We wanted to share with you the following time-tested tips from Jean Chatzky, a award-winning journalist and finance writer and editor, who has worked with Fidelity to spread financial education to the masses and help simplify some of the money issues you might be facing. Many people, in spite of taking math for a majority of our lives, never learn much about financial planning and making sound decisions about money over time. Setting up a good budget and figuring out how to make everyday money moves is something most folks have had to learn by themselves, often through trial and error. Intentionally planning your financial life just like any other part of your life is critical to success with money.
Here’s Jean’s list:
- Earn a decent living.
Research has shown that earning more than you need to live comfortably (e.g., paying for rent/mortgage, transportation, groceries, and the occasional vacation) actually doesn’t increase your happiness. But earning less than you need to live comfortably will make you stressed and even unhappy.
- Create a budget to ensure that you’re spending less than you make.
Go over your monthly spending to find savings. Ask your wireless and cable providers to “audit” your bills. Contact insurers about discounts and raising your deductibles. Cancel subscription services you’re not really using. Often, just tracking your spending can save hundreds of dollars.
- Plan to eliminate high-rate debts (and chip away at lower-rate, long-term ones).
The fastest, cheapest way out of debt is to put all your extra cash toward paying off those with the highest interest rates, while making minimum payments on the rest. Refinancing your mortgage, student loans, and car loans—and transferring credit card balances to lower-rate cards—can speed the process.
- Start an emergency fund.
Nothing derails your finances quicker than an emergency. Two-income households should aim to put away three to six months of living expenses; one-income households need to double that. Consider putting this money into a savings or money market account, where you can access it, without penalty, if and when you need it.
- Start—or continue to—invest for retirement.
While you’re starting your emergency fund, you’ll also want to take advantage of any matching dollars your employer is offering you for contributing to a workplace retirement plan. Matching dollars are “free” money and you don’t want to leave them on the table.
- Assess your investment approach at least once a year.
Consider investing any money you’re not planning on using for at least three years in a diversified portfolio. Choose investments based on your age and risk tolerance, and rebalance twice a year. Or, take the easier road. You could invest your money in a target-date retirement fund in line with your approximate retirement year, choose a target allocation fund based on the level of risk and return that you’re comfortable with, or go with a managed account and let an advisor help you make decisions.
- Make investing a continuing priority.
Timing the market rarely works. What does work is investing regularly, first in tax-advantaged accounts (retirement accounts, 529 college savings accounts, health savings accounts) and then in discretionary ones. Then every year, assess your progress. By age 30, you should have put away 1x your current salary. By age 40, 3x. By 55, 7x. And by age 67, 10x.1
- Have a family conversation to prevent surprises.
Ask your parents how their long-term planning is going. Do they have plans to ensure a lifetime income? Have they put an estate plan in place (and do they have instructions for how you’ll need to execute it)? What are their wishes should they need long-term health care—and will they need help from you along the way? Simultaneously, share your plans for meeting your own financial goals. They may step in with advice, financial help, or both.
- Protect what you’ve built for yourself with the right insurance and a basic estate plan.
You need life insurance when others in your life depend on your income for support. No dependents? Long-term disability insurance is an important protection for being able to take care of yourself (purchasing a group plan through your employer is typically best). A basic estate plan consists of a will (where you’ll name guardians for minor children), a living will (which stipulates whether or not you’d want life support), and durable powers of attorney for health and finance (which allow other people to make decisions on your behalf).
- Schedule a repeat performance next year.
Just as you go to the doctor every year for a physical, you should sit down annually and go over the items on this list. It’s a good time to think about what you want your money to do for you this year, in five years, and in 10 years. You’ll be surprised at how good tracking your progress will make you feel!
Consider using these tips to help create a plan for managing your money. If you already have one, even better—this list can help you make sure you didn’t leave anything out.
- Fidelity has developed a series of income multiplier targets corresponding to different ages, assuming a retirement age of 67, a 15% savings rate, a 1.5% constant real wage growth, a planning age through 93, and an income replacement target of 45% of preretirement income (assumes no pension income). The final income multiplier is calculated to be 10x your pre-retirement income and assumes a retirement age of 67. The income replacement target is based on Consumer Expenditure Survey 2011 (BLS), Statistics of Income 2011 Tax Stat, IRS 2014 tax brackets and Social Security Benefit Calculators. The 45% income replacement target (excluding Social Security and assuming no pension income) from retirement savings was found to be fairly consistent across a salary range of $50,000-$300,000, therefore this factor may have limited applicability if your income is outside that range.
Fidelity.com. March 13, 2017. Accessed Sept 17, 2019. URL: https://www.fidelity.com/mymoney/10-top-money-tips