When you look back on 2020and the pandemic, what would you like to reset?
Perhaps it’s more time with your loved ones, better work-life balance, adopting healthier eating habits, getting more sleep, or using your money wisely. There are likely many areas of your life that you want to revamp. The whirlwind of 2020 taught us many lessons – how to work, maintain relationships, and experience personal growth during a pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to change their behaviors, especially with money. Make 2021 the year you take intentional steps to improving your life and your finances. How can you accomplish that goal? Here are 5 ways you can reset your finances in a pandemic.
1. Set New Goals that Reflect Your Values.
When you survive something difficult your outlook on life – especially goals and priorities – tends to shift. While your top priority before the pandemic might have been getting a promotion, maybe you’ve realized your job isn’t fulfilling so much as it puts food on the table.
This year, maybe change your goal to search for a career you’re passionate about – one with visible impact that offers the joy and balance you need. Take the time to reevaluate your goals. There are some you might not have been able to reach last year and others you want to makeover. Ask yourself:
How have my priorities shifted during the pandemic? In what ways should my goals reflect that change?
What progress have I made on my current long-term goals like retirement?
Were there any goals I put on the backburner? Can I give them a new life in 2021?
One way to give your goals a fresh purpose is to make them SMART. Smart goals clarify the goal-setting process because they ask you to think more critically and thoughtfully about each goal you bring to the table.
Let’s break down this acronym using the example of finding a more meaningful job:
Find a job where you can make an impact.
Engage in a meaningful job search (a.k.a no rapid applying). Thoughtfully research companies and only apply to positions aligned with your definition of impact and fulfillment.
Ensure you have the proper education and experience. Should one area fall short, see how you can fill the gap (i.e courses, networking, etc).
Make sure each position you apply for is aligned with your goals and values.
Set a time frame for finding your new job (such as an ideal 6-month job hunt).
Now is the time to reassess what’s most important to you and to organize your life around those elements. Taking a meaningful approach to your goals will help you achieve them.
The pandemic may have altered your priorities and that’s okay. Take the time to clearly articulate those priorities and how your financial resources can support them in the coming year.
2. Adjust Your Finances for Life Changes.
If there’s anything the 2020 pandemic taught us, it’s that things change. You may have had a 5-year financial plan, but as the saying goes, “Life likes to get in the way.” The pandemic may have moved you into a bigger house or maybe you even started (or added to) your family.
Every new adventure brings different financial needs, so take time to adjust your finances to your real life. This advice pertains to your budget, spending, saving, investing, goal-setting, and more. Make 2021 the year of alignment, where your money is truly representative of your life.
For example, buying a new home sets off a chain reaction of other expenses like automating mortgage payments, saving for property taxes, figuring out utilities, and budgeting for new paint and furniture for the nursery.
The bottom line is your finances will need to adapt to your lifestyle. No matter how well you plan, life will always shift and you’ll need to align your finances with those changes to stay on track.
3. Build Up Your Emergency Fund and Adapt Your Savings Plan.
Did you have to dip into your emergency fund to cover unexpected 2020 expenses? If so, don’t worry, that’s what the fund was there for. Your emergency fund helps safeguard your finances in an unexpected situation like a job loss, hospital needs, necessary travel, etc.
Using emergency money to spot you in a pinch is an essential financial planning tool. When you dip into this fund, it’s important to build the fund back up again. Throughout this year, allocate a portion of your savings to your emergency fund.
While most advice encourages you to save 3 to 6 months of living expenses, you might want to increase that number if you have more debt, a family, inconsistent income, or you just want an extra cushion.
Was your emergency fund enough to cover your expenses?
Do you need to save a little extra this year?
How can you intentionally add to your fund?
It’s also prudent to reevaluate your savings strategy. Given the turbulence of 2020, you might want to save more of your take-home pay. Think about both the short-term and long-term goals you’re working toward.
What can you do to further those goals?
Did you add any new goals to the table like saving for a child’s education or planning a well-deserved vacation?
