Tips to Acheive Financial Fitness

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


The first step toward financial fitness is to understand your current situation and live within your means. Review your actual expenses on an annual basis and categorize your expenses as necessary or discretionary. Compare your expenses to your income and develop a budget to ensure you are living within your means and saving for the future. The next step is to pay off high interest credit cards and personal debts. Once you have paid off your credit cards, create and maintain an emergency fund equal to about four months of expenses, including expenses for the current month. Your emergency funds should be readily accessible in a checking, savings or money market account.
Now it’s time to look toward the future. Get in the habit of always saving at least 10% to 15% of your gross income. Think about your goals and what you want to accomplish. If you don’t own a home, you may want to save for a down payment. When you purchase a home make sure you can easily make the payments while contributing toward retirement. Generally, your mortgage expense should be at or below 25% of your take home pay.
Contribute money into retirement plans, for which you qualify. Make contributions to your 401k plan, at least up to the employer match and maximize your Roth IRA. If you are self-employed, consider a SEP or a Simple plan. If you have children and want to contribute to their college expenses, consider a 529 college savings plan. Do not contribute so much toward your children’s college fund that you sacrifice your own retirement.
As you save for retirement, be an investor not a trader. Investing in the stock market is a long term endeavor, forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market is fruitless. Avoid emotional reactions to headlines and short term events. Don’t overreact to sensationalistic stories or chase the latest investment trends. Establish a defensive position by maintaining a well-diversified portfolio, custom designed for your unique situation. Slow and steady wins the race!
Don’t invest in anything that you don’t understand or that sounds too good to be true. If you really want to invest in complicated products, read the fine print. Be especially aware of high commissions, fees, and surrender charges. There is no free lunch; if you are being offered above market returns, there is probably a catch. Keep in mind that contracts are written to protect the insurance or investment company, not the investor.
It is impossible to predict fluctuations in the market or to select the next great stock. However, you can hedge your bets with a well-diversified portfolio. Establish an asset allocation that is aligned with your goals, investment timeframe, and risk tolerance. Your portfolio should contain a mix of fixed income and stock based investments across a wide variety of companies and industries. Rebalance your portfolio on an annual basis to stay diversified.

10 Financial Planning Tips to Start 2012

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

1. Dream – Take a few minutes to look at the big picture and think about what you want from life. How do you want to live, what do you want to do and how do you want to spend your time. Successful businesses have vision statements and strategic plans. Create your own personal vision statement and strategic plan.

2. Set Goals – What are your goals for the coming year? Start by brainstorming – fill a page by listing all the goals that come to mind. Think about different facets of your life such as family, career, education, finance, health and so forth. Review your list and prioritize three or four goals to focus on in the coming year.

3. Evaluate Your Current Situation – What did you spend and what did you earn last year? What was necessary and what was discretionary? Did you spend in a purposeful manner and do your expenses support your goals and strategic plan. How much did you save or invest in a retirement plan? Can you increase this in 2012? If you are like most of us, a category is needed for “I have no clue”.

4. Track Spending and Address Problem Areas – If you aren’t sure where you spent all that discretionary cash, track your expenses for a month or two. It can be very enlightening – Yikes! Identify a few problem areas where you can cut spending and really place some focus. Identify the actions you will take to cut spending in these areas. Set weekly limits and come up with creative alternatives to save you money.

5. Evaluate Your Career – Are you doing what you really want? Are you being paid what you are worth? Have you become too comfortable that you are settling for safe and familiar? Could you earn more or work in a more rewarding position if you took the time to look? Are you current in your field or do you need to take some refresher courses? Do you know what it will take to get a promotion or a better job? In this volatile job market you need to keep your skills current, to nurture your network and to maintain a current resume.

6. Maintain an Emergency Fund – Start or maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses, including the current month. This should be completely liquid in a checking, savings or money market account.

7. Pay Off Debt – Establish a plan to pay off all of your credit card debt. Once this is paid off establish a plan to start paying off personal debt and student loans.

8. Save 10-15% of your income (take advantage of employee Benefits) – You need to save at least 10-15% of your income to provide a buffer against tough financial times and to invest for retirement. At a very minimum, you need to contribute up to the amount your employer will match. Additionally, be sure to take advantage of flex benefits or employee stock purchase plans that may be offered by your employer.

