Five Steps to a More Effective Financial Plan
Creating a financial plan is the first step toward achieving financial freedom. It is a personalized roadmap that provides you with clarity and purpose. Financial plans are essential for setting your financial goals in motion. But in a world filled with online calculators, simulators, and countless rules and figures, finding the right path can be overwhelming. Not every financial plan stands the test of time, and multiple options can often lead you astray. That is why it is crucial to understand what indeed works for you.
You may consult with a financial advisor to understand essential steps in financial planning that can help you create a robust financial plan. This guide will further discuss how to make a good financial plan with a 5-step financial planning process.
Below are 5 steps you can take to ensure a more effective financial plan for your needs:
Step 1: Set clear and realistic objectives
Setting goals is one of the first financial planning steps you can take to fortify your financial situation. It provides direction and gives you something concrete to work toward. However, goals, while essential, can be tricky. Everyone seeks wealth, but what constitutes wealth varies from person to person. For you, it might mean owning a house, while for your spouse, it could signify exploring the world without financial constraints. Your peers might view it as funding their child’s college education. Make sure to set clear goals, so you know precisely what you are striving for. This will help you tailor your plan to align perfectly with your ambitions.
It is equally crucial to set realistic goals based on your current circumstances. For example, if you have just graduated with a journalism degree, it might take you time to pay off your student loans and earn enough to save substantially. Aiming to buy a house within the next ten years might not be practical in this situation. However, if you graduate with a finance or corporate law degree, you could land a well-paying job relatively quickly. In such a scenario, purchasing a home might be within your reach sooner. Being realistic in financial planning is about understanding your starting point and recognizing the steps you should take to reach your destination. If your goal is homeownership, you can assess your finances and earning potential. Additionally, you need to calculate how much you can save each month after covering your essential expenses. Housing market trends, such as demand and supply in your area, can also influence your plan.
Moreover, consider the time horizon for your goals. Some objectives, like building an emergency fund, can be achieved relatively quickly. Others, such as retirement planning or buying a home, require a long-term commitment. It is essential to differentiate between short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals can include saving to buy a car or settling your credit card debt, while long-term goals could encompass funding your children’s education or retiring comfortably.
Step 2: Plan for the unexpected financial emergencies
It is essential to prepare yourself for the unexpected. No matter how meticulously you plan, your financial safety net must account for every possible worst-case scenario. This means considering not just the typical crisis like job loss but also the curveballs life might throw your way, like medical emergencies, slow career growth, unexpected house repairs, investment losses, and personal setbacks like divorce, legal battles, etc.
Imagine facing a sudden job loss. This is a scenario you can prepare for with some foresight. If you have emergency savings tucked away, you will be able to stay afloat during this challenging period. But life, as it often does, may throw another challenge your way at the same time. Suppose you get into a custody battle that demands substantial legal fees. The job loss and legal expenses combined can quickly spiral out of control, leaving you financially strained. This is why it is crucial to prepare for the worst and not just think about individual challenges but the potential impact when multiple crises strike together.
Planning for the worst creates a financial safety net that catches you when you fall. By acknowledging and preparing for potential setbacks like job loss, medical emergencies, or legal battles, you are able to arm yourself with the necessary resources to weather these storms without drowning in debt. This helps you fortify your finances and eliminate the struggle induced by high-interest debt obligations.
There are multiple ways to plan for different emergencies. For example, you can create an emergency fund for job loss. Insurance can help you cover medical expenses, house repairs, theft, and more. If you are concerned about slow career growth, investing your money optimally can be advised. This can help your savings grow even if your income does not. You can also consider upskilling yourself to get a high-paying job. It also helps to go the extra mile sometimes. This means instead of saving the usual six months of your expenses, aim for eight or even a year, if possible. Planning for the worst is about acknowledging that emergencies rarely come one at a time. They have a knack for piling up. Being prepared for various scenarios can help you prevent being burdened by them. It also enables you to navigate life’s many uncertainties without sacrificing your peace of mind. Knowing you have a robust financial safety net eliminates the fear of the unknown. When you are confident, you are more likely to act prudently and less likely to make impulsive and hasty decisions that can lead to further complications.
Step 3: Do not rely solely on financial rules and information you see online
What is a good financial plan? – This question cannot be answered with an absolute figure or definition, as a sound financial plan is a subjective term. Now and then, you may come across studies claiming a specific amount is the correct figure for your retirement. There are numerous rules floating around on the Internet about saving, investing, and withdrawals. However, following these without prior thought might not always be the best approach. Your situation is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, a $1 million retirement nest egg might seem substantial in some states, but it might not be enough in high-cost states like California and New York. So, you must tailor your retirement plan according to your needs and lifestyle.
