Here's your year-long guide to financial stability
Financial stability can put you on the right path. But where do you start? Lauren Lyons Cole, a certified financial planner and senior editor at Business Insider, lays out a year-long guide to gaining your financial freedom. Following is a transcript of the video.
Lauren Lyons Cole: OK, so you've decided to get your financial life together. But where do you begin? The good news is it's easier than you think. We've put together a step-by-step process to walk you through the next year.
My name is Lauren Lyons Cole. I'm a certified financial planner and a senior editor here at Business Insider.Day 1: Let's get organized. This step can be challenging for a lot of people, especially if it's been a while since you looked at your money. Or maybe you never have. But if you don't know where you're starting from, there's no way to track your progress throughout the year. Clear out some time, and get together all your recent statements or all your online login information for your different financial accounts. I'm talking everything, from checking, savings, student loans, credit cards - if you have them - retirement accounts, maybe old retirement accounts from that job you left and you really don't know where your 401(k) plan went. Get it all together so we can see a full picture of what your money is like today. If it helps, you can use an app to do this. For the past 10 years I've used Mint, which is really useful as a way to see all my financial accounts in one place as well as my day-to-day transactions.
Week 1: Track everything you're spending on. I don't want you to make any changes yet because first we have to figure out what you're doing now so that we can figure how to tweak and optimize your spending so that you can reach your goals. At the end of week one you want to total up what you spent overall and what you spent in each category - food, shopping, drinks, whatever it is that you were buying during the week. Now, compare the total spending to how much you earn in a week, how much you actually take home from your job. If what you spent overall was more than what you earn overall, we're going to have to work on that. Either way, it's important to identify which categories are your biggest categories for spending, and which categories you think you can make the most progress cutting back on.
Month 1: It's time to create a realistic goal and an action plan that you can stick to. Too many people set themselves up to fail when they're trying to get their financial life in order by choosing an arbitrary spending limit - you know, saying, "Oh, I'm only going to spend $200 on food this month." But if you usually spend $500 on food, there's just no way you're going to cut back that much. Our goal for this month is, of course, to save some money, but even more importantly to figure out exactly how much you can cut back for the months to come so that you're setting yourself up for realistic success with your budgeting and saving plan. If you usually spend $50 on food but you went an entire week - or multiple weeks - without spending that $50, but you were miserable, that's not a sustainable plan moving forward. So a good compromise might be to agree to buy your lunch one day a week or maybe even two days a week and bring your lunch the rest of the time. That way you know it is a plan you can stick to.
For the next three months, our goal is to think big picture and prioritize every financial goal you want to work toward. You can't do it all overnight. By now your spending should be a little bit healthier, and hopefully you're saving a good amount every month. But what are you going to do with that money? Now is the time to figure that out. If you have debt, that's a really important goal to tackle first because debt carries an interest rate with it, which means it gets bigger if you don't start to pay it down. If you don't have debt, your retirement savings should be your next biggest priority. But you also need to start saving for an emergency fund. Increase your 401(k) contribution at work by at least 3%, or more, if you can do it. And then turn your attention to getting your accounts in order. Your checking account should always have about double your paycheck, and your savings account needs to have at least three months of living expenses. It can take a while to save up that amount, so you don't have to do it all at once. And you shouldn't do it without also saving for retirement. The more you get into your finances, the more you're juggling a lot of different, competing goals.
So we're at the halfway point, and hopefully things are still going really well. If not, now is a good time to recommit to all the goals you set at the beginning of this process. And if you have to start over. You can always go back to Day 1 and do it all again. If things are going well, there's a cool way to track your progress moving forward that you can add to the mix. I record my net worth on a spreadsheet so that I can track my progress over time. Your net worth is a pretty simple calculation, taking everything that you own minus everything that you owe to arrive at a number. This is called your net worth. Your net worth could be negative. Especially if you have a lot of student loans or credit-card debt. But that doesn't mean it's actually negative. If you're making progress on your goals, it will continue to grow. And that's a really exciting thing to track.So we've made it to a year. Now is the time to reflect on everything that happened in the past year and how your money has changed.
So we've made it to a year. Now is the time to reflect on everything that happened in the past year and how your money has changed. You've made it through what is usually the hardest year of dealing with your money. It only gets easier from here. Some months may have been better than others, and that's totally normal. Every month is different when you are dealing with your money, which is one of the big challenges in working toward getting your financial life together. Set your sights on what next year will mean for you. And even five or 10 years from now. You've earned the right to be very proud, and you've earned the right to push yourself even harder for the years to come.