A Rewarding New Years Resolution: Focus on Your Finances

7 Tips to Help Boost Your Financial Situation


As 2009 comes to an end we look toward 2010 and if you are like me you begin thinking about your New Years Resolutions. Exercise more and lose 10 pounds, spend more quality time with our families, work harder and get that promotion at work, etc, etc.  How about creating a New Years Resolution to perk up your financial situation.  It is natural to put it off and say you will get to it next week, next month, next year but like most everybody, we never get around to it, much like getting that gym membership to start that exercise program and dropping that ten pounds.  I encourage you to make this the time and make it your New Years Resolution to address your financial situation and begin on your way to financial success.

I recently read an article that stated 70% of us consider financial issues the number one stressor in our lives.  This is unfortunate because a lot of the time it is a very easy issue to improve upon.  Improving your overall financial situation stretches far beyond just making more money at work, which is a good thing because, usually that is not within our control.  So what can we do since we do not have the power to just earn more money?  Well there are many things that you can do and I have compiled a checklist of the top 7 issues that when addressed can have a dramatic impact on improving your financial health. 

Much like when you hire a personal trainer who knows the most effective exercises to get the best fitness results, how to motivate you properly, and ultimately get you where you want to go physically.  A great financial planner will help you do the same for your financial health.  They will help you develop strategies to give you the most effective ways to reach your financial goals, help motivate you to achieve your most important aspirations, and ultimately get you where you want to go financially.

As always I am available to help you address any one or all of these issues below.  I have been able to help many of the people I work with save time, money, and taxes and help them avoid the common mistakes that most people make with their finances.   Feel free to contact me at 651-647-4935

•1.        Create a Budget.  This is the number one issue that people, including myself struggle with.  The use of credit cards has really hindered our ability to remain responsible with our spending as it never seems as though we are spending actual money.   It seems as though we are making enough money at work, and that we should be able to get ahead, but where does it go? One major problem that people have when creating a conventional budget is everything is looked at in the past. When gathering the information on your purchases it is too late, the money is spent.  I have begun using a cash flow management tool called First Step Cash Management with my clients.  This program allows people to make real-time decisions.  Let me know if you would be interested in finding more about this wonderful program.  One quick tip to help balance your budget a little better:  1) Use cash more.  It is much more difficult to part with cash than it is to charge your credit card.  I find that people decide against the extra drink at the bar or the new coach purse at Nordstrom if they have to fork over cash.   

•2.        Maximize Your Employee Benefits.  It can be very confusing to try and understand which benefits within your employers plan are most appropriate for you.  Between qualified retirement accounts, Flex savings accounts, Health savings accounts, dependent care benefits, stock options, employee stock purchased plans, health care packages, etc, it is very difficult to decide which fit into your financial plan the best.  The 40 page benefit summary does not make it any easier.  Often time’s people do not even realize what benefits they currently have or what is available to them.  Make sure to review your benefit statement or have a professional analyze exactly what is being offered and take advantage of it.  Some employers offer a retirement account matching benefit which means for every dollar you contribute to our retirement account they will match a certain percentage.  Since this is essentially free money it is important to make sure to contribute up to the matching amount if possible.  I read that only 30% of people actually contribute up to their employer’s entire matching amount.  Check to see what percentage your employer is matching and take the free money.

•3.       Pay Fewer Taxes.  Most of us have no problem paying our fair share of taxes to maintain our quality of life, but most of us distain the thought of our tax dollars going toward unnecessary spending and expensive entitlement programs.  As long as there are politicians and special interest groups that place their individual needs over the common good of this country as a whole, there will be wasteful spending.  Once we accept the fact that taxes will always be imposed, you can then logically create a financial strategy to ensure that you are not paying too much in taxes.  Lack of attention to the various ways investments are taxed can be the difference between being able to accomplish your goals and not being able to accomplish your goals.  Unfortunately some of the most popular accumulation vehicles in this country today are fully taxed including bank accounts, certificate of deposits, mutual funds, etc.  All interest, dividends, and capital gains outside of qualified accounts are fully taxable.  There are vehicles available though that do offer people an opportunity to defer income taxes or even eliminate them completely.  Some of these vehicles include qualified accounts (ROTH and Traditional IRA’s, 401k plans, self-employed plans, annuities, municipal bonds just to name a few) .  It is important to research which of these tools fit within your financial plan, or meet with your financial professional to explore the many options.    