Your goals should be the driving force behind your savings plan. When you look at your goals and savings in tandem, you’ll be better able to build a strategy tailored for you.
4. Take Another Look at Your Cash Flow.
Cash flow is all about balancing money coming in and money going out. In times of stress, your cash flow management might be the first thing to go. When was the last time you checked your expenses? Are you surprised to see you’re subscribed to every new streaming service? Did you ever cancel that meal service you tried for the first-week promo?
The new year is a great time to check your spending habits. Try to do the following:
Track your spending. Whether it’s an app, excel sheet, or pen and paper. Knowing what goes out and what comes in will help you trim your budget, freeing up more for saving and investing.
Ditch the negative spending habits. Every one of us has negative spending habits we’d like to kick to the curb – retail therapy, excessive dining-out, liberal use of Amazon Prime, etc. Be honest with yourself about where you fall short and take productive steps to make healthier choices.
Bring intention to your spending. Spending money well becomes a lot simpler when it’s done with intention. Ask yourself, does your purchase bring you joy? (Note we said joy, not happiness). Is your spending aligned with your goals, values, and priorities? Does your spending lead to lackluster financial results? When you reframe spending in this way, it becomes more natural to infuse spending with your values.
Prioritize your savings. Part of maximizing cash flow is ensuring you have enough of your income saved and invested. You want to establish a strong emergency fund, contribute to your retirement accounts, save for other goals, and invest in the markets.
Remember, financial planning is an ongoing process. Your spending, saving, and investing will likely fluctuate, which is why your goals and values are essential to guiding the process. When you lean on goals and values, you’ll have a clearer sense of what to do next or at least have the right questions to help you get there.
5. Zero-In on Your Investments.
When you think about a pandemic you probably don’t think about focusing on your investment plan, but that’s exactly what you should do. Many find it difficult to continue investing during tumultuous times, but for most people the best course of action is to stick with your plan.
When you build your investment plan with a trusted advisor, you can be confident your plan takes into account your risk tolerance and capacity, time horizon, and goals. If you’re thinking about adjusting your allocations, ask yourself:
Has your risk tolerance or capacity changed?
If so, work with your advisor to change your allocations to better reflect your preferences.
Are you near a big life transition?
Perhaps you’re starting a business or just had your first child and you need access to more cash. These life moments might also mean you and your advisor should revisit your allocations to ensure they still align with current and future circumstances.
Have your long-term goals changed?
Still hoping to retire by 40? Do you want to open your own business? If your long-term goals haven’t changed, it’s likely best to leave your investments alone. Investing is built for the long-haul. Even though there will be ups and downs along the way, it’s key to remain as calm as possible and take change one thoughtful step at a time.
If you can afford to remain invested, it’s usually best that you do. Your investments set you up for reaching future goals and maximizing the future you.
Take Your Finances to the Next Level
Though many would say 2020 wasn’t the most financially prosperous year, today marks a new year and new opportunities to take control of your financial life. One of the best ways to do that is to work with a financial advisor. Your advisor will be able to help you transform your financial resources to support the things that matter most to you.
Your money has purpose and meaning when you align it with your goals and values. We’d love to help you make those critical connections with your finances this year. Set up a time to talk with us today!
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself. When spotting an issue, you might jump into problem-solving mode without even thinking. Say someone is renovating an old house and decides their first step is to paint the front door. This plan doesn’t make sense and is not smart because it’s not prudent to do the finishing touches without addressing the larger structural issues first.
You can apply the same idea to your finances.
There may be many changes you want to make with your money. Maybe you want to invest more, or double down on your retirement savings, or ensure next year you get that dream vacation.
But before you buy non-refundable airline tickets or dump a hefty chunk into your portfolio, you need to see how these changes fit into your existing plan and how to accommodate them.
The starting point? Your goals. Many people struggle with goal setting, so we’re going to walk you through a technique that helps you create more intentional goals today: SMART goals.
What Are SMART Goals?
