KNOWLEDGE CENTER: Key steps for successful financial planning [COLUMN]

Even the most ardent savers question whether they are doing enough to achieve financial success. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of planning and saving for your financial future, now is a great time to focus on your finances. There are several steps that you should take to ensure you have a sound financial plan.

Create a Plan

Getting started is often the biggest challenge in developing a financial plan. To begin, create a list of your short, intermediate, and long-term financial goals. These goals may include building an emergency fund, purchasing a house or vacation home, saving for college expenses, paying for a wedding, funding your retirement, or leaving a legacy to heirs. Even if you have already established financial goals, revisit them periodically to ensure you are on track and determine if there are any new goals that you want to start saving towards or goals you have already met so you can focus on others.

Make a Budget

With your goals in mind it’s time to check your spending and track where your money is going. No matter your level of income, creating a budget to identify what your monthly spending includes will allow you to see a snapshot of your current finances and allocate the funds necessary to be more efficient with your income. Sometimes all it takes is mapping out your expenses to determine where you can save a little more to fund your other planning goals.

Analyze Debt

Once you have a handle on your finances, the next step is to assess your debt. If you have high interest debt like credit cards, prioritizing a portion of your budget to tackle it helps tremendously over the long term by avoiding high interest charges. Low interest debt, such as mortgages or securities backed loans, can often be helpful so paying them off may not be a priority, especially if the interest rate is below what you may expect in returns from long term-investments.

Fund Your Goals

Now it’s time to start funding your savings goals. Allocating a portion of your income to savings and investment accounts regularly through automatic transfers is a great way to set yourself up to be successful in meeting your goals. When contributions are automatic you are less likely to overspend and miss the targets you set for yourself.

Review Insurance and Estate Plans

It’s also important to analyze your insurance policies and estate plans. Review insurance policies for your home, vehicles, life, business and investment interests periodically to ensure the coverages are appropriate and that you aren’t overpaying. If elements of your life have changed, adjust whenever needed to minimize the cost, balancing your premiums and deductibles while maintaining the coverage appropriate for you and your family. Along with insurance, if you don’t have an estate plan or haven’t updated your estate plan recently you should review this as well. We all experience changes in our lives and ensuring our estate plan is appropriate and up to date will make the transition of the wealth you accumulate over your lifetime appropriate and efficient for your loved ones.

Consult an Advisor

While taking these steps will set you on a path to a successful financial future, it can be invaluable to confirm the goals you set are realistic and will provide the lifestyle you expect in retirement. Working with an investment advisor and financial planner will help tremendously by offering guidance and providing analysis on your financial health. Ensuring your investment portfolio is constructed with an appropriate level of risk and taking advantage of opportunities to be tax efficient on both an annual and long-term basis will further assist you in meeting your financial goals.

Regardless of what you may be saving for, it is important to go beyond simply saving money. Take time to create a comprehensive financial plan based on your personal goals. Establishing and revisiting your financial plan are equally important to achieve financial success. Taking steps to ensure you are on a path to help you meet your financial goals is paramount to build confidence today for a more secure tomorrow.

Garrett Spangler is West Capital Management’s Director of Wealth Planning and leads West Capital Management’s Planning Committee. In his role, Spangler  works with clients on a variety of planning areas such as trust and estate planning, wealth preservation, and income tax and liability exposure. Prior to joining West Capital Management, Garrett was an associate at The Erb Law Firm PC.

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