Financial success starts with creating mindfulness around money. Only when you become aware of your finances can you start to plan — and only by planning can you get to where you want to go in your life.
This may sound serious or philosophical, but it’s just plain common sense.
You wouldn’t set out on a road trip to Vermont without a map to guide you and help you plot your course so you can see all the stuff that’s important to you along the way. It’s the same thing with your money.
Your financial plan is the course you chart to plan for a future destination while enjoying the journey it takes to get there.
That being said, your progress will only be as good as your plan — so you need to ask good questions to inform how you lay out the route you want to take with your money. Start with these.
Where Am I Today?
You need to understand what your current financial picture looks like before you can build a plan for your money goals. Without this understanding, you won’t know the right moves to make and when.
Ask questions like:
You can add up all your assets (things like cash and investments) and total up your liabilities (your debts and anything you owe). Then subtract your liabilities from your assets. The result is your net worth.
Your net worth gives you an idea of your overall financial health. If you’re in the black, you’re on the right track. If you’re in the red, you might need to make debt repayment a priority so you can knock it out and start building wealth instead of paying balances.
And remember, keep the judgment out of this question. When you look at your money, you may find some things you don’t like. But that’s okay.
The whole point of getting it together now is so that you can make progress from where you are, right now, today. There’s no sense in beating yourself up about the past. The only thing to do is acknowledge your situation — then move on by creating your plan for the future.
Where Do I Want to Be?
Now that you understand a little more about your current situation, you can start plotting points on your financial map that indicate where you want to be in the future.
In other words, choose and set goals. Your goals should be SMART, meaning each is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
Once you define what you want to achieve, you’ll want to:
This can quickly get overwhelming. To keep things manageable, focus on the first few goals on your list (not the entire thing). Then, with each individual goal, break it down into bite-sized pieces.
Instead of focusing on the total amount you need to save, divide the amount of money you need for a goal by the years you give yourself to achieve it. Then divide that number by 12.
The result is your monthly savings target for that goal. Here’s an example: say you wanted to take a trip to Europe. You expect your travels to cost you $4,000 and you want to go in 2 years.
$4,000 divided by 2 is $2,000, which is the amount you need to save every year. $2,000 divided by 12 is $167, or how much you should save per month to meet your goal.
Isn’t $167 is way less scary of a number than $4,000? This is why it’s important to break down your goals into little pieces and work toward them one step at a time!
Do I Have What I Need?
Of course, working toward your goal of buying a Jet-ski doesn’t make much sense if you’re missing some basic financial fundamentals. So before you take off with this plan, make sure it’s viable.
Here’s a simple order of operations you can apply to your finances. Work your way down the list and give yourself a check mark for every item you can say “yes” to.
If you can’t check something off, you may need to take a step back and focus on nailing that thing before turning to your other money goals.
If you need help understanding these steps or learning how to check them off your own list, Work Your Wealth provides a great walkthrough .
Check it out to get basic, simple advice you can use to build your financial foundation. Once that’s in place, you can start implementing your bigger financial plan.
Create a Strong Financial Plan to Achieve What’s Important to You
There are, of course, many more questions to ask when creating a financial plan. But these will help you understand your financial foundation — and help you uncover any missing pieces of it.