The SMART acronym dominates the business landscape and can be applied to nearly any type of goal you set – from personal to financial and more.
The SMART strategy brings clarity, purpose, vision, and intention into your goal regime. Instead of simply stating a goal, SMART goals ask you to dig deeper and make a plan for achieving it. What do each of these items mean and how do they work in practice? Glad you asked.
Specific goals cut through vague notions and provide tangible, concrete conclusions. The more specific the goal, the more actionable it can be. Specific goals clarify your true objective, which enhances the rest of your plan’s construction.
For example, instead of saying you want to invest, say you want to invest at least $50 a month in your brokerage account for the rest of this year.
Not only should you make your goals specific, you should also have a plan to gauge their success. Measurable goals help you set milestones and track your progress along the way.
If you’re investing at least $50 a month, you will clearly be able to see if you’re following through. A solid way to ensure your savings stay on track is to automate them. That way, you’ll meet your benchmarks and can always add more as needed.
If you’re juggling a full-time job, mortgage bills, raising children, etc. it’s important to set goals you can actually accomplish. Money might be tight right now, especially during the pandemic, so you might not be able to add an extra $200 to your portfolio each month. But you might reasonably be able to do $50!
You want to accomplish the goals you set for yourself, but you can’t do it with an unrealistic vision. Know where you are and set goals that push you but don’t impose on other aspects of your life.
Your goals should have purpose. Goals without purpose lack meaning and don’t get done. If you aren’t setting goals that will expand your life, it’s time to change your process.
Relevant goals also help you prioritize short-term, more annual goals. While it’s always wise to apply consistency to long-term goals, you don’t want to ignore short-term ones.
Perhaps you have a goal to replenish your emergency fund. That’s incredibly relevant and can support you should something unexpected happen. You might commit to funneling $50 into a highly liquid, safe account until the number is where you need it.
Time-bound goals provide a deadline for your goals. So if you invest $50 a month for 6 months then increase your contributions by another $50 for 6 months (and so on), the time frame helps keep you accountable and encourage progress.
As you can see, all of these ideas play off each other. Even though each is separate, they come together to create a more well-rounded solution.
Let’s compare a traditional goal example and a SMART one. Take a retirement savings goal from an early-career professional:
Example #1: Increase retirement savings.
Example #2: Increase 401(k) contributions to 10% and supplement savings by opening an IRA with automating contributions (about 5%) for the rest of the year.
It’s probably easy to see why the second example is the SMART goal. It’s specific by designating which accounts to target and what salary percentage to contribute. It’s measurable by taking advantage of compound savings and automating contributions. It’s attainable because this person received a salary increase and can proportionally allocate their resources. It’s relevant to their retirement savings journey and time-bound for the year they set.
This exercise encourages you to think critically about what you want and the work it takes to achieve it. SMART goals don’t just show you the reward, they also build the path.
Should Your Goals Come First?
While there are different schools of thought, our team believes your financial goals should come before creating the plan.
Your goals can then chart the course for structuring your finances in a way that’s unique to you. Someone who wants to retire early, for example, will need a different savings plan than someone who wants to wait until they’re 70.
Once you know what you’re working toward, you can take it step-by-step. So before changing your financial plan, check on your goals and ask yourself:
Will this change bring you closer to achieving one or more of your goals?
Will the action harm or hinder your progress?
Do you need to change your plan to best meet your needs?
Make Your Goals SMART-er
While SMART goals prioritize detail, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the big picture. Your biggest dreams, goals, and aspirations are important and can set the stage for creating more focused SMART goals.
Want to buy a vacation house? That is an amazing goal, but you must know the actionable steps to reach it. Do you need to allocate more money for this goal? What is your ideal timeline? Is this goal impeding other top priorities like retirement or education costs?
In addition to creating SMART goals, amplify them further by:
Understanding the big picture and where your goals fit in
Distinguish between short- and long-term goals
Establish clear priorities
Use your values as a guide
Revise and revisit as needed
Your goals don’t stand still. Be sure you make intentional updates that best reflect your needs, both now and in the future.