•4.       Start Investment Accounts. (Just Get Started!)  No matter what your objective is whether its funding retirement or college education the biggest thing is to just GET STARTED.  It does not matter that you do not have a tremendous amount to contribute initially; the important thing is to get in the habit of saving something even if it is just a small amount every month.  I once heard an analogy of buying your first car that relates to this concept.  All of us remember needing a car when we were young whether it be to get to school, sports, or an after school job.  Just because we could not afford a Porsche (despite how bad we wanted one) didn’t mean that we did not buy anything.   Something is better than nothing, thus we purchased a used Ford Taurus. We might not be able to contribute a large amount to an investment account on a monthly basis, but something is better than nothing and the important thing is just getting started.  One key tip is to make sure to set up an automatic withdrawal from checking account every month.  It is much easier having it pulled out than you having to physically write out a check.

•5.        Determine Which Debt To Carry And Which To Pay Off.  Everybody has heard of good debt vs. bad debt, but what does that really mean?  Generally good debt would be considered debt with an interest rate that is tax deductible and lower than the rate you could achieve on funds invested elsewhere.  For example, let’s say you have a student loan, which is tax deductible at a fixed rate of 4%. Let’s also assume you can achieve between 8-12% in a well diversified portfolio based on long-term historical rates.  In this case it would obviously be wiser to keep the student loan and invest into the portfolio.   However, if you carry a balance on a credit card with a rate of 18% (and not tax deductible) you would most likely want to attack that first.   There are many types of debt including home mortgage, student loan, automobile, credit card, etc and which forms of debt should be kept or paid off should be analyzed closely. 

•6.        Review Your Insurance Coverages.  A lot has changed in the insurance industry over the past 5 years.  If you have not reviewed the amount in premiums you are paying for your insurance you may be costing yourself money.  I recently reviewed a gentleman’s life and disability insurance policies and found that he could save 30% in premiums for the same amount of coverage by switching carriers.  I am an independent agent and have the ability to shop several carriers and find the policy that gets you the most for your money.  Determining whether to buy additional coverage through your employer, invest into a permanent or term policy, length of term or how much coverage to have, and group discounts are all important issues that should be addressed.   In addition, most people have not reviewed their coverage in a long time and find that they are significantly underinsured and are putting themselves and their family at risk in the case of death or disability.  Keep in Mind: Your insurance through your employer is not portable, meaning it is only good while you are employed by them.  Having private policies in place that are in force no matter who your employer might be is a good idea. I am available anytime to review your insurance coverage and help you find the best policies available to you. 

•7.        Allocate Your Assets Within Your Accounts Properly.  It has been proven that 90% of investment performance is based upon asset allocation and diversification.  I ask most people that I meet with how they made their investment selections within their 401k.  The vast majority respond that they simply guess.  The second most popular response is that they copy co-workers holdings.  It is completely understandable that most people are not aware of the correct asset allocation or even the proper individual selections because they do not specialize in investments.  But are you willing to gamble with the money you have worked so hard to accumulate and that you are relying on for your retirement to just guessing?  Some employers are now offering target date funds which allocate your assets within your retirement plan according to your timeframe.  These are a big improvement over guessing and should be utilized.  Target date funds are not perfect however and you should work closely with a financial professional to see what the best decision is for you.

This is simply a checklist of important items that when addressed will help improve your financial situation and not an exhaustive list.  Meeting with a financial professional is advised to pursue any and all of these items.  I offer a complimentary 60 minute meeting to explore possibilities in which I can help people gain better control over their finances.  Give me a call and I would be happy to schedule a time which is convenient for you to get together so that you can be on your way to an improved financial situation.