+ Do you know where your money is going?
- Know where your money is going. No one loves to live by a budget, but we think it's really important to establish good habits as part of a bigger financial plan. Are you living within your means or building debt? Are you automating savings from excess income or not? Do you have a process for making big financial decisions, or do you tend to fly by the seat of your pants? Any good financial planner will want to have a clear understanding of monthly expenses and habits...or they are trying to sell you something. So be sure you can ROUGHLY fill out a cashflow worksheet before soliciting help.
Here is a resource to help you with budgeting: Mint
+ Do you have your debt in order?
Have your debt in order. It's very common to borrow money to get started in life; maybe you have student loans, car payments, a mortgage, some store cards or credit cards, etc. Debt for many is a fact of life. But financial planning is about saving for future goals and then leveraging that savings to meet current goals. If there isn't an opportunity to save or invest, that's OK...but then you probably need to focus on paying down debt prior to paying for longer term advice. It's doesn't mean you need to be debt free, but you should have the ability to save, first.
Here is a resource to help you with debt reduction: https://zilchworks.com/
+ Do you have a cash reserve?
Have a cash reserve that's 3-6 months of expenses. Before doing ANYTHING else, we would want to be sure you have a savings cushion that you're comfortable with BEFORE saving or investing for other goals. Everyone is a little different on what a comfortable cushion looks like. But the reality is, life throws us curveballs from time to time and you have to have money set aside for those emergencies or opportunities. if you start socking money away for retirement (as an example) you can't really get it back out until you're 59.5 years old without paying some hefty tax penalties. We say you want 3-6 months of your household bills to be in savings before getting too aggressive saving elsewhere.
+ Are you grabbing free money?
- Grab the free money first. If there is a workplace 401(k) that offers some sort of "matching benefit" from the employer, then absolutely contribute to something like that first. It's free money
Here are resources to help:
+ Free Investment Advice
If you're thinking about investments only, here's some free advice in case you feel that's all you need.
First, diversification matters. But keep it simple. We like recommending index funds that give broad exposure at low expense. Find an S&P500 fund and just set it and forget it.
Second, expenses matter. Most index or exchange traded funds cost a very small fraction of a percent and most investment platforms now have $0 trading expenses! So, don't think you need anything complicated when getting started. The most important thing is to save/invest so just set up your account to automate.
Which one sounds most like you?
+ What if I have the items above in order?
If you have those "basic items" in order, then congratulations! You're off to an awesome, financially healthy start! We usually then get called in to answer more pressing or burning questions. Here are 10 common examples that we would say act as catalysts for meeting with us, or another financial planner, and exploring a relationship:
- I got a new position/promotion at work and I want to reassess benefits and where we are saving.
- I have excess savings and I don't know how to fund competing goals like education savings and my retirement. Check out our example client profile for how we may be able to help you.
- I inherited money from a relative and I need help figuring out what to do next.
- My spouse and I are looking to buy our first home and we have questions about loans, down payments, what we can afford, etc.
- I'm thinking about scaling back work so I can be more present with my kids. Can my spouse and I afford this?
- I'm a small business owner. Running my business finances and my family finances is too much. I'm making good money, but I don't feel under control.
- I need help getting organized. Can you help?
- I see the basic investment advice, but I now feel like I have enough money in my 401(k) to think more specifically about the options and what would be best for me. Here are a few of our resources to check out prior to reaching out to us:
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