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These 8 Everyday Financial Worries Have One Common Solution

These 8 Everyday Financial Worries Have One Common Solution

Recent data from a Money Magazine financial survey of American households sheds light on a shocking reality: 60 percent of respondents expressed anxiety about their family’s long-term financial stability. There are myriad experiences and likely a few horror stories behind these figures, with which most of us can identify — the housing market collapse, 401(k) balances, job layoffs, rising healthcare costs, etc. But with the economic rebound and 2014’s all-time stock market highs, you would think American households would have a brighter outlook on the future.

To that point, one especially interesting section of the survey indicated short-term optimism is exceptionally high for these very same folks. Ninety percent of respondents felt their financial circumstances would be the same or better in 2015. Yet their long-term sentiments were sharply different.

This survey is just a small window into the lives of everyday Americans ranging from recent college graduates and young professionals to high net worth business owners and retirees. Let’s examine the root cause for household financial anxieties and focus on eight of the most frequent financial concerns. Along the way, we’ll highlight one very simple, frequently overlooked answer, to calm each and every worry.

1. What happens if my income disappears?

Whether you’re working for an unstable company or in an altogether shaky industry, everyone loses some measure of sleep worrying about income loss. The question is: what have you done about it? Many fortunate employees have disability insurance as part of their company benefits. At the end of 2013, there were almost nine million Americans receiving Social Security Disability checks every month, with the average monthly payout being just over $1,100 each month.

While this serves a very important function, most could not survive such a sharp drop in income. The solution: disability and life insurance protection. A few dollars each month will provide exponential benefit in the event of temporary or permanent loss of wages.

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2. How will I ever erase my debts?

We all take on debt in some form or fashion throughout life — a mortgage on our first home, a loan for a new car, student loans for higher education, or credit card debt out of necessity. Plenty of financial pundits will tell you to erase all debt, but as I’ve mentioned before, not all debt is bad. Uncontrolled debt, however, can ruin your life and the lives of those around you.

A 2012 study of middle-income American households found that those age 50 and older carry an average of nearly 33 percent more credit card debt than those below age 50. Economic hardships, declining real estate values and a host of other problems are to blame, but the data raises an important question. Assuming those over age 50 aren’t working forever and assuming their savings aren’t rebounding, what happens to that debt when they die?

The short answer is their estate typically inherits the debt and offsets any assets. Translation: the debt comes out of the heirs’ inheritance. Plan for this in your younger years and secure enough life insurance to cover any business or personal debts you might leave to your heirs in the event of your untimely death.

3. Can I afford to raise children?

For couples planning for families in the near future or those who are “in the thick of it” already, the expenses of child rearing are nothing short of staggering. There are plenty savings vehicles and investment options for parents or grandparents looking to give Little Junior a boost. Some options offer more features than others but one especially flexible option involves life insurance.

The concept is simple: stash away savings, extra earnings, bonuses, inheritance, etc. into a life insurance policy that has tax-advantaged growth potential. In addition to growing your cash value for school tuition, room and board, or unexpected medical expenses, you also have life insurance attached to provide a lasting benefit at death. Best of all, if Little Junior lands a full-ride scholarship, the cash value is not required for education expenses as with a number of other savings options. The money is yours to do whatever you want.

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4. How do I plan for a tax-favored retirement?

Take a poll of your five closest pals and ask them who looks forward to paying taxes in April. Chances are you won’t get a very warm response. Ever since the Revenue Act of 1978 laid the foundation for the 401(k) plan as we now know it, the burden of a successful retirement has shifted to you and me. Thankfully, we have investment advisors to help guide us along the way, but my point is your parents’ and grandparents’ company pensions are largely a thing of the past.

So how can we take control of our own retirement and help ensure we not only diversify our mix of investments but also diversify the tax treatment of our retirement assets? 401(k) balances were nearly $4.3 trillion at the end of March, 2014, which represents almost 20 percent of the total retirement savings for American households. Each and every dollar of retirement income taken from traditional 401(k) accounts is generally taxable. What if you could supplement these core retirement investments with an account that builds cash value and allows you to turn on a tax-free income stream? You guessed it — a cash value life insurance policy may be a good fit.

5. What will happen to my business and employees?

Most business owners, especially small business owners, are laser focused on growing their companies, building a loyal customer base and ultimately increasing net income. As a small business owner myself, I can tell you my focus is often tested by worries — especially financial worries. If I can’t continue working, who will take care of my client base? My employees? My family? Business owners who have partners have another set of concerns unto themselves: What if something happens to my partner? How will that affect the business and the rest of the partners?

A 2011 survey of more than 900 small business owners found that, while more than 40 percent of respondents said dealing with the death or disability of an owner or key employee was a major concern, fewer than 25 percent had formalized any planning to address the concerns. Disability and life insurance are critical components of any business plan, large or small. The coverage provides the cash flow and capital infusion to continue business operations, hire replacement leadership or buy out partnership interests from a deceased’s family.

6. I’m only getting older. What happens if I get sick?

You’ll never be younger or healthier than you are today. From a financial perspective, it’s imperative to take advantage of opportunities to capitalize on this gift. Start saving as early as possible and save in different ways. Cash in a bank account is good, but so are properly allocated investment accounts, quality real estate or even a life insurance policy that builds cash value.

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Many life insurance policies can be tapped before death in the event of chronic or terminal illness and some carriers even offer a long-term care insurance rider to help cover the cost of care for skilled nursing and home care among other qualifying expenses. Utilizing multiple avenues of savings, including a portion in life insurance, will put you in a stronger position to manage the rising costs of medical care due to illness.

7. Will I be able to continue charitable giving?

Giving to charity may have fallen along with the stock market a few years back, but as account balances have rebounded, so too has charitable giving. In 2013, Americans gave more than $335 billion to a mix of charities, just shy of the 2007 high of $349 billion. Giving has grown each of the past four years and the trend is expected to continue — as was evident with this summer’s wildly successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which topped $100 million in donations from more than three million unique donors.

However, what happens if you die prematurely and your donations are lost? Chances are, the good works, community impact and critical services these charities provide will suffer greatly. Many donors choose to name their favorite charities as beneficiaries of life insurance policies to ensure their funding commitment continues. There may also be favorable tax benefits available to you as donor — a bonus over and above the lasting impact your gift is sure to have.

8. What will my financial legacy be?

Nobody sets out with a plan to leave survivors with a financial mess, but through life’s twists and turns some unfortunately end up with utter chaos. With simple planning in advance, you can chart the best course for your own financial legacy to carry on your values, give a boost to your heirs or simply safeguard treasured family heirlooms.

The term ‘estate planning’ may connote images of blue blood aristocrats with many millions in trust funds, but while few are fortunate to experience that level of success, each and every one of us needs some measure of estate planning. In it’s simplest form, estate planning is merely a directive for your heirs on how you’d like things handled when you’re no longer able to make the decisions and how you’d like things divvied up when you die.

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Studies show that more than 50 percent of American households don’t even have wills, let alone more detailed estate planning documents. Similar reports indicate more than 90 percent of millennials age 35 or under have no planning whatsoever. A simple, cost-effective way to provide a strong financial legacy is to incorporate life insurance into your estate plan. Ensure your wishes are carried out while protecting the assets and providing for the people you value most.

Winston Churchill famously declared,

“Let our advanced worrying become advanced thinking and planning.”

Worry, especially financial worry, is frequent, so it’s important to expect it, anticipate it and plan for it. While life insurance is not particularly sexy, it remains a versatile financial tool worth a closer look as you plan and prepare for the ups and downs of life.

Featured photo credit: Screaming via freeimages.com

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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