Below are some questions to consider while creating your financial plan:
a. Do you or your spouse have health issues that might require significant medical expenses in retirement? Health issues, especially chronic ones, can significantly impact your retirement expenses. Medical costs can quickly pile up, affecting your budget. So, while a general rule might suggest a certain amount for healthcare expenses, your reality might differ based on your specific health condition.
b. Do you have children who may need financial support even after you retire? College expenses, weddings, or helping children financially during their initial career years can strain your finances. Planning for these scenarios is essential. General retirement figures and rules of thumb, like the 4% withdrawal rule, might not consider these individual aspects.
c. Is the standard of living high in your area? The cost of living varies widely across different regions. What might be considered a comfortable retirement in one place could feel financially strained in another. High living costs can erode your savings faster than you anticipate. Therefore, understanding the financial landscape of your specific location is crucial in building a realistic financial plan.
d. How will taxes factor into your financial equation? The tax laws in your state or country can significantly impact your income and savings. Depending on your income sources, you might face different tax rates. It is vital to incorporate your tax situation into your financial planning, evaluate how taxes can affect your income, and adjust your plan if needed.
These are crucial questions to ponder upon and incorporate into your financial plan. Your financial planning should be tailored to your needs and reflect your requirements. It should be based on your family situation, health concerns, location, and tax considerations. So, make sure to customize your financial plan according to your circumstances.
Step 4: Do not put all your eggs in one basket while creating your portfolio
Portfolio diversification is one of the most essential financial planning steps. It is important to avoid investing all your money in a single asset class, market cap, or market. Most financial advisors advise spreading your investments across different types, such as stocks, bonds, real estate, currencies, gold, and more. But diversification is not just about having different types of assets. It also extends within those categories. So, if you invest in stocks, do not concentrate all your funds in one sector or company. For instance, if you only invest in energy, any turbulence in that sector could result in significant losses.
Diversification also extends to your tax strategy. It is essential to diversify your investments based on tax. You can consider Roth and Traditional accounts for this. Roth accounts are funded with after-tax dollars, so you do not pay taxes when you withdraw your funds during retirement. Traditional accounts, on the other hand, are funded with pre-tax dollars. They reduce your taxable income now, but you pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. Having a mix of both these accounts can provide tax flexibility in your retirement years and allow you to adapt to changing tax laws and your financial needs.
Another area where diversification can help you is your income sources. Relying solely on one income stream can be risky. Jobs can be unpredictable. You could find yourself without one due to various reasons such as economic downturns, age, health, or industry changes. Having multiple sources of income can act as a safety net. If you have two or more income streams, not only do you earn more, but you also create a cushion of financial stability. This is why it is advised to create a passive source of income through rent or a side hustle. You can also consider investments that offer regular dividends.
Step 5: Regularly monitor and adjust your financial plan
Life is constantly changing. And with these changes come shifts in your financial objectives. Getting a new job, tying the knot, or welcoming a child into your life can alter your financial priorities. These events can bring new responsibilities. For instance, facing a health issue can limit your ability to work as much as before. If your income takes a hit, you will have to make adjustments in your budget and savings plan.
Similarly, going through a divorce can complicate matters. Your assets might need to be split, and you could find yourself obligated to pay alimony. This can also impact your personal goals and financial stability. Similarly, you could be saving for a home without immediate plans to have children. Life, however, might surprise you. If you suddenly become a parent, your goals may include child healthcare and education. You might also need to enhance your life insurance coverage to provide adequate financial protection for your family in case of unforeseen events. These changes will affect your budget and also influence your long-term financial strategy.
Economic shifts, investment opportunities, and inflation rates can also impact the performance of your investments. A sudden downturn in the market might affect your portfolio. It is essential to monitor your financial plan to stay agile regularly so you can make adjustments when needed. For instance, if a particular sector is booming, you might consider adjusting your investments to capitalize on the opportunity. Regular monitoring can ensure that you are able to identify areas that need attention. Staying proactive and altering your financial plan can empower you to navigate life’s uncertainties confidently. It can also ensure you are always in control of your financial situation.
This 5-step financial planning process can help you build a reliable safety net. However, your financial plan should be as unique as your fingerprint. Therefore, even while incorporating these steps into your plan, your focus should always be on your situation and needs. Be realistic and keep your financial plan flexible enough to account for any unexpected events that might necessitate change. Regularly monitor your plan and stay up-to-date on market trends. Life is dynamic, and your financial plan should be too.
It can also be advised to get help from a vetted financial advisor to ensure your plan aligns with your needs and delivers as per your expectations. Connect with a dedicated financial advisor using our free advisor match service. Answer a few simple questions based on your specific financial situation, and get matched with 1 to 3 professionals that are suited to help.