Friday, September 18, 2020
Jim Barton, age 52, had his dreams. After 20 years in the military, he began a second career with the federal government and was looking forward to retirement at age 55. He and his wife Karen, a homemaker, were planning to travel more -- to their second home in Canada and throughout the country in their camper. In addition, Jim hoped to help his 3-year-old granddaughter with college expenses down the road. Jim and Karen were living quite comfortably, enjoying their camper on weekend trips and visiting their second home in Canada several times a year for longer vacations. Looking forward to his retirement at 55, Jim figured that between his pension and distributions from his federal Thrift Savings Plan, he'd make out just fine financially.
He figured wrong.
A lifetime of steady employment, with retirement benefits, was not enough to put Jim into retirement at age 55. With little equity in his house after refinancing several times, a sizeable loan left on the camper along with those for two pick-up trucks, credit card debt and a loan against his Thrift Savings Plan, Jimís process toward retirement was riddled with bad decisions. Retirement planning is not an event. It's a process. Like many Americans living a decent life, he drew a roadmap to retirement not based in reality and with too many detours.
College tuition, paying off a mortgage, traveling and/or funding a retirement lifestyle often feel like abstract concepts far in the distance. But mapping the future to financing any goal must be drawn on sound principles of money management and a few strokes of common sense.
Before launching the financial journey, the following questions need to be answered:
When will I need the money? What kind of lifestyle do I want? How much is that likely to cost in today's dollars? What annual inflation rate should I assume? And the most important question of all: Where am I now? These are tough questions, but preparation is key to a successful journey and the starting point of your financial roadmap is where you are today financially. Your ultimate destination, or ďXĒ marks the spot, are your financial goals in the future.
Begin with two basic financial planning tools:
1. a cash flow statement and
2. a net worth statement.
A cash flow statement tells you where you are spending your money. Spending records such as a checkbook or credit card statements will give you a clear picture of your monthly, and annual, expenses.
Create a statement of net worth. Net worth is simply the value of your assets (what you own) minus your liabilities (what you owe). Once you have a clear picture of your cash flow and net worth, you can begin to see if your savings patterns are in line with your goals.
If there is a surplus of money left over every month, there is money to work with toward financial goals. If there is no surplus, review current expenses and reduce them. This single act of bravery will lead to a greater sense of personal fulfillment along the way.
Next, identify interim financial goals. You can do this by knowing where you want to be in 20 years. Back up the process and look at where you need to be 15, 10, 5 and 3 years in order to make that ultimate dream a reality. Identifying interim financial goals will help keep you on track toward your larger goal.
Once you have embraced a vision for your retirement years, it's time to get a clear picture of today's finances. Don't be fooled by the assumption that you'll be able to live comfortably on 70% of what you're making now. Most of us will face rising health care costs and increased recreation and travel, and 70% of our current income probably won't be adequate.
Do not be seduced by other temporary pursuits, no matter how tempting they may seem.
If you finance a boat to enjoy today, for example, donít do it without determining how much longer will you have to work to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Excessive spending will stall progress towards any financial goal. Jim Barton learned this the hard way. With a camper, trucks, travel and a credit-financed lifestyle Jimís destination -- retirement at 55 -- wasnít feasible. His roadmap took a longer, less fruitful route.
There's no quick fix for years of poor spending decisions, but the sooner you take control of the problem, the sooner you'll be able to reach your goals. In todayís world, feeling overwhelmed by debt is natural. Decide on a measurable money goal, and as Nike says, ďJust Do It!Ē For every dollar of income you earn, allocate ten cents to savings and twenty cents to debt reduction. Consistency will reward you with progress towards your goals. Itís just that simple.
Jim Barton had to adjust his goals to fit reality. When he sat down with a financial planner, it was clear that he'd have to postpone retirement until at least age 60, so that he could pay off the camper and the other debts. But eventually, he did get to retire, and he did get to travel.
While it might sound a little like herding cats, itís not. The most attractive aspect about money is that it is tangible - it can be counted and accounted for over time. There is nothing mystical about money, only that if not managed properly, it will disappear before our very eyes.
For more information on financial planning, or to locate a professional Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), go to www.cfp.net and locate a qualified planner by keying in your zip code. Alternatively, you can always ask friends and colleagues for referrals. For further information on credit card debt, financing, credit rates and general information try www.bankrate.com where they have regular newsletters with helpful financial information.
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