By Dana Ragiel
The holidays are behind us. Many ponder their resolutions during the last few days of December with the intent on launching their action plan in January.
Many women set goals that are health and fitness related. Fitness and exercise goals often mean you have a problem to fix. Gym memberships jump in early January but by March it’s easy to lose interest unless you’re really committed and dedicated. It certainly isn’t a bad idea to set goals and objectives for your health, but don’t forget about your financial health while you’re at it. A great idea, just like at the gym, is to set achievable goals and feel good about making progress, which will encourage you to keep going.
Take some time to look at your finances. Getting organized and reviewing your information does two things. First, you can see where you are today. This provides the base from which you will move forward. Next, start setting goals. Think about where you want your long-term plan to take you and then set short-term and intermediate goals to get you on the road to success. And this isn’t just about account balances, although that may be part of it. Leading a fulfilling life revolves more around family, occupation and recreation. Make sure your goal setting includes the things you want to do for fulfillment, not just the digits in your net worth.
I’d like to share a personal story. I recently lost a close family friend who was also a client to a sudden accident – a fall and head injury. She was a very healthy 84 year old married 61 years to her first love, who is 88. Despite their great marriage, she maintained separate banking and investment accounts at five different institutions. While her family was devastated by her passing, her sons needed to help their father get a handle on her affairs. Thankfully, she was organized and had her account statements and other documents accessible, making the family efforts easier at a very tough time. I’ve seen other cases where understanding and accessing information needed to settle an estate is much more difficult and stressful for the heirs.
Anytime is a great time to improve your financial state of mind by taking achievable basic steps. I’ve done this for the past ten years and insist that the women I work with take a time in January to get organized. Think of it as a decision funnel
1) Gather – The Top of the Funnel.
Put your important financial papers in one spot for review. Set up an organizer. This includes bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, trust documents and wills, credit cards, etc. It is okay if you maintain some of these documents electronically. In this case, make an inventory list of where accounts and documents are maintained and instructions to access them if you are unable to do so.
Some of my clients maintain dual residences. One here in Southwest Florida and another somewhere north. If this is the case, are your important records split between location? Perhaps electronic document storage is a good solution so you can access needed items from either location.
2) Review and Prioritize – The Middle of the Funnel.
The purpose of reviewing your documents isn’t just to get organized. A benefit of the review is to develop a list of questions to help you determine if the way you are doing things is the best way to help you achieve your priorities. Examples include:
What is the level of risk in my investment portfolio?
What am I paying for investment management?
Do I have a well-defined, understandable financial plan?
What am I paying for auto and homeowners insurance?
What fees is my bank charging?
Can I consolidate accounts to simplify my life?
Do I have a handle on the monthly budget to maintain my home and lifestyle?
How many times did I hear from my advisor or banker last year?
Does my advisor call me to see how I’m doing or just to sell me something?
Is my accountant responsive and reasonably priced?
Do I have a will? Should I have a trust? Who will help me with these?
Even this long list isn’t exhaustive. Once you develop your list of topics and questions don’t be overwhelmed. Organize your questions into categories and get your calendar to schedule necessary phone calls and meetings to get the answers you need to make decisions.
3) Implementation – The Bottom of the Funnel.
We want only good things to flow out of the funnel after you complete the process. After visualizing your future to include your life goals, it’s time to take action to make sure your financial life is aligned to get you where you want to be. By asking the questions you come up with in step 2 and making decisions to make changes where things can be done a better way, you automatically move in the direction needed to meet your objectives.
Chances are changes will be necessary. That may be spending less, working longer, changing financial advisors or accountants, using a different insurance company, etc. Change is hard, but if nothing changes – nothing changes. The point is, if you want to be in control of where your life goes, aligning your financial life is a powerful tool.