9. Maintain a Well Diversified Portfolio – Maintain a well-diversified portfolio that provides you with the best return for your risk tolerance, your investment goals and your investment time horizon. Be sure to re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis. Avoid over reacting to short term swings in the market with money that is invested for the long term.

10. Don’t Pay Too Much Income Tax – Avoid paying too much income tax. Get organized and keep good records to be sure you are maximizing your deductions. Make tax wise investment decisions, harvest tax losses and maximize the use of tax deferred investment vehicles. Donate unwanted items to charity – be sure to document your donations with a receipt.

A Money Moment with Jane – What Are You Spending Today?

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The first step to any solid financial plan is understanding your current situation. How much money is remaining after paying your non-discretionary expenses? If you don’t know, then you need to review your expenses over the last few months to better understand your spending habits. How much do you spend on non-discretionary items and how much do you spend on discretionary items. Are you happy with how you are spending your money? Are you saving as much as you could? Are you spending too much on frivolous items? Do your spending habits align with your goals? Have you set some financial goals?

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

Combine Your Financial Goal Setting with a Romantic Valentine’s Day Retreat

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Valentine’s Day is a time for showing love and appreciation for someone special in your life. It’s also a good time to work on your relationship and work on issues that cause conflict. One of the biggest sources of conflict and disagreement in relationships is money. Money itself isn’t the cause of our disagreements; we fight over our divergent goals and priorities for money. Many fights arise out of the lack of communication about our wishes, hopes and dreams. If you and your partner are constantly squabbling about money and how you spend your household income, I have a fun Valentine’s Day solution for you.

I suggest you take a romantic, strategic planning retreat. Block off a full weekend for you and your partner – no children allowed! Select a romantic Inn or Bed and Breakfast somewhere within a reasonable driving distance. The only requirement is a private area with a writing surface. Spend Friday night and all day Saturday discussing your values, sharing dreams, setting goals, creating a budget and making specific plans for the future. Reward yourself with a nice dinner and a romantic evening Saturday night, then play all day Sunday! Make this your Valentine’s Day gift to each other, this year, and every year.

My New Year’s Resolution Challenge to You!

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

I am a huge fan of short and long term goal setting and the use of to-do lists. We can be much more productive if we organize our objectives and our time. I wouldn’t set out on a major vacation without an itinerary nor would I try to cook a complicated dish without a recipe. Without goals or to-do lists we are too easily distracted. We waste a lot of time and end up going down the wrong path.

I encourage everyone to start with a list of about 20-30 long term goals. From this list identify about 10 things you would like to achieve this year. Then develop a to-do list of things you need to accomplish this week or month. You are way ahead of the game just by writing down some goals and priorities. This forces you to think about your values, desires and objectives for the year. This will serve as your personal strategic plan to make sure you are on the right track.

I know everyone comes up with a list of New Year’s resolutions and we seldom stick to them. So why bother? I think the process itself is good because you have given some thought to what you want to accomplish. You may not reach all of your goals but some of your effort will come to fruition.

I have a special challenge for you in 2010. Think about all the things you would like to accomplish or change in 2010. Select just ONE thing that you must accomplish or change this year and write it down. Make a vow to yourself to do whatever it takes to accomplish this one goal. Create an action plan to reach your objective. Share your goal with at least one other person who will hold you accountable. Be sure to monitor and reward your progress.

If you want to share, I would love to hear about your “One Goal” for 2010 and how you are progressing.

Annual Goal Setting Begins With Thanksgiving

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

As we approach the end of the year we look back on our achievements over the last twelve months and start thinking about goals for next year. I am a strong believer in personal strategic planning and goal setting. The first step in the goal setting process is to evaluate our values. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on those things for which we are thankful. By acknowledging what we are thankful for, we can easily identify the values that are of greatest importance to us. Once we have clearly identified our values we can set meaningful goals for 2010. When our goals are in integrity with our values we are more likely to monitor and achieve them. We will find that reaching our goals will be much more relevant and rewarding.

Take a few minutes to write down what you are thankful for this holiday season. Don’t forget to show gratitude to those around you who have helped you to achieve your goals or just put a smile on your face over the past year.

Happy Thanksgiving!!