“So how are those 2014 financial resolutions going?” If you find that question cringe-inducing, trust me: you are not alone. And you may be over-reacting. As a financial advisor, I can assure you it’s still plenty early for you to turn your good financial intentions into actionable steps and repeatable systems.
All behavior change (weight loss, positive attitudes, money management, etc.) involves creating new, healthier neuro-pathways step-by-step. I see many parallels between increasing your physical well-being and your financial well-being. Appointments with an internist and dietitian serve to evaluate your physical condition and daily habits. Similarly, the 5-point financial blueprint presented below will provide a comprehensive initial overview of your financial strengths and opportunities for improvement.
Remember, the purpose here is not fear-mongering. It is simply to deepen your awareness of what your money can do for you when it’s well managed.
Earning & spending. This is your financial diet: calories in and out. Track your spending — all of it — for a month (or a week at least). You might be amazed to discover how many ‘calories’ go missing (in this case, expended rather than ingested). Use the old fashion paper-and-pencil method (like me) or an online calculator from Mint, Moven or Spendee. This is the core of your financial health. You are what you eat—and earn, and spend.
Saving. Monitoring savings is like a regular check-up; it should include age-appropriate tests that gauge how well critical systems are working (and are funded). Emergency fund: six months of savings? 401(k): contribution north of 10%? Gross income saved: approaching 20%? If you are not quite there (or nowhere near), yet earning a living wage, now’s the time to ask if common savings myths are holding you back. (Most are variations on “I’ll save more when I make more.”) The fact is, even 10 extra dollars saved a week adds up to some real money over time.
Debt management. Compare this step to maintaining your ideal weight. Kudos if you’re free of extra pounds (or money owed): you’re beating the trend. The New York Fed reported that U.S. household debt crept up again in Q3 2013 (student loans, for example, topped $1 trillion). Remember: adding an extra $50 or $100 to your minimum monthly payment can shave off years of payback and thousands in interest. One session with a debt management calculator should encourage you to funnel a raise or extra revenue stream into this inverse savings account.
Investing. It’s an exercise program tailored towards longevity and good health. Toned muscles fight the atrophy of aging; money is invested to fight and overcome the corrosive power of inflation. Do you know your current asset allocation, fees, and last year’s portfolio performance? Is it time to rebalance? These are the essential questions every investor should ask and answer.
Insurance. This is the financial equivalent of preventative medicine, and it doesn’t stop with health and life insurance. Your chances of needing long-term disability insurance, for example, probably are greater than you expect. Your financial assessment should evaluate your deductibles, whether you should take out an umbrella policy to lower premiums and if you qualify for multi-policy or good driver discounts.
So invest in your financial-wellbeing. This week, take a few hours to run your numbers and ring in a healthy—and wealthier—2014.