This article was featured in Investopedia.
March is one of the best months of the year for sports fans. NBA and NHL playoffs are fast approaching, baseball is right around the corner and, of course, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with its March Madness brackets. Spending an hour or two filling out a bracket can be fun, but how much time did you spend last year creating or updating your financial plan?
According to a survey conducted by TIAA-CREF, 85% of respondents said they spent less than two hours within the past year planning their retirement. The repercussions of not having a financial plan in place or not updating your plan on regular basis can be extremely costly for you and your family, much more so than picking the wrong team for March Madness. If you’re part of this majority and haven’t spent much time thinking about your retirement, here are some steps you should take.
1. There is No Time Like the Present to Create Your Financial Plan
There’s an old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Your financial plan will not suddenly appear on your front doorstep wrapped in a bow, waiting to be brought inside. The longer you delay the process, the harder it is to get started, and the more severe the consequences could be. Start by identifying your goals. When would you like to retire? Do you want to purchase a vacation home? Would you like to visit your kids or grandkids more often? Perhaps you would like to reduce debt. Whatever your goals may be, it is important to write them down.
2. Understand What You Own
How many different investment accounts do you own? Do you know how much money is in each account? What are you invested in? If you’re like many investors, you may have multiple investment accounts you’ve accumulated over the years, and you may not be sure exactly what you own. To create a successful plan, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of your assets.
3. Get a Handle on Your Expenses
This is a crucial step so you can create a detailed and realistic budget. Write down all of your fixed expenses in one column on a sheet of paper, such as mortgage payment, car loan, child care and groceries. Next, write down all of your monthly discretionary expenses that are not necessary, such as online shopping or your daily cup of coffee at Starbucks.
4. Decide How You Are Going to Fund Your Goals
Once you have clearly defined your goals, understand what you own and created a budget, you need to decide how you are going to fund your goals. This can be the hardest part of the process, requiring the analysis of all previous steps and the forming of an effective strategy. If you need assistance, reach out to a financial advisor who serves as a fiduciary so you can feel confident they are putting your interests ahead of their own. If you do not work with a fiduciary, the advisor is only required to do what is suitable for your situation, not what is in your best interest.
5. Monitor Your Plan
Continuously monitor your plan. If any major life events occur (e.g., new job, buying a house, getting divorced), you need to make sure your financial plan is kept up-to-date. The more current your plan, the more reliable it will be.
The Time to Start Is Now
The sooner you start planning for your financial future, the more time you can spend with your family and friends, or visit that country you’ve always wanted to see. Whether you spend a few minutes during halftime or work during the commercials, any time you spend moving toward a smart, realistic financial plan will help.