There are few things more professionally satisfying to a financial coach than embracing an opportunity to guide others to and through an “aha moment.” You know, those enlightening times when you finally realize a solution to a problem that can ultimately be life changing. You don’t have to be a financial coach to find that it can be an extremely cathartic experience to witness someone overcome their money-related fears and anxieties with a newfound sense of hope and empowerment.
Last week, an email circulated around Financial Finesse, a leading provider of workplace financial wellness services. This inspirational story was written by a woman who has been working with Bruce Young, a friend, mentor, and our Director of Training at Financial Finesse. She is a divorcee in her early 60s who entered a series of financial wellness consultations completely uncertain about her financial future and whether she would ever be able to retire. Her follow-up email to the CEO had the entire team of financial planners inspired by her words of confidence and the resilience she demonstrated while overcoming those money-related fears.
Managing our personal finances has many challenges. When it comes to overcoming the obstacles on our journey to true financial independence, the biggest problem isn’t typically a lack of information. It’s a lack of action. If you have some gaps in your financial life that are creating stress and anxiety, here are some quick fixes you can use today that may lead you to your own “aha moment” tomorrow:
Manage your money with a purpose
Money is simply a tool. There are only a few things we ultimately can do with it – spend it on experiences or stuff, pay back creditors, give it to others, or save it for the future.
It is hard to manage your personal finances and follow through on your plans with smart choices if you don’t have a solid grasp on your values and priorities. Why does money matter to you? When you take time to understand your “why,” your financial plan becomes aligned with your personal life plans.
Quick fix if you don’t have a financial plan: Have a meaningful conversation about your life goals with a friend, family member, or trusted professional. It may help to put your goals in writing with a simple, yet powerful, one-page financial plan. Putting your money-related life goals in writing is an effective way to focus on what matters the most to you – this is your why.
Budget…I’d rather not!
Few personal topics get discussed as frequently as the dreaded BUDGET. We all know the importance of eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and getting a good night’s sleep, but that doesn’t mean we all consistently practice those good behaviors.
Similarly, it is no secret that understanding where your money is going (and where you plan for it to go in the future) is another best practice behavior. Instead of following the path of most Americans who only have a vague idea where their money is going, create and follow a spending plan that proactively helps you save, spend, give, and grow your money. The spending plan is the fuel for your financial goals as Alok Deshpande highlights in his book Fuel: The Most Important Number in Your Financial Life.
Quick fix if you don’t have a budget: Stop thinking your budgeting system needs to be perfect or that you must track every penny. Advanced spreadsheet systems work for some people while automated spending plans work for others. The best plan is the one you are likely to stick with on a consistent basis.
Examples of popular budgeting tools that help automate the process include Mint, YNAB, and GoodBudget. You may also check to see if your bank or credit union offers a budget tracker. Excel spreadsheets and the old school paper and pencil method also get my stamp of approval as long as they work for you.
Track your progress
Is your financial life on the right track? Most of us have a pretty good sense of how to subjectively answer that question. But have you identified ways to objectively assess the progress you are making toward important life goals?
Quick fixes if you aren’t tracking your progress: If you have access to a financial wellness assessment through your employer, that is a good place to start. Online money management apps and account aggregation services such as Mint or Personal Capital also help you see your financial accounts in one place. Some additional ways to track your finances (other than the budget) include the following:
- Create a personal balance sheet and net worth analysis
- Determine how long your savings would last in the event of an emergency
- Calculate your debt-to-income ratio
- Review your overall savings rate as a percentage of income (401k, IRA, HSA, regular savings, etc.)
Save more for retirement
The retirement savings gap is real. It just depends on which research report you look at to determine how dire the situation is. Rather than stress over the retirement savings crisis, take time to figure out if you have a retirement savings gap. The best way to do that is to run a basic retirement calculator.
Quick fixes if you need to save more for retirement: Start by scanning your spending plan for potential ways to reduce expenses or increase your income. Then make sure you are at least capturing the full employer match in your retirement plan at work. If you’re already there, increase your retirement savings in tax-advantaged accounts such as a 401(k) plan or a Roth IRA up to the maximum amount possible ($18,000 and $5,500, respectively, in 2017).
Since you may not be able to magically reach those savings rates overnight, a good target is to save somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 percent of your gross income for long-term goals such as retirement. Remember, this is a target goal and the only way you will truly know how much to save will depend on the results of your retirement calculator. The ultimate “quick fix” when it comes to saving for retirement is to automate your contributions and to gradually increase them over time using a contribution rate escalation feature available in many retirement plans.
Improve your financial knowledge and increase your self-confidence
Knowing what to do is significantly less important than our financial behaviors. However, it still is important to build a solid base of financial knowledge that helps you identify which actions to take. Increasing your knowledge base will also help you build up your sense of financial self-efficacy – a key component that can help you think your way to success.
Quick fix to see a boost in your financial confidence: Take action and realize the benefits of a few small wins. The steps mentioned above are a great place to start building positive momentum. Learn as much as you can about personal financial planning through participation in a workplace financial wellness program or by attending financial education classes. Personal finance blogs are popping up every day as more people become aware that a little financial knowledge, backed by some wise financial behaviors, can lead to your financial independence day.
It’s perfectly normal to acknowledge that a few gaps may exist in your financial life. In many cases, all it takes is a gentle nudge and guidance from a trusted source to help us bridge these gaps in our lives. While meaningful change can take some time and patience to achieve, it is often a few seemingly “small wins” that can set those wheels of change in motion.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi.