What is a Financial Plan
We all have things that we would like to achieve before we die.
Life goals can include saving for your kids’ college education, owning a beach house in Malibu, buying a Lamborghini yacht (yes, they exist), retiring comfortably, or having more time to spend with family rather than Cara and Peter in the office.
To achieve these goals, you need to be focused and financially organized.
A financial plan helps you make sensible money decisions that can help you achieve your goals in life.
So, What Exactly Is A Financial Plan?
A financial plan is a detailed overview of your current financial situation, (short, medium, and long-term) financial goals, and an in-depth strategy to achieve them.
Besides helping you realize your dreams, a financial plan will make you feel in control and give you the comfort of knowing that your financial life is in order.
To be effective, a financial plan must be:
- Written down. A financial plan doesn’t exist if it’s not written down
- Touching every aspect of your finances
- Realistic and achievable
- Agreed with your partner (if you have one, i.e.)
- Regularly reviewed and updated
Depending on your goals’ time horizon, a financial plan can stretch over months, years, or decades.
Benefits of A Financial Plan:
Having a solid financial plan brings forth an assortment of benefits that include:
- Better management of personal income
- Clarity in retirement objectives
- Improved preparation for future expenses
- Reduced risk of debt
- Increased likelihood of personal and financial success
- Decrease in anxiety, worry, and stress levels
“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.” – Helen Gurley Brown
Components of a Good Financial Plan
Understanding what goes into creating a financial plan can mean the difference in your financial success.
A financial plan is a broad umbrella that covers multiple aspects of your financial life.
To lay the groundwork for a solid financial foundation, it pays to understand what each of the aspects entails.
Here’s a quick crash course on the components of a good financial plan:
Making a financial plan is useless if you have no idea what you want to accomplish with your money.
So, whether you want to make the plan yourself or work with a professional, it should start with a list of your goals, both small and big.
A good strategy is organizing your goals according to how soon you want them accomplished:
- Long-term goals are those a decade or more away and can include buying a home or planning for retirement
- Medium-term goals are those you intend to achieve in the next 5-1- years and can include starting your own business or putting a down payment on a property
- Short-term goals are those you hope to achieve in the next 5 years or less and can include buying a new car or paying down debt
For each of the goals, specify a dollar figure and a target date. Being specific helps you to measure your progress towards the goals.
A budget is one of the most important personal finance tools, but it can be a scary four-letter word if you’ve never had one before.
Simply put, a budget is a plan for how to spend your finances. By creating a detailed written budget, you can see exactly where your money is going and make better spending decisions.
As you approach retirement, you’re faced with so many financial decisions, and keeping track of everything can seem like an Olympic sport. This can ultimately lead to overspending and debt.
A budget lets you see how much money you have, what you spend it on, and how much is left over.
Once you get a hold of the inflows and outflows of your cash, it’ll be easier to optimize your spending to cut back on unnecessary stuff such as unused subscriptions, morning lattes, takeouts, etc.
The bedrock of any financial plan is stashing money away for surprise expenses.
An emergency or rainy-day fund is a go-to pool of cash you can dip into when unexpected expenses come knocking. It will help you avoid tapping your long-term savings whenever the need arises.
It would be best if you tried to save 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses (housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries) in a separate, highly liquid savings account.
Don’t put any of this money into an investment that will be hard to convert to cash at short notice (read immediately).
Also, only dip into the emergency fund when you have an urgent and pressing expense. Buying the latest iPhone is not an emergency expense.
Your financial plan should include an investment plan/strategy.
If you have a long time before retirement, it may make sense to be more aggressive with your choice of investments.
If retirement is fast-approaching, be conservative in your choices as you build a portfolio.
It would be best if you also diversify your investment portfolio by picking stocks, bonds, and funds that suit your risk tolerance and time horizon.
Diversification means that if one of your investments dips, another will balance things out.
Beware of investment scams that promise you quick returns. The safest way to double your cash is to fold it and put it in your wallet.
Credit and Debt Strategy
Using credit and taking on debt is not necessarily a bad thing.
Generally, there are two kinds of debt: bad debt and good debt,
When you take a mortgage loan to buy a home, you may be taking on a lot of debt, but the lower interest rates and appreciating property value make it an acceptable form of debt.
On the other hand, doing impulse shopping using a credit card with a 20 percent APR without paying it off in full every month is bad debt. This is because you’re purchasing things that don’t grow in value and, in the process paying steep interest.
