1. Establish the guidelines
a. Talk about Money: Be involved in the day-to-day management of your family’s finances, and talk about money with your spouse. Prior to marriage, couples need to consider their spending and savings habits. Don’t take on your partner’s debt when you marry. Wait until you’re both out of debt before tying the knot!
b. Discuss each person’s responsibilities and address things like joint accounts.
2. Establish Goals
a. Set financial goals: Where are you now? What do you want? What is the plan to get you where you want to be?
b. Spend less than you earn – it’s the secret to creating wealth!
3. Gather , Review & Process
a. Track how you are spending your money: The key to financial freedom is living within your means. Do you know how much money you spend and where your money is going? Are you spending money on things you value and enjoy? Many people do not know where their money goes and waste it on frivolous or unimportant things.
b. Understand your budget: Know the difference between what you earn and what you spend and the impact your credit card balances have on your disposable income. A typical financial planner wants to start with a financial plan but unless you understand your budget, the plan will be meaningless.
c. Gather statements including your wills and Health care Proxy.
d. Understand your debt.
4. Come up with recommendations and alternatives
a. Set up automatic savings and / or create a plan to pay off credit card debt(s)
Create the habit of paying yourself first and saving some money every month, even if it is $5-$10. Once you are out of debt, start saving your money. This relates to living within your means and having excess cash flow to invest for the long term.
b. Create a plan to get out of debt: Everyone views debt differently- Some hate it and want to enter retirement with no debt while others use it as a leverage tool. There may be a trade-off to both good debt (mortgage) and bad debt (credit cards). Work with your advisor in order to maximize good debt while minimizing bad debt.
c. Maximize your 401(k) Funding: There is virtually no reason not to participate in your employer’s 401(k) plan. It is advised to match your employer’s contribution. For instance, if you must defer 5% to match your employer’s 5%, then do it. Unless cash flow is especially tight, it is not smart to leave free money on the table.
d. Create an Emergency Fund: This cash provides a cushion for emergencies or unexpected expenses. It protects against the need to liquidate securities or borrowing at high interest rates. Keep these funds in a savings account. Generally speaking we tell people in single income homes to save 12 months of fixed expenses and those in double income homes to save 6 months of fixed expenses. Life sometimes throws us unexpected curve balls- with an emergency fund in place; you will be better equipped to navigate through difficult times.
e. Consider excess liability insurance and/or confirm coverage limits: Investments and savings can be lost if you are not properly protected. An excess liability (also called umbrella) insurance policy is relatively inexpensive and provides additional coverage on top of your homeowners and auto insurance policies. Accidents happen- thus, you want to have the necessary coverage to protect you and your family.
f. Consider long term disability coverage for you and your spouse: This is especially important for single income households. If you the primary bread winner whereby your family depends on your income, then obtaining disability insurance coverage is particularly important.
g. Confirm named beneficiary designations on your life insurance and retirement
Accounts Named beneficiaries provide more flexibility in Estate Planning and with stretching out IRA required minimum distributions. Pay special attention to contingent beneficiary designations as these can provide significant flexibility for disclaiming in the future. Changes due to divorce, death and remarriage can quickly make existing beneficiary designations on pension accounts, 401(k) ,403(b) accounts or insurance policies out of date. Look at your policies and pension documents carefully to make sure that your current beneficiaries of choice are listed.
5. Review and Monitor your plan at least quarterly
a. Implement and review Estate Planning Documents yearly (Wills, Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney & Health Care Proxies) Relationships, situations, and priorities change so you need to review and update your documents periodically. Any dysfunction that exists amongst your heirs will be compounded when you pass if your wishes are not clearly stated.
b. Review your asset allocation (your mix of investments) at least quarterly.
c. Choose the right advisor: A good financial advisor is sensitive to client needs. They should be able to explain and educate clients about ideas and strategies. When choosing an advisor, it is important to interview several to insure synergy between personalities. Make certain that you feel respected and that all of your questions are answered clearly and concisely. Doing so will insure that you find the best match for your goals, want and needs.
Sharon Hayut & Diana Hoover are Financial Advisors with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in New York, NY. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley SmithBarney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates.
For more information please contact:
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
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New York, NY 10022