|A ballpark estimate|
So with that said, I will be writing detailed posts on each of the following ten steps in the following weeks:
- Create a personal balance sheet by gathering information about your complete financial situation in one place. Get balances of your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage, retirement account, and any investments. Everything that you own (but only large relatively liquid assets) and everything that you owe.
- Figure out where your money is going. This can be as easy as looking through your bank statement, checkbook and credit card and coming up with monthly expenses and annual or emergency needs.
- Create a budget, if you are spending more than you are earning it’s time to cut some expenses. In the long term you can try to make more, but in the short term the easiest thing to do is cut your costs. After doing #2 you should be able to figure out what spending is absolutely necessary, what spending is necessary but can be adjusted in time, and what is discretionary.
- Create an emergency fund. The calculation could be something like 3-12 months of monthly expenses depending on how secure you feel about your job/income. On top of that, calculate your medical insurance deductible, home insurance or renters insurance deductible, something for home repairs if not covered by your insurance and/or warranties (such as old appliances), auto insurance deductible or the cost of replacing a vehicle if you need it for work. If you have no savings this will take a while, but save as much as you can and make monthly and annual targets based on your budget.
- You might have noticed that #4 includes some insurance deductibles. Now is a good time to review all of your insurance to make sure you are adequately covered but not paying too much for insurance. If you are renting, do you have renters insurance? Is your life insurance enough or even the right kind? Does it make sense to use an employers dental or eye insurance if it is optional? You could think of insurance as a collective emergency fund. You are paying into something that you will get to draw on in case of an “emergency” or other qualifying event.
- If you have credit card or other high interest debt, create a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. Possibilities include transferring the balance to the lowest interest card or taking out a loan at a lower interest rate. This has to be done in conjunction with the emergency fund. I recommend getting at least a month’s worth of expenses in your emergency fund before aggressively paying off your high-interest debt.
- Once your high interest debt is paid off and you feel comfortable with your emergency fund, start a retirement account. If your employer contributes to your 401K or similar plan through matching, start contributing until you are receiving the maximum matching from your employer. Once you have reached this level and you have excess funds, consider opening a Traditional or Roth IRA. Once you are on track to max out your IRA, you could start contributing the maximum possible in your 401K.
- If you have children, are planning on having children, or anticipate paying any education expenses for yourself or a family member, open a tax-advantaged education investment account.
- Once you have done all of this, consider opening a taxable investment account. The easiest thing to do is set up a dollar-cost averaging index fund investment plan.
- At this point, you probably have enough assets to warrant a decent will. It’s also possible that your life insurance put you in this category already.