Whether you want to buy real estate, pay for education, enjoy the good life or leave a legacy, it takes time and effort to accumulate funds. If even the most dedicated savers can take years to finance their long-term goals, how can you be sure to reach yours? It starts with deciding what you truly need and focusing on it.
"Needs" are essential items you must have to survive – such as clothing, food and shelter – while "wants" are non-essentials you could live without, if necessary. To achieve long-term financial security, you must have at least enough savings and income sources to cover essential expenses through your lifetime. The earlier you start saving, the more you can accumulate for all your priorities.
Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Americans saved less than 4% of their disposable income in January 2010, considerably short of the 10 to 20% experts recommend setting aside before expenses. To accrue funds for any future goals requires the discipline to concentrate on “needs” and minimize discretionary spending on “wants.” One strategy for staying on track is to visualize the future you want and understand what it will take to get there. Building college savings and retirement plans takes dedicated effort over time to reach defined goals. What will it feel like when your child is ready for college? Based on your savings today, will you be ready for retirement when the time comes? Your financial representative can help you examine your unique situation and the best ways to meet your goals. Consider the trade-offs as you balance your priorities between needs and wants:
Clothing -- Everyone needs clothes, but a designer wardrobe could be considered a luxury. If you have expensive taste, could you compromise by limiting expenditures now to allow for greater financial security in the future?
Food -- Preparing meals at home is a huge savings over eating out, especially at high-end restaurants. Is your priority the ambience of the place or the companionship around the table? Consider taking a gourmet cooking class and creating your own dining event at home for quality time with less expense.
Housing -- Having a roof over your head is a priority, of course, but is a big, fancy home worth the energy and worry? Might you be just as content with a smaller, casual space that is easier to maintain and pay for? What is really important to you and how does where you live impact your long-term picture?
Health -- Regular medical and dental care is essential to your ongoing good health and the ability to be there for your loved ones. Spa visits or cosmetic procedures may be considered more “wants” than “needs,” but taking care of your body with sound nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress relief is important for all your future plans.
Meaningful activity -- Your personal needs aren’t all about money – consider which activities give you the greatest satisfaction and in what ways you want to make a difference. Contributing time and talent to favorite causes can be fulfilling and low cost. How could you incorporate volunteerism into your life to add meaning and accomplishment?
Social life -- Certain people may believe that social and club memberships are essential needs because their well-being depends upon interacting with neighbors and friends. For others, simple evenings at home are most enjoyable. Whatever your pleasure, be sure you plan for it in your budget.
Vacations -- For some, an annual trip to see the grandchildren is a non-negotiable necessity; others would like to treat their extended family to a special group trip. Perhaps you would find more satisfaction and less expense by using part of your time off to serve others. Or, you could invest in a professional development workshop that improves your career skills. Look beyond just dollars to personal rewards and be open to ways you can meet various goals.
Your Legacy -- As we age, it is not unusual for individuals to become more interested in leaving a legacy. Life insurance or savings can help accumulate funds for a financial bequest, but you can also leave behind personal insights, writings and influence that will live on long after you do.
Staying on track for a strong future involves balancing priorities and visualizing your immediate and long-term goals. By focusing on your needs and minimizing discretionary spending on things that you can live without, you can help build not only a strong financial base but a meaningful life.