This blog is the first in a series on saving for retirement and is based on this blog.
Finance is complex. There are dozens of ways to reach your financial goals, but many are unsatisfactory. To help you with the very basics of finance, I have compiled a step-by-step process to ensure your financial success.
Step One: Determine Your Goals
Before you can begin to make good financial decisions, you must understand what good decisions look like. Saving up for education is different than saving up for a vacation. The process will differ slightly, so it is crucial to acknowledge these differences and plan accordingly.
If you do not have a specific purchase that needs saving for, you can focus on debt erasure, retirement, or investing. These each come with their own tailored plan. For example, individuals looking to eliminate debt will not save as much as those planning for retirement. People looking to invest should seek out a financial advisor to help craft a plan that suits their needs.
Step Two: Calculate Your Bills
Once you’ve determined your goals, you need to know how much money you have to utilize. Create a budget worksheet that allows for each regular expense (i.e. groceries, gas, utilities) and add them up. Then, subtract the total from your monthly take-home income and you will be left with your free money for the month. This will go toward any nonessential purchases and your goals.
Step Three: Make a Game Plan
Ask any athlete and they will tell you it is impossible to reach victory without a game plan. Write down the steps you want to take to achieve your goal. If you’re looking to save a $10,000 emergency fund, consider your expenses and determine how much you are able to afford to save each month. It could be as little as $5, but each cent counts.
While savings goals are typically open-ended, saving for a car or a vacation may be more time sensitive. You should, no matter your goal, estimate how long it will take you to complete. This will give you a good idea of how close you are to accomplishment. However, if you have six months to achieve your goal, you must factor this in. This may mean cutting expenses elsewhere, which leads me to my next point.
Step Four: Reevaluate Your Expenses
If you spend $5 on coffee every weekday, you may be able to cut that down to $3. That $2 difference will save you $10 per week, or $520 per year. Walking or biking to work can save on gas. Cancelling the gym membership that you’ve never used can save hundreds. Cooking more often, rather than eating out, can potentially save thousands. Keep a detailed list of each transaction you initiate, as well as your reasoning. Visually seeing why you bought an item can help you combat overspending, jog your memory for unusual purchases, and show you spending patterns to eliminate.
Step Five: Hold Yourself Accountable
As with any goal, there needs to be a reward for success and a punishment for failure. The reward can be any special treat you deem appropriate. Punishments should be realistic, as you may fail more than once. However, they do need to remind you that your goals are not being met by engaging in poor financial behaviors.
Along with the rewards and punishments, it may also help to share your goals with someone else. This holds you accountable not only to yourself, but to them as well. Finally, you should keep in mind that failure is not the end of your goal. Unexpected expenses may arise and you may not be able to recover in a month or two. You could impulsively buy a new pair of shoes. You are human, so you will probably make a mistake at some point, but you are able to pick up where you left off and complete your goal.
Sylvester Knox is a financial advisor specializing in wealth management. For more financial information, please visit: SylvesterKnox.net