References to financial wellness are everywhere these days—in updates from your workplace pension plan to self-help books and personal finance media. It’s a hot topic as people look beyond their retirement assets to consider a range of financial health issues, from mental health and work-life balance to emergency funds and cash management.
What exactly is financial wellness and how can you achieve it? The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines financial well-being as “a state in which a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.”
Broadly speaking, the quest for financial wellness begins with setting specific financial goals. Goals should be achievable and may include one or more of the following 10 steps to financial wellness:
1. Increase your financial understanding. Read blogs or books about finances, or sign up for an educational seminar or webinar. Your local public library can be an excellent resource. While much of the written content these days is specifically aimed at specific audiences such as millennials or Gen Xers, a great deal of it is more general. Listen to podcasts. Our company offers a wealth of resources on the Insights page of our website, wealthenhancement.com.
2. Create a net worth statement. Write down all the assets you own (eg your house, stocks, bonds, cash, personal belongings) on one sheet of paper and subtract from that number anything you owe (eg outstanding mortgages, lines of credit, car – or university loans, and so on). This gives you a good picture of your household net worth, a very useful financial planning tool. Be sure to do this every year to see if your net worth is increasing or decreasing.
3. Track your consumption. Even before you can set a budget, you need to have a clear idea of where your money is going each month. Use a notebook or app to track money and record what you spend each day in the “must spend” and “nice to spend” categories. Often your bank or brokerage firm will have an app that pulls at all the different threads in your spending, which can help you set a monthly budget.
4. Reduce unnecessary expenses. If you’re not getting the most out of the products and services you buy each week, it might be time to cut back on exotic coffee, video streaming services, or cable services. But don’t remove all the fun stuff in your life! Balance is key, so when you want to splurge on something you really like, you won’t feel regret or guilt about it.
5. Increase pension savings contributions. Consider increasing your contributions each year for each salary increase you receive, or at least enough to qualify for the employer match. The tax code allows you to make catch-up contributions to your 401(k) or IRA after age 50. That said, be careful not to put too much into these accounts that could hit you with a big tax bill. way. It’s always a good idea to talk to a financial advisor to see how boosting your savings applies to your personal situation.
6. Pay bills. Reduce what you owe by paying off loans, credit cards and other debts (especially those with high interest rates). I know it sounds nagging, but you shouldn’t take on more debt than you can comfortably handle. Shop around for the best deal before you take out a loan and avoid carrying a balance on your credit cards if possible.
7. Create or add to an emergency fund. Squirrel away at least six months of living expenses, especially if your job is not secure, or there is a risk of disability in your family, or if you have an unexpected car or home repair. You don’t need an immediate emergency fund, day one – start small and build it up over time. And keep this emergency money in relatively safe, liquid funds. You can always transfer any excess emergency savings to your “long-term” investment account.
8. Check your credit report or score. Your rating affects your ability to qualify for credit and the terms of that credit, so even if you always pay your bills on time, it’s important to check your scores periodically. Additionally, you can’t be too careful about identity theft and credit card fraud cases. If you find errors, contact the credit rating agencies and challenge anything that is wrong. (You can check your credit score for free once a year through the major credit reporting agencies; visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.)
9. Review your asset allocation. At least once a year, sit down with your advisor to determine if your allocations still match your goals. Be honest about your expectations, especially when inflation is running high and markets have been volatile. Even if you manage your own money, do a self-assessment of whether your allocation (and risk budget) is still appropriate.
10. Work with a financial advisor. Achieving financial wellness is a complex task, even more so if you own many assets and/or sources of income, have a child with special needs, or have a complex tax situation. Having a counselor in your corner can be a big help in these situations. And even if you like to be in control of most of your financial decisions, having someone challenge your assumptions and provide a second opinion can be invaluable.
This list may look daunting, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one or two financial wellness goals and work on them at your own pace. Soon you will develop confidence in your ability to achieve the financial success you have always wanted.
The opinions expressed in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations to any individual.
Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb are financial advisors with Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on WCCO 830 AM Sunday mornings. Email Bruce and Peg at [email protected] Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, LLC, a registered investment advisor. Wealth Enhancement Group and Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services are separate entities from LPL Financial.
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