Building a financial plan is the first step in your journey to long-term financial security. Your plan is like a GPS, charting an optimal route that balances saving for the future while also leaving enough to live your best life today.
While a plan looks great on paper, the real transformation occurs when you put your financial plan into action. These five tips can make it easy to live your plan every day, without really thinking much about it.
1. AUTOMATE WHERE YOU CAN
When possible, automate routine money movements, from paying your mortgage or bills to contributing to retirement or a savings account. By automating payments or contributions, you’ll have less to worry about each month. You’ll also avoid late fees and the psychological sting of paying a bill — out of sight out of mind. Automating retirement or savings contributions, for example, also has significant upside. It helps you consistently add to your savings, and consistency is key to long-term growth. You don’t have to fret if markets are up or down, because the same contribution goes toward your goals every single month.
2. CHECK IN REGULARLY, BUT NOT TOO OFTEN
The benefit of a financial plan is that you don’t need to worry about your finances every day. If you stick with the plan and your budget, your finances should be right where they need to be. Ideally, you won’t need to log in to see how stock market gyrations are impacting your money. And you can feel free to spend money in your budget now without worrying about how it will impact your future goals.
Still, it’s a good idea to regularly check in with yourself and/or your spouse to make sure you’re staying on track with your plan. While every situation is unique, a monthly or quarterly financial checkup is usually a good cadence to start with. And this doesn’t need to be complicated. Just go over your statements and make sure your spending aligns with the plan’s budget to ensure you’re on track.
Then, once a year (or more if you feel it’s needed), you should check in with your financial advisor. This meeting is a little more strategic, big-picture and is a good chance to talk about any changes to your long-term goals or big life events. And that takes us to the next tip:
3. LIFE IS DYNAMIC, SO IS YOUR PLAN
One thing that’s consistent throughout life is change. Our aspirations evolve. Opportunities arise. Accomplishing one goal leads to new goals. Did you say…twins?
Life is dynamic, and your financial plan should be, too.
Whenever you have a major life change, it’s a great time to call your financial advisor to revisit your plan and discuss any adjustments that might be needed. Major life changes can include getting married or divorced, having children or grandchildren, changing jobs or hitting a major goal.
4. LEVEL-UP REGULARLY
Over time, try to incrementally increase what you regularly contribute to your goals. For instance, adding 1 percent each year to your 401(k) contributions won’t feel like much (particularly if you do it after you get a raise), but over several years, you’ll be contributing a lot more toward retirement — and you’ll barely notice it. This can apply to any of the goals in your plan — like education savings, setting aside money for an emergency fund or adding to your whole life insurance.
Making small increases in the amount you’re contributing to your goals, like automating your savings, helps instill good financial habits without much effort. Before you know it, you’ll be contributing 20 percent or more of your income to your goals. And, believe it or not, it will feel easy.
5. CELEBRATE WINS ALONG THE WAY
Getting to retirement deserves a celebration. But you’re going to have a lot of financial wins along your journey. Maybe you’ve paid off your student debt, a credit card or your mortgage. Perhaps you’ve hit a certain savings milestone like getting six months of emergency savings socked away. You should stop and celebrate whenever you hit a financial milestone — big and small. Treating yourself to something nice as you make progress toward your goals will make it easier to set your sights on the next goal, and the next one.