What is Financial Planning?

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

I’m sure you hear the term “Financial Planning” on a regular basis but you may not be sure what it really means.  Financial planning is an on-going, comprehensive process to manage your finances in order to meet your life goals.  The process includes evaluating where you are today, setting goals, developing an action plan to meet your goals and implementing the plan.  Once you have addressed all the areas of your financial plan you should go back and review them on a regular basis.

Financial planning should be comprehensive – covering all areas of your financial life.  The primary areas of your financial plan should include retirement planning, insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning and investment management.    Depending on your situation, your financial plan may also address areas such as budgeting and debt management, college funding, employee benefits, business planning and career planning.  Comprehensive Financial Planning is very thorough and can take a lot of time and energy to complete.  I recommend breaking it into bite size chucks that can be easily evaluated, understood and implemented over the course of time.  

You can work through the financial planning process with a comprehensive financial planner or you can tackle it on your own.  If you decide to hire a financial planner, I encourage you to work with Certified Financial Planner who has taken an oath to work on a fiduciary basis.  An advisor, who works as a fiduciary, takes an oath to put your interests first.

The first step of the financial planning process is to evaluate where you are today.  Tabulate how much money you are currently spending in comparison to your current income.  Calculate your current net worth (assets less liabilities).  Evaluate the state of your current financial situation.  What is keeps you up at night and what should be prioritized for immediate attention?

The next step is to devise a road map on where you would like to go.   Think about your values and set some long term strategic goals.  Using this information develop some financial goals that you would like to achieve.  Once you have identified some financial goals, a plan can be devised to help you achieve them.

Select the area you would like to address first.  Most of my clients start with retirement planning and investment management.  There is a lot of overlap between the different areas of financial planning but try to work through them in small manageable chunks.  Otherwise you may end up with a huge, overwhelming plan that never gets implemented.

Once you have worked through all of the areas in your financial plan you need to go back and revisit them on a regular basis.  Some areas like investments, taxes and retirement planning need to be reviewed annually where other areas like insurance and estate planning can be reviewed less frequently.  Keep in mind that financial planning is an on-going, life long process.

Covering the High Cost of College Can Require Team Work, Diligence and Compromise

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

With soaring college expenses, few families can afford to cover the costs associated with putting their children through four years of college on top of daily living expenses and the need to save for retirement.   To avoid sacrificing your retirement savings and accruing large student loans, to finance your children’s college education, engage them in the process.  For most families, it is reasonable for the cost of college to be a shared responsibility between you and your children.

Start early by encouraging your children to get good grades, to participate in extracurricular activities, and to volunteer in the community.   While in high school, encourage your child to enroll in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that provide high school and college credit.  Your child could have several college courses completed before graduating from high school.  This could save you thousands of dollars. 

Explore all forms of financial aid even if you think you may not be eligible.  You may be surprised, especially if you have several children attending college at once.  Additionally, do your research and be open-minded with regard to the colleges you consider.  Some schools that seem too expensive may have excellent financial aid packages for your situation.

If you find yourself in the common place where you earn too much for financial aid, but not enough to pay the full ride of four year college education, research the availability of merit scholarships.   While your child is still in high school, thoroughly research the availability of scholarships.  Talk to the high school guidance counselor and check with community organizations.  Once in college your child should talk to the financial aid officer, department heads and professors for potential scholarship opportunities.  Also check on-line resources including CollegeBoard.com, CollegeNet.com, and Fastweb.com.  Every year many scholarships go unused because qualified candidates don’t apply.  

Your child can dramatically decrease the cost of tuition by attending a community college for the first two years and then transferring to a four year university.  Many universities have arrangements with local community colleges to transfer credits earned toward the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.    The cost of tuition at a community college is usually less than one half of that at a four year university. 

Another way to reap tremendous savings is for the student to live at home and attend a local school.  In 2014 the cost of tuition and fees at the University of Colorado is about $12,600 and the cost of room and board is about $13,000. 

If after exploring the options above, the cost of college is still beyond your reach; your student may need to work while attending college.  To help pay for tuition, your student may need to work 30 hours a week and take a lighter class load.  Graduating in five years may be better than incurring huge student loans.

Embracing the Future on Your Own

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Losing a spouse completely changes your life, and it’s important to take the time you need to grieve and heal.  The sadness may never go away and you’ll always miss your husband, but after two or three years you may be ready to look toward the future.  Before the loss of your husband, the two of you made plans; these plans may no longer be the best course of action for you.  It is common to feel an obligation to follow the plans you developed together, that you would somehow betray your husband’s memory to follow a different course.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  Your situation has completely changed and you may have a whole new perspective on things.   Plans that worked for the two of you, together, may no longer be practical for you.  Without even realizing it, you may have been striving to fulfill your husband’s dream rather than your own.   It’s time to follow your own path and build a future that supports your new hopes and dreams.  This article makes reference to widows but it can also be helpful to widowers.

Start by reflecting on your personal values; think about what and who is important to you and what you enjoy doing.  What type of lifestyle do you want to lead and where do you want to live.   Take out a piece more info

of paper and fill it with goals and ideas on things you would like to accomplish.  Let your mind wander, don’t evaluate, just brainstorm ideas.  Now go back and contemplate this list and formulate about five to ten realistic goals to be achieved in the next year or so.  Prioritize these goals and identify some action steps to be taken.

Now it’s time to review your financial situation with respect to your goals.  Many of your goals may be financially oriented.  Start reviewing your current cash flow, identify and tabulate your expenses, and compare them to your income.  Are your expenses in line with your goals, or do you need to change the way you spend money.   At the very least, make sure your expenses don’t exceed your income and put aside an emergency fund equal to at least three months of expenses.  I also encourage you to save at least 10% of your annual gross income.

Once your current financial situation is secure, develop a financial plan for the future.  Are there any major changes needed to achieve your long term goals?  Do you want to live in a different city or do you want to sell your home and buy something with less maintenance?  Do you need to rearrange your spending habits or make some changes in your career?  As you plan for the future, make sure you are saving and investing enough to cover retirement expenses.  Be sure to incorporate some fun and adventure into your plans!

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.

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