Monthly Archives: April 2016

Traditional Financial Advice

Traditional financial planning advice might look something like this:

  1. Establish an emergency fund
  2. Pay off debt
  3. Get yourself on track for retirement

That’s all nice and prudent, but is prudent always the right move?

I say no. Sometimes it pays to buck the traditional advice and be a little daring.

What Do You WANT?

No one lies on their deathbed feeling fulfilled because they made all the “right” decisions. No one is ever truly satisfied by checking off all the boxes someone else laid out for them.

True happiness comes from doing the things that matter to YOU. The things that scare you a little bit, excite you a lot, and just feel downright important.

Going back to the example above, assuming you suddenly and unexpectedly had a large amount of money, what if you asked yourself the following questions before making any decisions about what to do with it:

  • When you’re 80, what will you regret not having done?
  • When are you happiest in your life right now?
  • Is there anything you’ve been wanting to try but felt like it was too big a financial risk?

Maybe you’ve been wanting to quit your job so you could go back to school. Or maybe you’d like to take some time off to volunteer in another country while you learn a new language.

Those things don’t fit into the traditional financial planning paradigm but they’re the things that make your life worth living

And isn’t that the entire point?

Finding a Balance

Of course, traditional financial planning advice exists for a reason. Building an emergency fund, paying off debt, and investing give you the security and the freedom to enjoy yourself both today and in the future.

They just shouldn’t be the only things you consider. You should absolutely make room for the things that excite you too, and you don’t need to receive a big inheritance to do it.

Here are some thoughts on how you can balance the practical with the aspirational today, no matter what your financial situation looks like:

  1. Make a list of all the practical financial goals you know you should be working towards.
  2. Make a list of all the life goals you’d like to experience.
  3. Pick one from each list and put a dollar amount and timeline on each. How much will each cost and when would you like to achieve it?
  4. Divide the dollar amount for each by the number of months between now and your target completion date.
  5. Automate that monthly savings into separate accounts dedicated to those specific goals.
  6. If you can’t meet the full savings target now, save what you can and make it your mission to get to that full savings target over time.

Whats the Financial Mistakes that you should know

There’s a lot of financial advice out there. Enough that your head starts to spin when you try to take it all in, understand it, and figure out which pieces are relevant to you.

I’d like to make it a little easier for you by pointing out some things NOT to do.

Here are five of the biggest mistakes I see people making when they first start trying to improve their financial situation.

1. Obsess Over Investment Strategy

There’s often this feeling that if you can just find the perfect investment strategy, your financial success will be guaranteed.

So you read articles, listen to the experts on TV, and tinker with your investments, all with the hope of finding an edge that puts you over the top.

But here’s the truth: the returns you earn, good or bad, have almost no impact on your bottom line until you’re a decade into the process.

What does matter, a lot, is your savings rate. It may not be sexy, but simply saving enough money is far more important than any other investment decision you can make.

2. Forget About Irregular Expenses

If you’ve tried budgeting before and it hasn’t worked, chances are you’ve been undone by all the unexpected expenses that keep popping up.

Your car needs a new tire. Your daughter has to go to the doctor. Your friend gets married in another state.

Here’s the thing: a good budget knows that these kinds of expenses aren’t unexpected. You may not know when they’re coming, but you do know they’re coming.

And you can make them a part of your regular budget simply by saving ahead for them each month. That way the money will already be there when you need it.

3. View Cutting Back as the Only Option

Cutting spending is often the quickest and easiest way to free up room in your budget for the big financial goals you’d like to achieve. Which is why it’s usually a great first step.

But it’s not the only option.

In fact, the biggest long-term results often come from finding ways to increase your income. So don’t be shy about asking for a raise or starting a side hustle. Those are powerful tools that can expand your world of financial opportunities.

4. Think That Credit Card Debt Is Normal

According to NerdWallet, the average American had $15,310 in credit card debt as of 2015. So I guess debt is normal in the sense that a lot of people have it.

But if you want to be financially healthy, you need to accept that credit card debt cannot be part of your life. It’s actually the biggest obstacle that’s keeping you from reaching your goals.

If you have credit card debt, getting rid of it is almost always a top financial priority. That may mean that other financial goals have to wait, but the sooner you get rid of your debt, the sooner you’ll be able to make real progress towards the things you care about most.

5. Look for Easy Fixes

Unfortunately, there is no easy button when it comes to your finances. The solutions are often fairly simple, but they take time, dedication, and hard work before they truly pay off.

For example, creating an account with mint.com and linking all your bank accounts is a great start to the budgeting process. But the app itself won’t solve all your problems.

You’ll still need to take the time to categorize your expenses, both up front and on a regular ongoing basis. And you’ll need to use that information to take action and make changes in how you use your money.

No single app or tactic is going to fix everything for you. You have to take ownership of your situation and do the hard work to make it better.

How to Take on Retirement Planning

I think it’s safe to say that we all have the goal of one day reaching financial independence. That is, the point at which we have enough money in savings and investments to support ourselves for the rest of our lives. So, how much money is enough?

Most of the time that question is answered with a single big number. And it’s true that in the end you’re working towards a single total amount of savings and investments. But that total number is composed of many smaller numbers representing the savings you need to support each individual expense.

What if you looked at it that way? What if you broke it down by how much money you’ll need to support each expense, each habit, and each indulgence for the rest of your life without ever working again?

How Much Does That Gym Membership Really Cost?

Let’s look at a single expense. Say your gym membership. And let’s say that costs you $40 per month. How much money do you need in order to support that expense for the rest of your life?

Using the 4% rule, which says that you can withdraw 4% of your savings each year with minimal risk of ever running out of money, it becomes a simple math problem. Take the monthly cost, multiply it by 300, and you get your answer.

In this case, $40 multiplied by 300 equals $12,000. That is, you need $12,000 in savings to support that monthly gym membership for the rest of your life.

Values-Based Decision Making

Looking at it this way can help you make more informed values-based decisions when it comes to spending and saving.

For example, how long will it take you to save the $12,000 needed for your gym membership? And which do you value more? That habit or the ability to be financially independent a little sooner without it? What about a $500 per month car payment? That will require $150,000 in savings. Is that an expense you’d like to support?

There are no right or wrong answers here. The goal is simply to understand how each expense affects your savings need and to make decisions based on what you value.

How to Plan Differently

Next time you look at your budget, I would encourage you to do a few things differently. Consider the options related to each expense. For example, you could have a $500 per month car payment or a $200 per month car payment or take the bus, let’s say that is $50 per month or walk, $0 per month.

Then, for each category, multiply your monthly budget by 300 to see how much money you’ll need in order to support that expense for the rest of your life.

Finally, step back, look at the numbers, and think about how they align with what you truly want out of life. You may find that you want to cut back on certain things. Or you may find that you want to save more in order to support important expenses.

Either way, you’ll have a better understanding of what it takes to reach financial independence and put your money toward what is most meaningful to you.