We are all aware that when one part of our body isn’t in check, it can impact our overall well-being. The same is true regarding your financial plan. Getting your finances in order may seem like a daunting task, but like any other journey, it all starts with taking the first steps. So where, exactly, should you begin, especially if you’re just starting out?
Reducing Expenses to Save Money Fast
While starting something new can sometimes be difficult, it is often easier if you have a step-by-step plan to follow. In this case, your “roadmap” should include the following five steps:
• Save $1,000 within six months
• Check your “non-essential” expenses and cancel things you don’t use
• Review your credit report
• Establish your estate plan
• Maximize the “free money” that you are eligible for
Save $1,000 within Six Months
One of the initial goals to focus on is to work toward saving $1,000 as fast as you can—within six months if you are single, and within three months if you are married or have a partner. This money could be used as an emergency fund, or as a good start on a down payment for a big-ticket item.
While $1,000 might seem like a steep hill to climb in such a short period of time, the reality is that when you break it down into bite-sized pieces, the steps don’t seem so difficult.
For instance, if you’re saving the $1,000 yourself, it equates to just $167 per month for six months. If money is tight and you don’t have that much left over after all your living expenses have been paid, you may have to “find” the money elsewhere.
Once you have $1,000 in place, you could repeat the exercise. Before you know it, you would have $2,000 in six more months! You can also increase your goal for the next six months to $1,200 or $1,500. From there, you will soon get to a point where you can enhance your savings and investments even further by opening a personal brokerage account and/or starting an IRA (Individual Retirement Account).
Check Your Non-Essential Expenses
Spending less can lead to saving more. As an example, go through everything that you buy over a period of one month. Then ask yourself if you really need the most comprehensive cable-TV package, unlimited smartphone services, or other subscriptions.
It can also be beneficial to shop around and see if you can get better rates on your auto and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance. You may be surprised to find that for the exact same coverage and deductibles, the premium can vary a great deal.
If you carry a balance on your credit cards, it can help to pay them off. One of the best methods for doing so is to start with the card that has the highest interest rate associated with it. After that is repaid, move on to the loan with the next-highest rate, and so on.
Many employers now offer domestic-partner benefits, so it could be worthwhile to check and see if your partner could be added to your employer-sponsored coverage (or vice versa). This alone could help you save quite a bit every month.
Review Your Credit Report
Your credit score and report can have an impact on a whole range of areas in your financial life, such as the interest rate you are charged on mortgages and other loans, credit-card approvals, apartment leases and other types of contracts (such as cell phone and internet services), and job applications.
While a quarter- or half-point difference in the interest rate on a loan or mortgage might not seem like a big deal, the reality is that it can make a huge difference in the total amount of money you end up paying for something.
As an example, a $25-per-month difference on a 30-year mortgage can add up to paying $9,000 more for a home—money that could have been put toward savings and investments instead.
Some of the things that can affect your credit score include the amount of debt that you carry, whether or not you make your payments on time, the type of debt you have (such as “good” debt like a mortgage, versus “bad” unsecured credit-card balances), and the length of your credit history. (A longer credit history is typically better than a short history, because potential creditors can get a better sense of how you’ve handled debt over time.)
Oftentimes, there are mistakes made on your credit report such as old paid-off loans still showing as open, and even incorrect data regarding purchases that you did not make. Therefore, it is important that you review your credit information on a regular basis so that you can check for errors and ensure that everything is accurate.
With identity theft on the rise, it is also essential to make sure that you do not become (or have not already become) an innocent victim. A stolen identity can wreak havoc on your ability to borrow money or obtain credit in the future.
Each year, you are eligible to obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three of the large credit-reporting agencies—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You can do so by going to annualcreditreport.com.
Establish Your Estate Plan
Many people mistakenly believe that they must be wealthy in order to have an estate plan. But this is not necessarily the case. In fact, in many ways, keeping assets protected with an estate plan can be extremely important for those who do not have an abundance of financial resources. We all need to maximize what our loved ones actually have available to spend, instead of having the money go into Uncle Sam’s pocket.
Having your legal documents in place is extremely important, as it can spell out who is authorized to make financial and medical decisions for you if you become unable to do so yourself.
Whether you are single, married, or with a domestic partner, you should have a plan in place for the tax-efficient transfer of assets to your loved ones—or at least have someone pre-selected to make important decisions in case of the unexpected.
One of the first questions to ask yourself when creating your estate plan is whether anyone would be impacted financially if something happened to you. This can be particularly important for those in the LGBTQ community, as assets may not automatically transfer to the people that you intend them to go to. In addition, many in the LGBTQ community want to make sure that our four-legged family members are taken care of, too.
To make sure that your plan remains current, be sure to check the names of beneficiaries that you have listed on life insurance and/or retirement accounts.
Reviewing your plan at least on an annual basis is highly recommended—or even more often if you have had major changes in your life such as marriage or divorce, the death of a spouse or partner, or the birth or adoption of a child.
Maximize “Free Money” That You Are Eligible For
If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement account such as a 401(k), you may be eligible to receive “free money.” Many companies will match (up to a certain percentage) the funds that their employees contribute to the plan. So even if you aren’t “maxing out” the full amount of allowable annual contributions, it is recommended that you deposit at least enough to qualify for the company match.
Taking the Next Step
Making sure that your financial house is in order is an important goal at any age. One reason for this is because the decisions that you make today—even the seemingly small ones—could have a big impact later on.
If you’re ready to get started, or if you have a plan in place and would like to have a second set of eyes to look things over, talking with a financial-planning professional is a great place to start. And aligning with an advisor who is well-versed in issues that affect the LGBTQ community can be even more beneficial.
This article appears in the March 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.