7 Days to Healthier Personal Finances
Episode 249: January 1, 2013
The New Year is a time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the previous year and what we want to do differently going forward. Some aspects of your financial life may not be under your control, like whether your home will appreciate in value. But most of your personal finances are—so I want you to take my 7-day challenge.
Here’s a plan to follow for 7 days in a row, or one day a week for 7 weeks, that will make your personal finances healthier:
Day #1: Clarify Your Financial Goals
If you haven’t created any financial goals yet, I’ll give a few questions that will get you started. Block out an hour either by yourself or with your spouse to think about the answers while you take a walk, go on a long drive, or enjoy a relaxing dinner.
How you answer the following 4 questions will help you know what to focus on in your financial life for the short and long term:
What about my (or our) financial life was disappointing last year and what needs to change so it doesn’t happen again this year?
What part of my (or our) financial life worries me the most and how can Ibuild financial safety nets to alleviate the stress?
In 5 or 10 years from now, what would I be proud to say that I had accomplished in my (or our) financial life?
When I retire or can’t work anymore, will I look back and wish that I had lived my financial life differently or that I had saved more money for the future?
Day #2: Create Your Personal Financial Statement
Once you’ve thought about the goals you want to achieve, take a hard look at where your financial life is right now. I recommend creating a tool that I call your Personal Financial Statement (PFS) because it’s the best way to get a bird’s-eye-view of your financial situation.
To create your PFS, first make a list of your assets and their current values, such as cash accounts, investments, real estate, and vehicles. Then list out your liabilities, such as a mortgage, car loan, student loan, or credit card debt, and their outstanding balances. Also include the interest rate you’re paying for each debt so you know which ones are costing you the most on a percentage basis.
When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth. For instance, if you own $150,000 in assets but have $125,000 in debts, your net worth is $25,000.
Your net worth is an important number because it says a lot about your overall financial health. I recommend that you update your PFS on an annual basis so you stay focused on increasing your net worth over time by either increasing assets, shrinking liabilities, or both.
Day # 3: Check Your Free Credit Report
Your credit report plays a big role in the health of your personal finances. You can get it for free once a year from each of the 3 national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) at annualcreditreport.com.
Here’s a Quick and Dirty Tip: Instead of getting all 3 credit reports at once, space them out and pull one from a different agency every 4 months.
It’s better to check up on a different report 3 times a year because you’ll have the opportunity to correct errors (that might be hurting your credit score) more frequently. You can also call foul right away on any fraudulent activity that could devastate your finances.
You typically have to pay for your credit score. That’s why creditkarma.com is one of my favorite sites—you can check your score for free as often as you like!
Day #4: Investigate Options to Reduce Debt
If you have high-interest debt like credit cards, payday loans, or retail store accounts, stay vigilant for ways to optimize it, or pay less. This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a clean credit report because the better your credit score, the more money you can save.
Having an excellent credit scoreallows you to pay less for new credit accounts, but it also opens the door for more ways to knock out your existing debt faster by getting approved for a money-saving refinance, consolidation, or balance transfer.
Day #5: Create a Spending Plan
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck without putting any money aside for your retirement or emergency fund, you need to create a spending plan.
Start by looking at how you’ve been spending over the past several months and see where you can cut back. In order to accomplish your financial goals and live within your means there are 3 options: earn more, spend less, or do both.
I go into detail about creating a financial plan in chapter 2 of my book Money Girl’s Smart Moves to Grow Rich.
Day #6: Set up Automatic Retirement Contributions
Participating in a
retirement plan at work is a great way to make sure you’re consistently investing for your future. If you don’t have a workplace plan you can invest in an IRA as long as you have some amount of earned income.
Set up a direct deposit so a percentage of your paycheck is automatically invested in your IRA. Or set up an automatic transfer from your bank account to your IRA once a month or every payday. Automating your financial goals is the best way to make sure you accomplish them.
Day #7: Shop Your Insurance
Insurance is a product that we all need in order to manage various types of risk in our lives, like expensive medical care or losing income due to a disability. Check out MetLife.com where you can get an instant quote for affordable term life insurance.
Since we pay for insurance year after year, it’s easy to forget to shop around for lower rates.
Make an appointment to discuss your policies with your insurance agent to see where you can reduce your costs but still have adequate protection.
If you accept this 7-day (or 7-week) challenge, share your thoughts and results on the Money Girl Facebook page!
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