The Bottom Line
Your goals set the foundation for the rest of your financial plan. Why not make them even better through clarity and purpose with SMART goals? By digging deeper into your goals, you’ll make changes that make sense for the future you want to create.
Remember: a crumbling exterior with a cute front door won’t do you any good, just like applying changes to your money without a solid support plan won’t lead to success. Ready to revamp your goal setting? We would love to talk with you.
In our last post, we kicked off our two part series of addressing the money tasks you’re avoiding and the steps you can take to make progress. Today, we’re covering four additional areas that you can make headway in your financial life.
4. Open an IRA
How many times have you sat down at the dinner table and said to your spouse, “After we eat, let’s open an IRA.” Yeah, probably never. When you actively contribute to your workplace retirement account, invest in a separate portfolio, and funnel money into your savings account, it can be difficult to open – let alone manage – another account.
IRAs are a great addition to your retirement savings journey. They afford more flexibility and control over your investment options, fees, and providers making it an excellent complement to an existing 401(k).
Traditional IRAs operate similarly to your workplace plan. Contributions are pre-tax, investments grow tax-free, and distributions are taxed as ordinary income. To add more tax-efficiency into your retirement planning, it’s also good to consider investing in a Roth IRA.
You fund a Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, the money grows tax-free, and qualified distributions remain tax-free in retirement. This tax-advantage is hugely beneficial for retirees to keep their tax bill at bay. While that might not be your top priority right now, it will pay off later on. You will probably make more money as you advance in your career, which increases your tax liability. By paying taxes in a lower tax bracket now, you end up saving money in the long run by not paying them later.
Roth IRAs do carry income thresholds. In 2020, those making over $139,000 (if filing single) or $206,000 (if married filing jointly) aren’t eligible to make direct contributions. If you want to fund a Roth, it must be done with a conversion from your traditional 401(k) account. Conversions have important tax responsibilities, so consult your tax advisor before initiating.
5. Establish a 529 Plan
When it comes to saving for your child’s education, the earlier the better. A 529 plan can be the impetus of your savings journey. 529 plans are tax-advantaged savings plans for education costs. While contributions are after-tax, gains grow tax-free and remain tax-free for qualified educational expenses like tuition, fees, books, and supplies.
529 plans differ from state to state, and many allow non-residents to establish an account. Be sure to shop around for plans with reasonable fees, investment options, and contribution limits.
Many families use this vehicle to plan for college costs, but 529 plans can also be used for K-12 expenses. The SECURE Act also instituted a provision letting account holders withdraw up to $10,000 tax-free dollars for student loan repayment.
Adding another investment account to your arsenal requires careful planning and attention. Think about the following:
How much can you reasonably expect to save now?
Do you plan on using the funds for K-12, college, or both?
Are you sacrificing your retirement savings to fund the 529?
Knowing how much you can save and how you intend to spend the money can help you make a reasonable plan. Remember, there is no loan for retirement. Saving for education is a wonderful gift, but it should only be done after your retirement accounts are funded.
6. Ask for the Raise You Deserve
There are few conversations more uncomfortable than asking your boss for a raise. It may be especially difficult during COVID-19 where many businesses have made budget, staff, and other office cuts. But the work you do is incredibly valuable, and if you’re overdue for a raise, now is the time to ask for it.
A raise can help you accelerate your financial plan, giving you additional resources to pay down debt, save for retirement, and fund long-term (or short-term) savings goals. Before knocking on your boss’s door (or sending a Zoom invite), be sure you have prepared the following:
Comparable salary for your position and experience at your company and its competitors.
Concrete accomplishments you’ve made while in your role.
Positive feedback from team members, stakeholders, or supporting business units.
Your desired salary increase. Our tip is to start a little higher to give room for negotiation.
It’s also wise to alert your boss to the nature of your conversation before the meeting, that way you’ll both be ready to discuss your request. Send an email saying you’d like to set up a meeting to discuss your compensation, for example.
