6 tips for working on your financial plan — even during unpredictable times
- Most people's lives have been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, and some people are struggling with job loss or reduction. Others just want to be better prepared for the unexpected.
It's a great time to understand how your finances work, focus on your priorities, and take tangible steps toward goals that you care about.
The BI Money Council advises millennials on how to maintain a long-term financial plan, even when the current financial landscape is unclear.
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Use this time to nail down your most important goals
It may seem like the quarantine and isolation will go on forever, but it won't.
"We're living through extraordinary times," said Sandi Bragar, CFP, partner and managing director in planning, strategy, and research at Aspiriant. "While each of us is learning to persevere through this moment, don't anchor your vision of the future to the current environment."
Every difficult situation has its upside. If there's one thing this pandemic has taught us, it's what things we truly value, and what things we can live without.
If travel and experiences mean the most to you, the quarantine has been particularly frustrating. But as you wait for the world to reopen, you can take the time to evaluate what financial barriers stand in your way, and work-in-place to reduce and eliminate them.
Perhaps your goals are more long-term, like saving for a deposit on a home. Dipping into your savings to cover expenses over these past few months might have been necessary. In doing so, you'll be able to gauge how that feels - does home ownership seem less important to you now, or more important than ever?
"The insights you're gaining about who and what's truly important during these weeks and months of the pandemic will surely help you clarify a tangible vision for your future," Bragar said.
It can help to consider the worst-case scenario when planning
While it's important to try and stay positive and make progress toward the future, a little pessimism can be helpful when creating a financial plan during uncertain times.
"You don't want to ruminate on worst-case scenarios," said Eric Roberge, CFP, and founder of Beyond Your Hammock. "But if you don't have a financial plan now and you need to make one, you shouldn't ignore real possibilities of losing income streams, jobs, or simply making less than you hope for."
For now, you might feel more comfortable, and in more control, living within a conservative financial plan.
"Planning conservatively means, in really simple terms, that you underestimate your earnings and overestimate your costs or liabilities," Roberge said. "This builds in some buffer room for times like these, when things may not work out perfectly or 100% in our favour. It allows you to better withstand setbacks, because you're not requiring everything to go perfectly in order for your plan to work."
Take this time to consider your tolerance for risk
The stock market has seen periods of volatility during the global pandemic, which have made some investors nervous.
It's been a good time to understand how well you deal with the potential ups and downs that come with investing, even in the most mundane times.
"Review your investment risk tolerance," said Joseph Edmondson, CFP, and a financial professional at Equitable Advisors. "This is a great time to review your investment allocations to determine if any adjustments should be made."
That includes your retirement account, which is, after all, an investment account. "Review your current asset allocation to make sure you are comfortable with your current mix of equity," Edmondson said.
Diversify to limit risks
One way to take action is to look over your investments to see where you have a lot of money allocated, and potentially redistribute to other types of assets - whether they are stocks, bonds, or short-term investments like money market funds.
It's a good idea to talk to a financial advisor about the best ways to spread out the risk.
"While we cannot stop uncertainty, we can prepare for it by diversifying portfolios," said Kelly Lannan, vice president of Young Investors at Fidelity Investments.
Diversifying doesn't mean you eliminate risk entirely. "The goal of diversification is not necessarily to boost performance - it won't ensure gains or guarantee against losses," Lannan said. "Diversification does, however, have the potential to improve returns for whatever level of risk you choose to target."
Hold yourself accountable with online budgeting tools
Katie Oelker, a financial coach and writer, is a millennial herself. Though she worked in finance, she didn't really start tracking her cash flow until she started using online products.
"If I didn't have an online system, I honestly don't think I would do it," she said. "I wouldn't take the time. And it's helped me just save an incredible amount of time."
Today's unpredictable environment is a good time to try an online budgeting tool.
"Almost all the clients I work with use some, whether it's like Mint or Personal Capital, which tends to be more investment focused. There's a ton of different programs out there," she said.
"Having a system that automatically pulls their transactions and categorises them can be just the difference between them having more accountability and more clarity around where their money's going and not doing it at all."
While you're at it, start automating a deposit into your savings account each month, even a modest amount if money is tight. You probably won't even notice the difference, and will be surprised at how quickly your stockpile can grow.
Don't neglect your credit
One tangible way to maintain control is to keep a close eye on your credit reports, which will determine how easily you can borrow money for things like car loans and mortgages.
This is critical, even if those goals have moved a bit further away in the short term.
"There are key basic steps that can be taken any time during any kind of economic climate," said Rod Griffin, Experian's senior director of consumer education and advocacy. "Credit management is an essential component of a financial plan, especially in a challenging economic environment.
"Review your credit reports regularly. They provide a complete record of your debt-related financial relationships, can be used as a resource for working with your creditors on payment planning, and are a critical tool in managing your debt through difficult financial situations," Griffin explained.
"Keeping your debts as low as possible will put you in a better financial position when the economy emerges from this crisis."
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