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.

10 Great Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. Make a plan – who will receive a gift and how much do you plan to spend. Stick to your plan, keep track of your spending, and don’t spend on impulse.

2. Start early and give yourself plenty of time to select gifts and compare prices. We always over buy and spend too much when pressed for time.

3. Find creative ways to reduce the number of people for whom you plan to give gifts. Instead of buying gifts for friends make arrangements to make each other dinner or meet for an inexpensive happy hour. Remember that receiving a gift can be stressful and a nice a card or gesture may be more appropriate

4. Suggest that your family or group of friends draw names instead of buying gifts for everyone. It is difficult and expensive to buy gifts for a large number of people who already have everything.

5. Exchange white elephant gifts or favorite used books instead of expensive Christmas gifts. This is especially fun in conjunction with a Chinese gift exchange where everyone gets a chance to steal a gift from the other participants.

6. Gift a homemade present such as a homemade sauce, stew or soup, a painting, a knitted scarf, cookies, or a pie. You can capture a special moment by framing a photo or post card or you can create a calendar with some sentimental photographs.

7. If you have more time than money gift your services such as babysitting, home maintenance, faux painting, cooking a meal, house cleaning, shoveling snow, decorating advice, cooking lessons, a musical performance, or computer instruction.

8. Rather than providing all the food for your holiday party, ask your friends to bring a dish and a bottle of wine. Co-host a party with a few friends and share the cost. If you are planning a neighborhood party, consider a progressive party where each course is served at a different home.

9. Avoid purchasing expensive new holiday clothes. Make your existing wardrobe more festive through the use of inexpensive accessories and scarves. If you really need a new outfit check out your local consignment stores. Holiday and formal attire isn’t worn very often and is usually in good shape at consignment stores.

10. Lower the cost of Christmas cards and postage by using post cards, e-cards, e-mail or a simple phone call. It’s the thought that counts.