In personal finance as well as corporate, what gets measured, gets managed.
CFOs handle the finances of their organizations, and there are many stakeholders who rely on their data and insight. They look back at historical results, as well as plan and forecast for the future. The rest of the executive team, as well as shareholders, look to them for guidance on the company’s financial future. CFOs accomplish this by reviewing cash flow statements, balance sheets, and income statements. This information is critical in the planning process; without accurate data, there’s no way of knowing if an idea makes financial sense.
To be positioned for financial success, individuals and families engage in a similar process. They must look back and review financial information, evaluate the results, and make any necessary changes moving forward.
For optimal success, organizations and families must communicate consistently and openly. Being on the same page with money is without question a best practice.
Many Americans struggle with money. Almost two-thirds live paycheck-to-paycheck, over 70% have less than $1,000 saved, and the average credit card debt is over $6,000. Those realities are a problem. And when something is a problem, making it a process can solve the problem. Many don’t know how to fix their financial problems. Others are aware, but choose not to do what’s required to move past them. Too often, people wait until their financial problems get too big to ignore, or they hit rock bottom. In reality, the total work required to create and maintain good financial systems is far less than picking yourself up from rock bottom.
My goal is to give you the ideas and resources you’ll need to create an easy to follow, sustainable process for measuring and managing your personal finances. For the past 20+ years as a financial advisor, I’ve been helping people do exactly that. I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Reviewing your finances
- Evaluating the results
- Making necessary changes
- Identifying and involving your stakeholders
- How often to conduct your reviews
Let’s get started.
Reviewing your finances
To create a system to stay on top of your personal finances, you need to track the correct things. It’s imperative you track your cash flow so you know this important equation: income – expenses = savings.
You must maintain a personal balance sheet so you can look at all of your account balances in one place. It’s important to track your bank account balances, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and any other financial accounts.
It’s essential to maintain a personal budget, and you must track and review it.
Finally, you need to review the status of your most important financial goals and priorities. Common goals include:
- Getting out of debt
- Saving the down payment for a home
- Saving for education costs
- Retirement planning
- Saving to start a business
- Saving to make an investment
- Charitable desires
It’s prudent to create an agenda or checklist of all the items you will review during your planning meeting.
Evaluating the results
Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” While he was referring to his fight with Evander Holyfield, it’s true for you and I as well. Planning positions us for success, but after that, we have to let the chips fall where they may.
Every time you review your finances, you’re looking at how your plan stood up to reality. Did you execute on your plans? Did you save and invest as much as you planned to? From there, what were the actual results? Did the markets perform as you expected?
In every area that you’re tracking, determine if your behaviors and planning met your expectations.
Making necessary changes
Money has time value (meaning the longer we wait, the harder reaching our financial goals becomes), so the sooner we can make changes, the better off we are.
Rarely will everything work out exactly as you’d planned for. This is to be expected, so don’t get frustrated. Rather, look for opportunities to optimize your planning process and behaviors.
Balancing short and long-term financial goals and priorities isn’t an easy thing. When your results aren’t what you planned for, it can be tempting to make big changes. While major changes are sometimes required, it’s prudent to maintain perspective.
This is particularly true regarding the stock market. Over the long-term, the stock market has consistently gone up. Over the short-term, the stock market fluctuates daily. When the market has a correction (When it goes down by 20% or more), it’s natural to want to sell your investments. But in actuality, all that does is guarantee your loss. Instead of selling, maintain your long-term strategy and continue to consistently review your approach.
All of this assumes you’ve taken the time to determine your risk profile, create an appropriate asset allocation, and select high-quality investments.
Identifying and involving your stakeholders
You’ll need to decide how much of your finances to share, but there are a lot of benefits to involving loved ones in your review and planning process.
The more you can normalize talking about money, the more comfortable loved ones (particularly children) will be with the topic. When you talk about money with others, their level of financial literacy will increase. This will help them become financially successful.
It’s also true that people support what they help to create. When you involve loved ones in your planning process, it will get them engaged and encourage them to take ownership. Involving them in planning and decision-making is nothing but a positive thing.
How often to conduct your reviews
As you’re getting started, I encourage you to conduct your financial reviews on a monthly basis. Once you’re in the habit of doing them, and on track to meet your financial goals and objectives, you can switch to quarterly reviews.
It’s essential that you put these meetings in your calendar. The last thing I want is for you to forget or to ignore these meetings. When you schedule a meeting, it makes it more important. And this is important.
When you create and follow your financial review and planning process, you position yourself for long-term success. Taking a business-like approach to managing your personal finances will greatly benefit you.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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