If you have high-interest debt that contributes to the reduction of your income, you can write it down and determine the best way to pay it off to avoid trouble. In the words of Earl Wilson, “if you think nobody cares if you are alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”
Getting out of debt can be a painstakingly difficult undertaking. You can tackle debt using approaches such as the Avalanche method, Snowball method, and Debt consolidation.
With the uncertainty of Social Security and fewer American companies offering full pension plans, it is now more important than ever to start saving and planning for retirement.
Retirement savings should become a priority instead of an afterthought.
The IRS has made saving for retirement more attractive with special tax-advantaged accounts such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), employer-sponsored plans, and special retirement accounts for the self-employed.
Creating an income tax plan is vital for your overall financial plan.
Not planning for taxes can lead to a negative financial impact during tax season.
To minimize the impact, ensure you allocate a fixed amount of income towards tax.
Since tax laws and regulations change every year, your tax plan needs to be reviewed annually. Organize a sit-down with a tax professional to determine the deductions that you may be eligible to take.
You have worked hard to build a solid financial foot for yourself and your loved ones. You now need to protect it.
Disasters and accidents can and do happen, and without the right insurance, they could lead to financial ruin. Some of the covers to consider include auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, health insurance, and disability insurance.
But be careful; there’s a fine line between having sufficient insurance and being over-insured. To avoid being over-insured, evaluate your financial situation and ask yourself where the insurance gaps are.
The following factors might affect your insurance needs:
- Economic status
- Family status
Also, review and adjust your coverage wherever necessary to ensure you’re protected against every possibility.
Estate planning involves arrangements for the benefit and protection of your heirs.
Your estate plan should include plans for how your assets will be distributed upon your death, as well as who will be authorized to make key financial and medical decisions for you in case you’re incapacitated.
Many people put off estate planning either because they don’t want to talk about death or because they think they have plenty of time to do it later. It’s vital to understand that death is inevitable and can happen anytime. In fact, estate planning is essential for anyone above 18 years of age.
Without an estate plan in place, your loved ones may have trouble accessing your accounts. Aim at having at least healthcare and financial powers of attorney in place.
Other documents can include:
- Durable powers of attorney
- Living wills
- Advance directives
Why is Financial Planning an Ongoing Process?
Often, Americans set up financial plans with good intentions. However, these plans fail to meet their expectations because of the lack of an ongoing review against their original objectives.
Your financial plan shouldn’t be treated as a static document.
Financial planning is an ongoing process because things change and when they do, they can significantly impact the direction your planning may need to follow.
These could be personal changes in your:
- Personal circumstances like divorce, ill-health, death in the family, change of job, etc.
- Income – may increase or decrease
- Expenditure – may also increase/decrease
- Liabilities – may start, stop, increase or decrease
- Assets – you may land a windfall or inherit property
- Change of risk appetite
Or the changes could be outside your controls:
- A change in the political environment
- A change in government policy
- Property market changes
- Stock market highs and lows
As a rule of thumb, aim at reviewing your plan annually and making changes as needed.
While you can craft a financial plan yourself, it’s a remarkably difficult process. You can instead enlist the help of a professional financial planner.
The most important decision you will make is at the start when you select the professional with whom you’ll co-create your financial plan. Only registered financial professionals can give formal advice. These are regulated and adhere to strict planning and advice guidelines set forth by FINRA and the SEC.
At WWM Financial, we understand that everyone is different, and no two people will have the same needs.
We help you build a unique, solid financial plan by following 6 steps of the financial planning process:
- Initial consultation to establish your short, medium, and long-term goals in life
- Work out what assets and liabilities you have
- Evaluate where you are today relative to your financial goals
- Co-develop a route map for achieving your unique goals
- Implement your plan
- Monitor and review your plan at least yearly and adjust when needed
Our success at WWM Financial has been founded on three simple maxims – professionalism, integrity, and impartiality.
We offer a high-quality bespoke service to our clients over the long term. This ethic has helped us build excellent relationships and earn loyalty from our clients and other professionals with whom we work.
Creating a financial plan is undoubtedly one of the best things you can do with your income. Once you implement your plan, attaining personal goals and financial freedom becomes a step closer.
A goal without a plan is just a wish – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French writer).
If you would like to get started with your own financial plan or have us review your current plan schedule a free consultation by clicking on the link below.
WWM Financial is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor