With spring and summer fast approaching, bikini-body goals move into of the forefront of our minds, and financial fitness sometimes takes a backseat. Just as people can commit to a health and fitness plan for their physical bodies, your wallet sometimes needs a trim around the waistline. It’s easy to know what is healthy or unhealthy for our bodies—eat your veggies and minimize sugar, exercise a little every day, but don’t overdo it—but it’s not so easy to know what’s healthy for our finances.
Here are some tips to jump-start your journey toward financial fitness this fall.
Examine, or re-examine, your goals
Many people struggle with commitment to a financial plan, but that is usually for one simple reason:
Their financial goals were disconnected from their values.
The best start to a financial fitness plan is to assess your short-term and long-term goals, but you should also ask yourself if these goals are aligned with those things that are most important to you.
Whether you want to travel the world or send your children or yourself to college without incurring heavy student debt, placing your current spending and saving habits in relation to your values can help you get clear on any potential roadblocks.
Schedule regular check-ins
It is extremely healthy to monitor your accounts on a regular basis. This helps you see your progress, and brings into focus any areas where changes may be necessary. Quarterly check-ins provide the best rhythm and timing to ensure you are on track with your risk tolerance and savings objectives.
If opening your quarterly statements gives you the willies, that is a definitive sign that something needs to change. Maybe your stock allocation is weightier than you would like it to be. Resist the temptation to just ignore the discomfort.
Consider rebalancing your budget, or talk to a financial advisor to see if your allocations are appropriate for your time horizon, as well as your short- and long-term goals.
Take things one day at a time
Financial planning is a lot like training for a marathon. You would never go out and run 26.2 miles on your first day of training.
You should not expect your balances to double, year after year, from the beginning. But it is important, oh so important, to set short-term goals that are manageable to get you from start to finish in this financial marathon.
If you have trouble determining what a reasonable level for one of these short-term goals would be, or how these littler goals compare and connect to your larger, long-term goals, try starting with increasing your contributions to your 401(k) by one percentage point every year. Conventional wisdom says that most people should be saving around 10-15 percent of their annual income to save for retirement; but as we know, not everyone is the same, and savings are no different. While “conventional wisdom” says one thing, your needs and goals may need to adjust up or down to best fit your situation.
If you are making all the right decisions with your retirement savings accounts, paying all your monthly bills, and meeting any other financial goals you have put in place – congratulations!
You deserve to enjoy your leftover money!
Just remember to distinguish between wants and needs. Your spending, just like your savings, should be in alignment with your values and goals.
It is the simplest, surest way to being financially fit, but it is also often the hardest. One potential solution would be to work with a financial adviser, who can help you remain accountable and informed about the options and strategies to help you make the most of your hard-earned savings.