A financial planner gives the same first piece of advice to new clients, and it usually leads to 3 important discoveries

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taylor schulte cfpTaylor Schulte, CFP.Courtesy of Taylor Schulte

  • When a new client comes to see financial planner Taylor Schulte, his first advice to help them build wealth isn't about investing: He simply tells them to start tracking their spending,
  • Once they start tracking their spending, he finds, his client is usually able to discover three things: They're spending more than they thought on non-essentials, they can instantly identify places to save money, and they can get a more accurate projection of their retirement needs.
  • Looking for professional help building wealth in the long term? SmartAsset's free tool can help find a financial planner near you »

Most people believe their investment plan is the most important factor that influences their long-term wealth. However, San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte believes one piece of advice he gives his clients is more impactful than anything else.

That piece of advice is to "track your spending" - or keep an eye on your purchases to make sure your spending aligns with your monthly budget and financial goals.

"Tracking your expenses is a simple task that gives you knowledge over your money and spending and savings habits," says Schulte. "And knowledge is power."

When Schulte begins working with a new client and suggests they track their spending to "see where their money is going," he says three important things almost always happen.

First, his clients are surprised to find out they're spending much more than they thought on non-essentials. Second, they can instantly identify multiple areas where they can cut their spending to help boost their savings. And third, Schulte and his colleagues can provide a much more accurate retirement income plan that helps to eliminate worries his clients have about outliving their money.

SmartAsset's free tool can help find a financial planner to help with your money goals »

Being able to provide those accurate projections is important, says Schulte. Without having a realistic idea of how much his clients are spending now - and how much they'll want to spend each month in the future - it's nearly impossible to craft a long-term plan that is destined to work.

"If you don't know how much you are spending every week or every month, your estimates will always be … estimates," says Schulte. "A lack of clarity around spending habits and income needs will almost always result in a plan that nobody feels confident in. And, without confidence, it's hard to stay committed to a long-term plan and eliminate the fear of running out of money in retirement."

A budget is nothing more than a plan for your money, and you can budget for anything you want - even travel or shopping, within reason of course. The point of budgeting and tracking your spending is making sure you are covering your essential needs and savings first, then setting some reasonable and realistic parameters for any "fun money" you want to set aside.

If you don't create a plan for the money you work hard to earn, you may or may not reach your financial goals. But if you do decide to get on board and begin watching yourself and your spending, you'll almost always reduce waste and save more money.

Need a hand with your financial plan? SmartAsset's free tool can help find a licensed financial professional to help with your money goals »

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