Let's talk about routine. With Labor Day now past us, it seems that we are all working our way back to some semblance of routine. In the mind of many, Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer and the vacation season. There is something mentally easy about bracketing summer with a couple of four day work weeks, Memorial Day on the front end and Labor Day on the back.
As we now move into a more "ordinary" time, finding that right rhythm to life is important. However, like our habits, choosing the right routines to follow is crucial. In our financial life, there are some needed routines we need to follow on our road to financial independence.
As I was thinking about conversations I have with both prospects and clients and evaluating some of the work we do on a regular basis for those a part of our wealth management family, I determined there are several financial routine's that are critical to getting to where you you want to be financially. While not exhaustive, here are a few important ones to establish this autumn or any time of year.
Tracking expenses- There is nothing particularly exciting about this task, in fact it can be quite arduous, but if it is a part of a routine, it becomes a little less burdensome. I find that many people track what they spend but not where they spend it. They can tell me if they are broke but they can't tell me where their money went. Techonology makes this easier with tools like Mint.com or Quicken, but it still must be tended to routinely. Each morning, I look at my downloaded expenses (I am a Quicken user) and simply categorize my expenses. It is my routine and take 2 minutes each morning, but I do it at least 5 days a week. If I am not meeting my savings goals, I need to know where to cut back and by having all my expenses tracked I can find those money leaks and correct the problem. If you are having difficulties with cash flow or if you desire to have more control and intentionality in your personal finances, create a routine of tracking expenses.
Have a Saving Routine- If you don't know it already, you don't save money at the end of the month. Savings and the subsequent investment which follows is a habit. The reason employer based retirement plans work is that the money is electively removed from the paycheck. The savings is automated so your living expenses must contract to the money allowed. There is no getting around it, the largest drive of your retirement balance is not market return but rather your ability to continually save and invest. You want to get ahead? Save! Savings can not be seen as a discretionary line item. It must be habitual and routinely done. Automate if you can, but regardless, save consistently and routinely. You will never regret it.
- Routinely review your important documents and policies- I like to think of this as the "tire rotation" of financial planning. You know you need to do it, but because the time between rotations can be several months, you forget it about it until it is too late and the damage is done. Say for example you get a divorce, but fail to change beneficiaries on your life insurance policy. Not good. Or perhaps you are still paying comprehensive and collision coverage for a car that has depreciated to the point that the slightest accident means the insurance company will total it without asking a question. Whether it is beneficiaries on retirement accounts, confirming the appropriate coverage for your insurance or naming a new power of attorney because you don't trust your "ex" to act in your best interest, you must have a routine to review these documents and policies. I often encourage people to choose some obscure "holiday", say for example flag day and make that your flag day tradition. However you do it, it needs to be a part of your financial routine.
There are lots of others, like checking your credit report at least annually (every 4 months is better) or rebalancing your investments (if you are wealth management client, we do this for you). The key is to remember that you can't take a vacation from your finances for long. Establishing good routines will empower you to take control of your money rather than letting the money control you.
Do you have a financial routine that works for you? Feel free to share with us in the comment section below. Happy September everyone!