Financial well-being is more than having a lot of money in savings or a retirement account. It’s about the peace of mind you have when you know you are taking control of your personal finances. As you improve your financial health, your stress levels about money can start to ease. Perhaps you sleep better at night. You feel more in control of your life and the decisions you make that can affect your finances.
Everybody has different goals or a different view of what “success” for financial health looks like, but here are a few ways you can assess your situation and begin to make improvements.
How to start to improve financial health
1. The first step is to commit to doing it.
And if you’re reading this article, you have already begun your financial health journey. It’s about taking an honest look at where your money is coming from and where it’s going. This can be a daunting exercise because of the judgment or emotions we associate with our finances. Maybe we feel pressure to compare ourselves to other people, such as friends and family, colleagues or even social media contacts, or we feel guilty over some expense or another, or we are really anxious about being able to pay for retirement. But as Jean Chatzky, co-host with Soledad O’Brien of the radio show and podcast Everyday Wealth™, says, “Embrace your current reality. I find that very freeing because the numbers don’t lie. They’re honest. And once you’ve got a grip on them, then you can start to move forward.”
2. Break it down.
Setting goals is a great incentive for taking control of your financial health. Whatever your goals – from a long-awaited vacation to early retirement – you need to know how much it will cost, how much you will need to save and when you’ll need the money. What does your life look like, ideally, in five, 10 or 20 years? From those figures, you can work out how much to set aside each month or week. It’s often easier for us to envision saving $96 per week rather than $5,000 in a year, for example – and it can be more achievable that way. Just like in weight-loss goals, those that aim to lose two pounds a week, for example, are more successful than those that try to lose 25 pounds in three months. The same principles apply to improving your financial health as your physical health. Break down the numbers into smaller, manageable goals. And track your progress. This can help reinforce your sense of being in control of your finances and gives you something to feel good about!
3. Set it and forget it.
Automating your savings is a great way to help achieve your goals: whether you’re putting money into a health savings account, an IRA, a 529 or a regular savings account, automate your contributions so that they just happen on the schedule you have set out. As Chatzky explained in an interview with Yahoo! Finance, “And technology, when it comes to our money, has just made that so much easier. Automate your savings … automate those contributions so that they just happen every single time you get paid.” What’s more, some of the ways you can save, such as matching your employer contribution into a 401(k), can have tax benefits as well – so you’re saving more than the amount of your initial contribution.
4. Do some financial housekeeping.
We all have various accounts with multiple statements, documents and emails – it can get overwhelming to keep track. Getting it all organized is a powerful way to reclaim control and have a more complete picture of your overall financial health. For example:
- Review your insurance coverage (life, disability, long-term care, umbrella liability and property coverage, including home and auto) to confirm your coverage is current and complete.
- Check and update the beneficiaries on all life insurance and retirement accounts.
- Review your estate planning documents, including your will, trusts, medical directives and powers of attorney, and update as needed. Be sure your digital assets and accounts are included in your plan.
- Help protect yourself from cyberfraud by resetting your passwords and using multifactor authentication on all your online financial accounts.
5. Enlist the help of an advisor.
If you’re reassessing your goals, it may be a great time to meet with a financial advisor. He or she can help you find efficient ways to improve your financial health and keep your savings goals on track. If you’re already working with an advisor, evaluate their performance to help ensure they are still meeting your needs and understand your new goals.
Financial well-being is all about feeling in control and knowing we are doing everything we can to achieve our goals. By following these five steps, you’ll be well on your way to starting a plan to improve your financial health for years to come.