As we enter October, Financial Planning Awareness month, I wanted to highlight the value that good financial planning can bring in helping all of us to achieve our personal goals. At Atlas, our mission is to empower our clients to pursue their goals and passions by providing a trusted and objective voice.
Atlas takes a holistic approach to financial planning and reviews each client’s unique situation to provide guidance and input on the client’s cash flow and spending plan, outstanding debt, savings techniques, insurance considerations, retirement planning and investment strategies while also considering the tax implications around how to manage it all. From all of our experience, I wanted to share a few simple steps below, as considerations for anyone that is getting started.
Define Your Goals
Take a moment to step back and think about what you are trying to accomplish in your life. What goals have you set out for yourself? Are you going to college or building a career with new education and credentials? Is home ownership important to you? Are you saving to send your children to college? Do you want to retire by a certain age? Do you need a new car? Would you like to take a cruise for your 30th anniversary with your partner or for your 25th high school reunion with your friends? Are you interested in starting a business? Or… maybe you are looking to fund a project that you are passionate about? This exercise of acknowledging your goals can help you set your priorities as you move forward in building your financial plan.
Understand Your Cash Flow
Managing your cash flow is a major step toward getting started, wherever you are in your planning journey. The simple step of getting a better understanding of the ins and outs of their cash flow can have a fundamental impact on the landscape of financial planning for many individuals. What are your sources of income and how are they taxed? Where does the money go each month? Are there opportunities to make simple changes in spending that can have a larger impact on the journey to achieve your goals?
How do you get started? Track your income and expenses for one month using a spreadsheet, pen and paper or an online tool that streamlines the process. In addition to the exercise of tracking your monthly expenses including outstanding debt payments, take note of the one-time annual expenses that you also have each year and note them on a separate list. This exercise oftentimes brings quick insight and clarity on some very simple changes you can consider making to free up cash.
Get a Handle on Your Debt
For many Americans, debt is a reality, but debt comes in many categories such as a mortgage, home equity line of credit, car loan, student loan, credit card debt and more. Understanding which types of debt are better than others and strategically managing how you pay down those balances can go a long way.
Begin by listing out each outstanding debt balance and its corresponding interest rate and minimum payment. Also acknowledge if there are any tax write offs associated with the respective debt to consider. Now take that listing of outstanding debt and prioritize it based on “good” vs. “bad” debt. Create a strategy to systematically tackle those outstanding balances and consider pyramiding payments to pay the highest interest debt down first by sending extra cash to that debt while continuing to maintain the minimum monthly payments on the other debts.
Understand and Maximize Employer Benefits
Are you still working? Do you know what benefits your employer offers? Are you taking full advantage of any matching contributions to your employer sponsored retirement plan, if available to you? Could you save more in the retirement plan today and leverage other tax- advantaged benefits? If in a high deductible health care (HDHP) plan are you also taking advantage of the tax and savings benefits of a health savings account (HSA)?
Not sure how to get started? Meet with a representative from your human resources department and ask them to review the benefits available to you and the advantages they offer.
Steps 1-2-3-4 and Beyond
These first steps are just the foundation of the financial planning process. There are many intricate layers to financial planning such as tax planning implications, investment strategies, life insurance considerations, estate planning and more. Check out the Atlas website at atlaspwm.com for informative articles, webinars and podcasts.
As a friendly reminder… Atlas clients have access to the Atlas Client Portal, a helpful tool to organize and manage your finances and work through the steps above. Contact your Atlas Wealth Management advisor or click here to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like assistance in using the Portal or to learn about other ways Atlas can help.