Money management and financial planning don't have to be complicated. Your financial planner or bank may want you to think they’re complicated so they may purposefully make it so, perhaps in an effort to justify their services.
Any good planner can generate a glitzy financial plan with all kinds of pretty graphs and numbers over dozens of pages. Or, you can get one a few pages long that gets you to pretty much the same place.
I like simple. It’s usually free for clients, versus a few thousand dollars for the glitz. The simple plan is far easier to understand and the client is more likely to implement and stick to it.
In his book The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money, columnist Carl Richards tells you how to make the simplest plan you’ll ever see. “The fact is,” he writes, “in a single page you can prioritize what you really want in life and figure out how to get there.”
Financial planning is important and I prefer a more thorough plan of several pages with full income projections over a one-page plan, but Richards’ one-pager is good.
Related article: Financial planning is a road map to success
Starting your One Page Financial Plan
Start by writing down what’s important to you about money. This isn’t always an easy question but it reveals your values and priorities.
You also need to list three to five goals, along with specific action items that support your goals. This is important because if you don’t first know where you’re going, you won’t get there except by accident. These things become the checkpoint for your financial plan.
Related article: Setting financial goals and priorities
Maybe your goals are is to get out of debt, prepare for a comfortable, worry-free retirement and help to pay for your children’s education. Rank them by importance.
Anything important starts with a plan. There are blueprints to build a house, a roadmap when we take a driving vacation and business loans require a business plan.
Money requires this same logical approach. Your goal may be to save money, but for what purpose? You’re far more likely to succeed if you take this journey with your destination in mind.
Related article: Knowing the purpose of money
Your one-page plan reminds you why you're saving money and helps identify how you’re going to get where you need to be.
The B Word
Next is that evil word: budgeting. Doing a budget is like flossing; they’re both tasks we don’t like, but necessary.
“Budgeting is important,” Richards writes, “not only because it reminds us not to spend so much on gasoline or takeout but also because it helps us cultivate the awareness we need to save and spend in accordance with our values.”
Related article: A simple way to track your spending
So, what do you need to save? Let’s review our goals. The savings number often bandied about is 10 per cent of your pre-tax income. That may be enough if you start in your 20s, but wait two decades and you may need to double or triple that. Your advisor can calculate how much you’ll need to save to achieve a certain goal.
Don’t take big risks to make up for lost time. That usually doesn’t turn out well. Instead, consider adjusting your goals – working longer, saving more or having less retirement income.
Start by saving as much as you reasonably can. Spend less than you earn and invest appropriately given your risk tolerance. By the way, risk isn’t what you probably think it is. Doing these things will improve your financial situation over time. Don’t expect quick results. This takes time.
Related article: Principles of saving money
Getting help from others
Don’t take financial advice from friends, family or co-workers. It’s usually wrong.
Richards says that a good financial advisor can be your best friend. His job is to stand between you and those big mistakes that can cost you thousands of dollars and set you back years. Those snafus include buying that terrible investment, selling your diversified portfolio to load up on some flavour of the month or buying high and selling low.
Your odds of making those big mistakes increase dramatically when no advisor stands between you and disaster. Financial decisions should be rational and not emotional, and a good advisor should help you to take the emotions out of your decision making.
Richards’ book can help you to develop your own plan and get your finances on track.