This new year provides a fresh opportunity to ignore Wall Street and get on with your life. Don’t pass it by. The obvious benefit to this journey is the profound impact it will have on your financial net worth 10 and 20 years down the road. A not-so-obvious benefit is that it provides you with an abundance of emotional freedom to embrace life today, confident that this dimension of your life is unfolding as it should. Here is my go-to, four-step list for you to ponder as 2015 begins.
1. CREATE CLARITY
Whether you are working for a Fortune 500 company or an Eastside startup that just captured some much-needed financing, you know your banker is waiting for that quarter-end Profit and Loss (P&L) statement. What is stopping you from generating the same for yourself? It is all about keeping track of what is going in and out of that checking account. It’s Personal Finance 101. Your parents and your grandparents used to do it the old-fashioned way — by keeping track in a passport-sized passbook. Don’t have time to keep track? That’s no excuse. Nowadays, you’ve got it so much easier with all the financial software programs and corresponding apps connected to your bank accounts, credit card statements, and investment accounts. Sure, it might take a little effort to integrate all your accounts into one program, but not making the effort will lead only to financial confusion.
Generating a personal P&L statement allows you to get an idea of how much you are saving, an often-forgotten but critical component to building wealth. More importantly, your P&L provides you clarity on how you are spending your money and an opportunity to realign your spending with what is really important in your life.
2. AUTOMATE AND SIMPLIFY
Can’t create a budget for yourself with enough money left over to save? Relax, I can’t either. I spend everything that goes into my checking account each month. Drain it down, almost to zero. In fact, I never even think about saving, because my savings are transacted automatically, direct from my paycheck to my workplace retirement account at the beginning of each month. Don’t have a workplace retirement account? Another poor excuse to not save. Set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at a low-cost financial institution like Charles Schwab, Vanguard, or Fidelity, and instruct your HR department or bank to automatically deposit money into your portfolio each month.
Once you have automated your savings, take the next step and simplify your investments. Combine and reduce your accounts if possible, and pare down your investments into a portfolio of low-cost index funds. If this exercise is carried out in your taxable accounts, be mindful of tax consequences, but don’t discount the long-term tax-efficiencies of index funds within taxable accounts.
3. CREATE A FINANCIAL PLAN
After you have established a system that allows for greater saving and spending clarity, the next step is to discover whether your savings level of today matches up with your retirement expectations of tomorrow. Fortunately, you probably are knee-deep in the business of running a business, which means retirement is 10, 20 or 30 years away. Remember, time is on your side, but only if you act now. And when it comes to investing, time is the most valuable asset class.
Even though you might not be able to reach your savings target today, at least you have an awareness of how much you should be saving — a figure that will at least be present the next time you want to spend money on something you don’t really need. Oh, and to get started, check out the financial-planning tools at any of the companies listed in step 2.
4. REDISCOVER YOU
It is a new year and a new chance to rediscover the source of energy that gets you going in the morning. Life is not about making money, it is about using all your resources, including your financial resources, to impact the world in a way that is unique to you — through your family, your community, and your workplace. I challenge you to make this the year you create clarity and simplicity on your journey to build wealth.