7. Revisit Your Goals
Financial planning is too often seen as a one and done task. But financial wellness takes time, engagement, and sometimes even revisions to get right and progress forward. We encourage you to look at your financial goals today. Notice how they may have changed, especially this year, and also how they haven’t. Ask yourself:
What progress has been made on each of your goals? Celebrate your accomplishments – even small milestones – to help boost motivation and inspire progress.
Are there any intentional changes you need to make? Perhaps extending the timeline on short-term goals to accommodate any losses and fluctuations this year?
Let your goals inspire the progress you wish to see in your financial life. Returning to your goals can be enlightening and provide the motivation you need to stay the course.
We discussed many financial housekeeping items today. If you have any questions or need help moving forward on any of these, please reach out to our team. We love helping people prioritize and take control of their financial life.
Episode 109: Giving Yourself Permission in Your Career with Wende Headley
This week I sat down again with Wende Headley, CFP® to talk about how to align your career with your values by giving yourself permission to make the pivots and changes you want to make.
Wende is a Certified Financial Planner™, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Partner at Abacus. She leads the firm-wide Women & Money initiative, which provides resources and education about the broad range of financial issues faced by women. In addition to her primary role as wealth manager for her clients, she regularly speaks at local women’s and professional organizations, hosts investment discussion circles with women in Pasadena, and serves as an AARP Tax Aide volunteer for low-income seniors.
She earned an MBA from Harvard University, a BA in Economics and French from the University of Michigan, and a Certificate in Financial Planning from UCLA.
She enjoys spending quality time with her husband and children. Whenever possible, you might find her skiing, running, doing a triathlon, volunteering at her kids’ school, or attempting to get that next book read for her Book Club.
HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE:
Challenges that dual career couples face
The career and family decisions that led Wende to becoming a financial planner
The transitional challenges of full time employee to full time stay-at-home parent and then back to full time employee again
An insight into discussions Wende had with her husband before the transition
How communication played a critical role in each career shift
What it took to become comfortable with all of the changes
The best way to view your life and career to allow yourself to breathe
Wende does this to reduce the “noise” in her life
A great place to start if you’re struggling to give yourself permission in your life and career
What a values conversation with yourself or your spouse can do for your life
How often you should check in with life goals for you and your spouse
What conversations to have with little ones while going through career transitions
Why it’s important for you and your partner to support each other when discussing career moves to your children
The most impactful way to create empowerment around your money
The benefits of understanding your own risk factor
The comfort of having a financial plan B or plan C
COVID-19 has brought about many changes, including fluctuations and volatility of the market leaving many people uncertain about their next move, especially with their investments. You might be asking yourself:
Will I be okay? How are my investments really impacted?
Let’s talk about a few resources you can leverage to make intentional decisions about your investments when the market (and the world at large) feels unpredictable.
Defining the Market
Sometimes the world of finance can seem really unapproachable. That misconception stems from wading through the jargon used to define different processes and systems. Today, we’ll break down what some of these common terms mean to help you get a better grasp of the lingo, and empower you to make informed decisions.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “the market”? Sometimes it can feel like the market is just a vortex of money bouncing up and down without rhyme or reason. But the market is, of course, much more complex than that.
Markets, in general, are places where two or more parties can come together to exchange goods or services. There are many different types of markets but the one most applicable to this question is the financial market, which is a place where any security is traded.
The financial market consists of varying parts – like the stock market, exchanges, bond market, and foreign exchange markets. However, when you hear the phrase “the market” in the media, most of those sources are often referring solely to the U.S stock market.
How are markets measured? In other words, what system is used to gauge the total market performance? The short answer is an index.
An index measures the performance of a basket of securities (stocks, bonds, etc.) that is intended to represent a certain area of the market. You’re probably familiar with a couple of big indexes like the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). While there are other indexes, let’s take a closer look at these two to compare how they operate.
How The DJIA Works
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was the first stock index to track American markets. Today, it tracks 30 blue-chip stocks ranging from all the major sectors (IT, finance, petroleum, chemical, pharmaceuticals, etc.) except utilities and transportation which have their own separate index.
