If you're feeling anxious about your finances, you're not alone. Whether it's due to challenging market conditions, unexpected life events, general uncertainty about your preparedness for retirement, or any other factor, it's normal to be concerned. That's why, just like medical checkups with your doctor, it's important to check on your financial wellness on a regular basis, as well.
Focusing on these five steps as part of the checkup process can help you build a solid financial foundation now and for years to come:
1. Start with the end in mind
Begin the process by reviewing your goals and objectives. While it's important to set realistic targets, it's also important to dream a little. Consider ranking your goals by level of importance and investing timeline. Some common examples may include:
- Saving for an emergency fund
- Paying down debt
- Purchasing a home or second home
- Paying for your education or your child's education
- Planning for retirement
- Giving to charity
2. Assess your starting point
After you've identified your goals, the next step is to determine your current status. To do this, you'll need to gather and review your personal and financial data, including savings and investments—and don't forget about your retirement account and Health Savings Account balance. Having the right asset allocation—i.e., the way in which you divide your assets among stocks, bonds and cash—is particularly important during times of market volatility. When inflation is high, cash and similar investments (such as money market funds) will normally yield negative returns.
It's important to have some cash reserves, but consider putting your excess cash to work. Rebalance your portfolio of investments so your asset allocation is properly positioned for your risk profile and investing timeline.
3. Determine your plan
There are likely opportunities to improve your financial wellness or accelerate some of your goals. Schedule a face-to-face meeting with your financial advisor to discuss your situation and create a plan. Come prepared with a list of questions, and be sure to share your financial priorities and concerns.
Your advisor will likely use a wealth-planning tool to help you visualize your financial well-being. Consider different scenarios in your plan to see what levers you can pull to achieve your goals more quickly. Ask for a projection of your retirement savings to determine whether you're on track for your age and life stage.
4. Put your plan into action
All the planning in the world will not get you results unless you take action. For example, consider increasing your savings every year (even a one percent increase can make a difference over time) or paying down a little more of your debt with every paycheck.
Take advantage of raises and bonuses to set aside more savings. Save ahead for large purchases, watch your spending levels, look for opportunities to trim expenses and cancel those forgotten subscriptions. Skip the high-priced lunch and pack a meal from home instead. Reduce high-interest debt and keep an eye on your credit score.
Wealth planning is an ongoing process. To ensure your plan continues to meet your needs, establish an annual review with your financial advisor to reassess where you are, check the progress you've made and discuss any necessary course corrections.