Take Control of Your Life with a Personal Strategic Plan

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Jane M. Young, CFP,EA

At least once a year we need to step back from our daily routine to look at our lives from a broader perspective. We get so bogged down with daily responsibilities we lose track of where we are, and where we want to go. Take the time to do some personal strategic planning. Start by looking at what you are actually spending and saving. How much do you spend in a typical month, how much is necessary spending and how much is discretionary? How do your expenses compare to your income? How do your expenses and your savings line up with your goals?

Maybe you haven’t thought about your long range goals for awhile. I challenge you to make a list of 30–50 goals that you would like to accomplish over the next five years. I know… that’s a lot! Think of this as a brainstorming exercise. Don’t evaluate the importance of a goal, just write down what comes to mind. If you are having difficulty thinking of 30–50 goals, try thinking of goals in the following categories: friends and family, health, career, social and entertainment, money and finance, spiritual, education, and community. Once you have created your list, prioritize your goals by importance and timeframe. Develop an action plan for your high priority goals.

Now go back and review your expenses. Are your spending and saving habits congruent with your long term goals? Use the information you have pulled together to develop a spending and savings plan that supports your personal strategic plan. Once you have a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go, you can take control of your life.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

The Possibility of Becoming a Widow Should be Part of Every Married Woman’s Financial Plan

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

I know this is a subject we don’t want to think about but the reality is most wives will out live their husbands. We plot and we plan all kinds of cash flow scenarios for couples to live happily ever after until they fall gently asleep in each others arms at age 100. That would be nice but life isn’t quite so predictable. Therefore as a wife, you should plan to out live your husband. This includes being ready to handle all of the arrangements and paperwork that must be handled upon death as well as long term planning for your financial needs. Below is a list of issues that should be addressed before you become a widow.

 • Select an Estate Planning Attorney who you trust and are comfortable with to draft a will and help you through the process of settling your husband’s estate.
• Draft a will and a Health Power of Attorney.
• Discuss end of life plans with each other.
• Review the beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401ks, and life insurance policies.
• Organize your financial papers so you know what you have, where you have it and who your contact is.
• Take an active role in managing your finances.
• If you are uncomfortable with finances, take some classes and read some books to educate yourself.
• If you choose to work with a Financial Planner take the time to select someone who you trust and feel comfortable with – especially when you are alone. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors provides some good guidelines on selecting a financial planner at www.Napfa.org.
• Run some retirement planning scenarios as a widow – will you have enough money to cover your expenses if you husband predeceases you? Are you still entitled to his pension or will you receive a decreased payout?
• Does your cash flow fall short of what you need? Consider buying some term life insurance? Consider adjusting your work situation to save more money?
• What happens if one of you needs long term care? Can you cover the expense or should you consider long term care insurance?
• What happens to your health insurance when your husband dies? How much time do you have to secure health insurance in your name?   Are you entitled to Cobra?
• Establish credit in your name, get your own credit card.
• Do you have adequate emergency reserves to cover funeral expenses and several months of expenses?

The loss of a spouse is extremely difficult. Most widows feel like they are in fog for the first year. The last thing on your mind will be money but some issues will need to be addressed. Make it easier on yourself and plan ahead.

What You Should Be Doing Now!

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Start by re-evaluating your monthly expenses to determine how much money you need for necessary expenses. Then determine how much you have remaining after you cover these expenses.

2. During difficult economic times, like the present, most people should maintain an emergency fund of at least 6 months of expenses. If you have an exceptionally secure job you may be able to drop it down to 3 months. Always be sure to sure to maintain an adequate emergency fund.

3. Once your emergency fund is established pay off any high interest credit cards.

4. Put aside money for special one time expenses such as a new roof, a new car or a down payment on a house. If you don’t own your own home give some serious consideration to saving up to buy one. Decide how much you want to save on a monthly basis and start a systematic savings plan.

5. Now you can start investing! Determine how much you can afford to invest on a monthly basis. Most people should start by investing in their company retirement plan up to the level that the company will match. If you can afford to invest beyond the level of your company match, invest up to the maximum allowed in a Roth IRA. This should be done on a monthly basis to take advantage of dollar cost averaging – investing the same amount every month. The 2009 contribution limit for a Roth IRA is $5,000 if you are under 50 and $6000 if you are over 50. There is an income limit on your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA based on your adjusted gross income. For 2009, your eligibility to contribute begins to phase-out at $166,000, if you are married filing jointly and $105,000 if you are single.

If you still have money to invest after maximizing your Roth IRA, resume contributing to your company retirement plan up to the maximum amount. The maximum contribution limit for a 401k in 2009 is $16,500 if you are under 50 and $22,000 if you are over 50.

Invest your money in a diversified set of mutual funds. Establish an asset allocation consistent with your timeframe and risk tolerance. For most individuals this will vary from 50% to 80% in stock mutual funds, with the balance in fixed income investments. The market is still priced very low and it is a great time to buy stock mutual funds. However, the market will be very volatile over the next 6 – 9 months. Dollar cost averaging into your retirement plans will help you take advantage of this volatility.

This is very general advice and everyone’s situation is unique. Treat this advice as a general guideline and adapt it to your own situation or consult a Certified Financial Planner for guidance.

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