Today, April 1, marks the beginning of Financial Literacy Month. As I indicated in the last column, April is also the month when many of us who have to pay, rather than get a refund, will be filing our income tax returns. That means that we will have had our annual heart-to-heart with our accountants or tax preparers. As a result, this is the perfect time to review your finances, much like changing the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year when we go back and forth between standard and daylight saving time.
Here are some things that I have had on my annual review lists over the years. Obviously, things change as we go through our financial life cycles, from our twenties to retirement and beyond. You might want to use some of these items as a partial checklist for your own annual reviews. When I use the term “you,” it is intended to refer to an individual, a couple, and dependent children, depending on the household.
$ WHAT ARE MY CURRENT FINANCIAL GOALS?
These will obviously change as you move through life, with some being achieved and others being added. However, I believe that you should always have financial goals, even if you have all of the money that you think you and your family will ever need. What about those charities that could use your help if you can afford it? How else can you effectively manage your money if you are not motivated to achieve the financial goals that you have set out for yourself? Do you need to save for a first home or a new home, to remodel or add on to a home, to purchase a car, to ensure a retirement with dignity, to educate your children or grandchildren, to travel, to have a second home, or to ensure that you can pay for all of your healthcare costs as you get older? The list of possible financial goals is almost infinite. The point is to think about them, and lay them all out, even if some of them are a reach or even just a dream right now.
$ WHAT IS MY CURRENT FINANCIAL PLAN TO ACHIEVE MY FINANCIAL GOALS?
At this point you need to prioritize your financial goals. Do you need to meet with a financial advisor to assist you? As examples, are you participating in an available retirement plan at work, or do you need to start to participate or open an IRA in order to save for that retirement with dignity? Should you open a 524 Plan to help educate your children or grandchildren? Do you have adequate savings for emergencies and the anticipated expenses that you can foresee with a little effort, and if not, how will you save more for them? Do you need to save more now in order to meet some of your shorter term financial goals, like saving for a house or car? Do you need to save even more and perhaps open a non-retirement investment account for some of your longer-term goals?
$ DO I HAVE A CURRENT REALISTIC BUDGET THAT I CAN STICK TO?
Your budget is the tool that you need in order to implement your current financial plan, and you need to be proactive about it, and revisit and update it more than once a year for it to be truly effective. The first thing to remember is that a budget that doesn’t have savings categories is not worth the paper it is written on, or the electronic spreadsheet that it is recorded on. Then, as we have discussed in this column, your budget is the way that you can track your spending in order to see if you are overspending on wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences, rather than needs, and to determine whether if you alter your spending, you might have more money to meet even more of your financial goals, or to achieve them earlier, and also to ensure that you can avoid or minimize any consumer debt. The key is not just to track or record the spending; it is to evaluate it, even if you are not in debt and can afford what you spend, unless you are able to meet and exceed every one of your financial goals, including, at least for me personally, helping others. In that most unusual event, you may no longer need a budget.
$ DO I HAVE ALL OF THE INSURANCE THAT I NEED TO PROTECT MYSELF AND MY FAMILY?
Insurance needs will change as your life circumstances change, but it is about what kind of insurance you need, and then, whether the coverages are appropriate and adequate. If you are working, do you have the adequate disability insurance you need in order to provide the income that you and your family may need beyond what worker’s compensation or Social Security disability may provide? If you have a family, adequate life insurance is a must, and, in any case, life insurance can provide some important liquidity to pay for funeral and other expenses. Of course you need appropriate health, renters, homeowners and automobile insurance coverage, and depending on your wealth or income level, possibly umbrella liability coverage. Then, you should look at whether long-term care insurance is right for you. In this column, I have expressed my personal feeling that having an experienced and knowledgeable insurance agent to help insure (pun intended) that you have appropriate and adequate coverages makes sense.
Next time we will look at more possible checklist items for your annual financial review.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo