saving and investing strategy than typical retirement savings. However, it is an important part of your overall financial plan.
Invest and Diversify
Once you max out your eligibility on your retirement accounts you can use other tools such as mutual funds, annuities, or real estate to increase your investment portfolio. It is important to diversify your types of investments. If you are consistent and careful with your investments, you will reach a point when your investments generate more income than you do. This is a good thing and you should have this in place by the time you retire.
As you draw closer to retiring, you will want to change the way you invest. It is important to have safer investments that will not be as affected by the market going up and down. This way you will still have the money you need if the economy crashes, whereas when you are younger, you will have time for the market to recover. If you need help with this, a financial adviser can help you.
BY MIRIAM CALDWELL @ the Balance