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Six Tips to Start Your Financial Goal-Setting

The month of January generates a steady stream of news articles and broadcast messaging about financial goal-setting. To cut down on the overwhelming clutter we’ve compiled a series of tools, tips, and resources to support your financial wellness efforts.

Has the recent stock market volatility left you wondering if you have to adjust your spending to meet your financial obligations?  Are you worried if your retirement savings or withdrawal strategy is enough?  Are you confused about where to start in establishing sound financial goals?

The month of January generates a steady stream of news articles and broadcast messaging about financial goal-setting.  You may be overwhelmed.  Is there a way to cut through the clutter to find the professional guidance most appropriate for your situation?

Move forward with confidence.  I’ve compiled a series of tools, tips, and resources to support your financial wellness efforts.

These tips have been gleaned in three ways.  I voraciously read news articles.  I draw upon my experience as an estate planning practitioner.  Finally, I am the 2016 Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Endowment for Financial Education ( and support NEFE’s mission to empower Americans to achieve their life goals through the prudent and informed management of their financial resources.

Are you ready to get started?

1. Conduct a Two-Year Lookback: Did you set your financial goals for 2014 and 2015?  Did you achieve them?  Before beginning your financial goal-setting for 2016, analyze your activities for the past two years.  Did you fall short of your goals?  Adjust as you plan for 2016.

2. Determine Your Money Personality:  Do you live beyond your means or buy things you cannot afford? Do you and your spouse approach your financial goals as a team?  Ted Beck, CEO of NEFE, recommends that all couples take the Life Values Quiz.  You may discover that your spouse’s values are not always the same as yours.  It’s important to be on the same page.

3. Use Software or Apps: Stay on top of expenditures by recording and categorizing them as they occur.  Some folks use computer programs such as Quicken to manage budgets.  Others prefer newer online technology or apps such as Mint or Level Money.  Find the tool that you are comfortable using to track cash flow and provide insight (with visually appealing charts) about your spending and saving behaviors.

4. Expect the Unexpected:  According to NEFE, two-thirds of Americans experienced an “unexpected” financial setback in 2015.  Plan in advance for financial emergencies (e.g. major car repairs, medical bills, a new roof) to soften the blow. Set money aside for unexpected expenses, and return that money to savings if the emergencies fail to occur. NEFE suggests that you prepare for these costs “not as ifthey will happen, but rather as a matter of when they will happen.”

5. Conduct Research:   Use the Internet to stay informed and to build a solid foundation for decision making.  The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco & Corporation for Enterprise recently published the free book What It’s Worth – Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation (We’ll send cookies to the first 25 people who e-mail and tell her on what page I’m quoted.)  An eye-opening NEFE informational resource you can share with adult children and grandchildren is the 2015 report from the President’s Advisory Council on the Financial Capability of Young Americans.

6. Consult with Professional Advisors:  TurboTax assures you that you don’t need a genius to do your taxes – you just need to click a button.    Nolo will sell you a package to respond to all your legal needs.  Free financial advice is a mere google search away.  With all the financial and tax software and do-it-yourself legal apps available to consumers, it’s tempting to develop a false sense of confidence.   Be careful not to fall into the “DIY” trap. The CPAs, Certified Financial Planners, and estate planning attorneys I know chat regularly about how much more we have had to charge a DIY-er to clean up the mess.  Hire a CPA to prepare your tax return.  Work with a Certified Financial Planner to achieve your financial goals.  And don’t forget to contact me if you don’t have a current estate plan.

Best of luck in achieving your financial goals!

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