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FEATUREBy K.J. BannanHabit building: Doing it a little every day to build a solid financial foundationPlanning for a solid financial future requires work – and a good base. Here are four things that everyone should consider. Modern consumers could learn a lot from the classic fable The Three Little Pigs. Unless you have a solid foundation, the slightest wind might blow your financial house down. Figuring out how to build that strong foundation isn’t always intuitive though. Here are four steps you can take to make sure your financial future — and your family’s — is safe from the proverbial wolves.Set goals — then revisit them throughout the year: Don’t know where to start? A plan starts with the details. Write out your assets, debts and income to give you an idea of your current financial situation. Once you have that in place, you can start thinking about what you’d like to do with your money. Is your goal to save long term for your child’s education? Are you wanting to go on a European vacation next summer? Is retiring on the horizon?
Having these types of goals in mind will help with the rest of your planning, said Danny Kofke, a personal financial podcast host and author of Can I Borrow $400: How to Never Ask This Question Again … Win the Game of Financial Freedom.
“I like to encourage people to create SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time sensitive. There’s a great quote, ‘If you aim for nothing you’ll hit it every time,’ ” he said.
He suggested checking in on your goals often — maybe even daily in the beginning — to help yourself stay on track. This is especially important for anyone who’s in debt, Kofke said, because you’ll meet goals more effectively if you’re getting out of debt at the same time. Create a budget system that will help hold you accountable: Once you have a record of the money going in and out of your accounts and the short- and long-term goals you’d like to meet, it’s time to create a budget or plan to hit those goals, said Jamie Fatheree, a Financial Wellness manager for the Credit Union. “Having a budget or a spending plan is going to let them know what they can afford to do.” Fatheree and her colleagues work with Credit Union members to create these plans every day.
“We look at their monthly expenses, starting with the basic needs like rent or mortgage payments and utility bills,” she said. “And then we start listing the other wants and variable items.”
Featheree said to ask questions like how much do you spend going out to eat every month? What are your minimum payments on your loans? What services do you have? Fatheree said she asks members to prioritize the wants list to create a spending, savings and paying plan that works. “Cover the needs and start working in the wants until there's not any money left,” she said.Discover more details hereConsult financial resources, tackle debt wisely: Americans carry an average of $101,915 in debt, according to Experian. To focus on chipping away at an overall balance, it may make sense to consolidate higher-interest-rate credit cards into a lower-rate personal loan or a balance transfer to a lower-rate credit card, Fatheree said. However, this solution only works if the consumer is willing to stop using the high interest rate credit cards that got them into debt in the first place.
Fatheree recommended finding an accountability partner such as a friend, spouse or parent who can help you stick to your budget to get debt under control. And then commit.
“Can you afford to continue living your lifestyle paying cash so that you don't run up those credit cards again?” she said. “That's really the first step — that's the foundation to getting out of debt or keeping yourself from getting back into it once you get those things paid off.”Tap loyalty programs and earn on everyday purchases: There’s expenses you have to factor in, such as gas, groceries and clothing. Finding a credit card or loyalty program that gives you points for making those purchases is a good idea – as long as you can manage that debt you’re creating effectively.
The most important lesson according to Derek Sall, founder and lead of Life and My Finances, a finance education site, is that if you use loyalty credit cards you have to pay them off in a timely manner. If you’re charging $1,000 to earn loyalty points but only pay the minimum on that charge, you’re going to end up losing more than you’re gaining, he said.
Adopting and mastering these financial habits will help you protect your finances and build a legacy for your loved ones, Fatheree said.
“You don’t have to leave your family millions. That would be nice, but even more important is to not leave them with a negative balance,” she said. “The best thing we can leave behind – and something you’ll teach your family – is the lesson of how to be a good steward of your finances.”K.J. Bannan is a freelance writer in Winter Park, Colorado. Her business clients include real estate, investment lending, and financial technology companies