There's something special about the emergence of spring. It's a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to reawaken from the cold of winter and undergo a transformation of your habits and behaviors you want to leave behind. It's hard to know where to start your self-improvement journey without knowing your financial goals. Once you determine your money priorities, push yourself a step further to achieve more. It's like going to the gym. You know you can do XY and Z, but my job is to push you to do XY and Z, times 10, to get in better financial shape.
Without further adieu, here are five financial planning goals for this spring to help get you in the best financial shape of your life in 2019.
1. Make an estate plan
Everyone should have a will, which is a legal document that dictates how to distribute your assets in the event of your death. If you die intestate, or without a will, the state you reside in creates one for you, which is called probate. Probate is the legal process the court follows to distribute your assets, pay off debts, and provide guardians for any minor children. The problem with probate is that it doesn't take into consideration your intentions but rather follows a canned formula to distribute your assets and name guardians for children.
A will is a way to specify who gets what and when. You can say Junior gets the car at age 18 or determine that certain relatives will inherit pieces of furniture or family jewels. By taking the time to draft a will now, you can think through who gets what and alleviate potential family squabbles over your estate. Single people with no kids may think they don't need a will since there is no one to inherit their estate, but you may want to leave your assets to charity or to your alma mater, which can be accomplished through a will.
There are many other reasons to have a will, and there are various types of wills and other legal documents to consider too. If you don't have a will or if your will is outdated, a smart financial goal for 2019 is to get one into place. You can try to write your own will, but an attorney can help you think of things you may not have considered. Ask friends and family for referrals to a trustworthy and competent estate lawyer.
2. Double-check your life insurance
Life insurance is extremely important for young families who may not have the assets to provide for survivors in the event the breadwinner has an untimely death.
Think about all the expenses the survivor would incur, such as paying college tuition and mortgage payments. Money can go quickly. For this reason, a smart financial goal is to double-check whether you have adequate coverage. If you haven't done this recently and your family situation has changed, you may find you are underinsured. Life insurance calculators can help estimate how much you need. The point is to evaluate the needs of the survivor and see if your current life insurance is enough and if it's not sufficient, purchase a more robust policy or increase your current policy.
There are various types of life insurance, like permanent and term. The best for you depends on your budget and your needs. You may also want to have life insurance for both spouses, especially if you have kids. Life insurance on both parents gives the family options if one spouse were to die and the surviving spouse wants to take time off from work to be home with family.
Single individuals with no children may think they don't need life insurance, and that's true to some extent, since there are no heirs to provide for. But they may want to consider some life insurance to pay off any debts like a mortgage or to leave behind money for less direct survivors like nieces, nephews and godchildren.
3. Build a cash cushion, or emergency fund
If we learned one thing from the government shutdown, it's that a job loss can happen to any of us (the same is true of illness), so an emergency cash reserve is a must-have. Most financial experts agree it's wise to have six months of expenses saved in an emergency fund, because fixed expenses like rent or a mortgage don't go away, even if you're stuck in a bad financial spot. There are many places to save an emergency fund like a savings account, or money markets, but the point is to build this up before it's too late and you encounter an emergency.
4. Pay down credit card debt
If you have debt, you're not alone: The overwhelming majority of Americans owe someone money; It seems like the American way.
But paying debt is costly, especially if interest rates keep rising like they have. Make it a priority this year to pay down debt, starting with any and all balances on your credit cards. Credit cards usually have high interest rates and are variable, meaning the rate you're charged increases as interest rates rise. Once it's paid off, consider switching to only using a debit card tied to your checking account so as not to accrue any more credit card debt, if you know you're not one to pay off a monthly balance in full, like credit users should do.
5. Automate your savings
No list of financial goals would be complete if it didn't mention boosting your savings. Most of us can benefit from saving more for the kids' college tuition or for our own retirement. If you feel like you're behind on savings or you're not sure how much to save, an online calculator can help.
For retirement saving, it's hard to beat the workplace 401(k), if there is a match on the money you contribute. If there is no 401(k) available or you are already maxing out your contribution, than consider opening an IRA or Roth IRA.
Spring clean your financial brain by making financial goals for the year and commit yourself to accomplishing them. Beyond saving more and spending less, smart financial goals include getting a will in place, ensuring you have adequate life insurance, paying down credit card debt, building a cash cushion, and actually saving enough money each month. If you can accomplish this, you'll be in better financial shape by the time 2020 rolls around.