The first step in creating financial wellness is to gain knowledge. Knowledge is power—the power to build robust financial health. Some employers, organizations, and communities offer financial wellness programs. If such programs are available to you, consider signing up. The more you know, the better. The financial world can be complex and confusing. Understanding where the opportunities lie and how to make your way through the muddle of money management may give you a distinctive edge.
However, the most valuable, reliable, and up-to-date information may come from a financial professional who can help you with financial wellness programs on budgeting, debt management, and retirement strategies. It’s never too late to chart your course to financial wellness.
Create a Budget
It may seem obvious, but creating a budget may be your single most important step toward financial wellness. A budget allows you to monitor and manage your money and better develop strategies to pursue your goals, both short-term and long-term.
A budget can be a tool to track your income and expenditures and better understand your financial habits that may be draining your pocketbook. Budgeting also enables you to spot positive habits and spending patterns that you may want to reinforce or enhance. Furthermore, a budget provides you with openings and opportunities to invest and build your savings. Balanced, sensible investment strategies developed with a financial professional can set you well on your way to a bright future.
While budgeting establishes the foundation of your financial health, setting goals sets the direction. Learning about money, debt, wealth management, and investing is good, but without goal setting, you may lack the motivation to make it in the long run. Goal setting provides you with vision. You determine what you have and want to do in your life, and strict money management helps create the catalyst for shaping your future.
Here are a few ways to set lasting goals:
- SEEK INSPIRATION. Your goals have to reflect more than merely your wants. You have to know why you want to set a particular goal. Attaching reasons to your goals can motivate you. An example is the goal of saving money for a family vacation. But where do you plan to go? How will you get there? Do you need to create an emergency fund in case you lose your job? How much money do you want to have in your emergency account? Another goal may be to eliminate your credit card debt. Why? This can be a very important goal for enabling you to make more money available for travel or for building your retirement fund. Dig into the details, and put them on paper.
TAKE A CLOSER LOOK. You may not know where to start or how to prioritize your goals. Start by looking at your immediate future. What about next week? Or next month? Then, consider next year. Look at how much you make, your taxes, and your net worth. Don’t forget that all-important part—your budget.
BRACE FOR EMERGENCIES. Set aside enough money to cover 3-6 months of expenses.
CONTRIBUTE TO RETIREMENT. Some financial professionals suggest setting aside 15% of your gross income per year for retirement. If you’re 50 or over, you may be able to contribute additional money into certain retirement accounts.
ELIMINATE DEBT. Target the debt with the highest interest rates first, such as credit cards.
REWARD YOURSELF. Setting goals is a discipline and can be challenging. To keep yourself on track, reward yourself after reaching benchmarks and milestones to provide an incentive to keep moving forward.
BE “SMART.”Include all the elements in your goal setting. Being “SMART” means setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
MAKE IT WRITE. After you’ve hashed out your goals, put them down on paper, a worksheet, a spreadsheet, or another computer document or application. Monitor your progress periodically. Go into detail. Dig deep. Exactly how much money do you want to have set aside for each goal at each particular benchmark?
Save, Save, Save
Part of goal setting is saving. Saving a portion of your income helps you develop financial discipline and allows you to envision your future more clearly. Saving also applies to—but is not exclusive to— preparing for your retirement.
Saving helps keep you smooth and steady on life’s path through emergencies and unexpected twists and turns. It also helps you develop your ability to focus on both your short-and long-term goals, as opposed to meeting only your immediate needs.
If your company provides a retirement plan, consider participating in it. Contributions to tax-deferred retirement plans indirectly help foster the budget discipline that may help you in the future.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a decision.