Since the DJIA is a price-weighted index, the price of the stock is the primary determinant of the overall performance. A price-weighted index takes the price of all the stocks in the index and divides it by the total number of companies in order to ascertain the index’s value. This means that a higher-priced stock will get more weight than a lower-priced stock, making the change in stock prices a key factor in it’s performance metrics.
How The S&P 500 Works
The S&P 500 tracks 500 stocks across all economic sectors and in order for a company to be selected by the committee, it has to meet the following criteria:
The company has to be in the U.S
Reach a market cap of at least 8.2 billion
50% of the stock must be available to the public
Four consecutive quarters of positive earnings
Unlike the DJIA whose performance is predominantly measured by stock prices, the S&P 500 tracks the market capitalization of the companies in the index. This just means that the index tracks the total value of a company measured by the stock price and the number of shares.
Why the S&P 500 is More Reliable
Since indexes are representations of the market as a whole, it’s important that the representation itself paints as accurate a picture as possible.
Let’s put this in terms of a poll. Polls are used to determine how a candidate is performing. Each method is designed to ascertain a candidate’s ranking among their competitors. The methods that are more comprehensive are often the better indicator of how the candidate is doing.
The S&P 500 tracks a more comprehensive part of the market not only by tracking more companies but also by tracking the total value of each company as opposed to just the stock prices, making it a more reliable system.
What “The Market” Means for You Now
With so many market fluctuations happening in response to uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, many people are concerned about the state of their investments. We know that the stock market is volatile and will experience dips and drops from time to time. However, this season has brought more than a few ups and downs, leaving investors concerned.
We want to help shift your focus from the things you can’t control to the things you can control. Here are a few action items to get your investments and financial plan back on track.
Give Yourself a Break
With our 24/7 news cycle, new information is at our fingertips every time we refresh our browsers. Sometimes that is a good thing, but other times it can just be overwhelming. Give yourself the grace to take a break and take care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
Take Another Look at Your Plan
When you’re stressed, separating reality from the story you’re telling yourself can be tough. Looking at your investment plan will help you get a sense of where you really are and can help eliminate fear or anticipation.
Remind yourself of your short-term and long-term investment goals as these are the benchmarks for your investment strategy and what type of securities (stocks, bonds, etc.) you buy. How have your goals changed due to these market changes? Odds are many of your long-term goals will stay the same. If this is the case, it is often best to stick with the plan you have.
This is also a good moment to look at your risk tolerance and see how your investments are allocated to best reflect that. Perhaps some minor changes need to make you more comfortable moving forward or maybe it’s best to keep it the same. No matter what, gathering all of the facts is so important before you make any decisions.
Keep Investing If You Can
It may seem counterintuitive to continue with your investments during these hard times, but it can actually help you a lot in the long run. Keep contributing to your retirement accounts (401k, 403b, IRAs) as it will give you access to tax benefits while also bolstering your savings, especially if you have an employer match. Investing, even if it is smaller amounts, can help you stay on track to reach your goals and give you the momentum you need to keep saving.
Understand Your Cash Needs
A strong cash reserve is on the minds of many due to a significant drop or loss of income for business owners and individuals alike. Start with making a 6-month plan of all your expenses: bills, food, rent/mortgage, etc. Then, take a look at the cash you have available to use.
Can you draw from an emergency fund or savings account?
Have you used the CARES Act stimulus check?
If you are a business owner, have you applied for CARES Act relief provisions like the paycheck protection program?
Can you take out a small loan or a limited line of credit?
There are many different things you can do to help cover your expenses during this tough time. Your financial advisor should be able to help recommend avenues that make the most sense for you and your unique situation.
Work With an Advisor You Trust
Trusted advisors are beneficial in times of hardship. When you are working with someone you trust, you will be able to have more confidence in your plan moving forward. We are here to help you create an investment plan aimed at reaching your goals. Get in touch today.