Words of Wisdom from Planners Around the Country
While recently attending the national conference of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, I interviewed dozens of fee-only, Certified Financial Planners. I asked them to share the most important piece of advice that they can give to their clients. The answers were not exciting or complicated but practical, common sense recommendations that are useful to most everyone. The most common piece of advice, by an overwhelming margin, was to save more and spend less. Below are the top ten most important financial steps you should take according to some of the finest financial planners in the industry.
- Live Below Your Means – Establish good spending habits early. Monitor your expenses for about three months and create a realistic spending plan that you can stick with. Make intentional decisions to keep your spending well below your income and always maintain an emergency fund.
- Save at Least 10% of your Gross Income – Start saving as early as possible. Everyone should save at least 10% of their income. If you are getting started later you may need to save closer to 15% to 20% of your income
- Look at the Big Picture – Take an integrated approach to your finances. Your financial life is a big puzzle with a lot of interlocking pieces. Don’t make decisions in isolation. Create a financial plan that serves as a roadmap to integrate all areas of your financial life including investments, taxes, insurance, retirement planning and estate planning.
- Be True to Yourself – Live, spend, and invest in accordance to your values and goals, not to impress or compete with others.
- Create a Realistic Investment Plan – Create a diversified investment plan that you will stick with during significant market fluctuations. Your portfolio needs to support your investment time horizon and the level of risk that you are comfortable with.
- Hire a Good Financial Planner – Managing your finances can be more complicated and time consuming than you realize. A financial planner can help you integrate all aspects of your financial life and can provide an objective perspective on your situation.
- Don’t Invest in Complex Insurance and Investment Products – Avoid insurance and investment vehicles that require a team of attorneys to understand. The words in small print are probably not in your best interest.
- Maximize Contributions to your 401k and Roth IRA – Fully utilize tax advantaged retirement plans and take advantage of an employer match where available.
- Don’t Let Family Members Derail Your Financial Plan – Don’t sabotage your financial security by paying for all of your child’s college education or by supporting adult children, parents, or siblings. You need to help yourself before you can be of assistance to others.
- Leverage Your Real Estate – Don’t be in a hurry to pay off a low interest mortgage on your personal residence. You can benefit from appreciation on your home with as little as 10% to 20% down.