The 7 Must Have Sections for a DIY Financial Plan

Adulting. Sometimes it stinks right! Going to the DMV, paying taxes, eating kale! Ugh! (actually, I like kale). But you get the idea, right! One of the things that we tend to put on the backburner is having a financial plan. It’s boring (kind of like flossing), yet we know we need to do it! So let’s get this one off of your to-do list!

Now, I am not a licensed financial planner, I’m just a nerdy mom, who geeks out on retirement planning, investment calculators, and happens to be rather good at it. I have gone through this process with professionals for my own purposes, and this post walks you through it all! The plan I am going to outline for you is an excellent starting place to get you thinking about what is important now, what will be important later. At some point in your life, depending on the complexity of your assets, you should see a licensed financial planner to make doubly sure you are headed in the right direction and at the right pace.  

How to make a financial plan like an expert!

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What is a financial plan

A financial plan is just a framework and a plan for how you want your life to go and how you are going to fund that life. It’s something that you need to decide upon very soon (as investment growth is critical), and revisit it every 3-5 years or so to check in on it and see if you are still on board.

As I mentioned above, I am not a financial planner. Yet my husband and I did go through a very intensive financial planning period last year. More so, than what you will likely need. Ours was especially detailed and convoluted because our daughter is special needs, and we need to be very (VERY) mindful of our assets and our investments so that we can provide for her long into the future and be as tax efficient as possible.

I am going to walk through the main components of a financial plan, and depending on your situation’s complexity level; you may want to see a financial planner and a good lawyer (we did both).

Why you need a financial plan

If you are someone who wants to eventually retire and spend time doing hobbies, traveling, relaxing, or give back to your community through volunteering, then you need a financial plan!

On the other hand, if you always want to have to work because you haven’t saved anything, then you don’t need a financial plan.

Those are the two options open to everyone. It’s totally your choice.

Now let’s dig into how you can build your financial plan!

Your Financial Plan Components

Almost all financial plans contain the same components, yet depending on your lifestyle, some may not be necessary. For example, if you don’t have kids/dependants then you don’t need life insurance. No debt? Then no need for a repayment plan (yes, still map out your mortgage scenario).

Your net worth

Before you start dreaming about your future, you need to know your starting point. The best way to do this is to figure out your net worth. You’ll need to collect some figures; your assets and your liabilities.

Assets:

  • home market value
  • investments value
  • bank account balances
  • car value
  • jewelry value
  • misc assets

Liabilities:

  • mortgage balance
  • personal loans
  • credit card debt
  • student loan debt
  • car loan balance
  • medical debt

You total each column and take the asset total – liability total = net worth. For a while, you may have a negative net worth (especially if you just bought a house), it’s okay. We all start with nothing (unless your parents are super-rich).

An excellent working budget

Everyone needs some sort of working budget. The level of detail is where we will all differ. I wrote a five-part series, Your Ultimate Guide on How to Budget, so if you’re a newbie, be sure that you pin those posts to check out later! The number one thing that you need to make sure about is that you are spending less than you earn. This is a must! Ideally, you’d also be calculating your ideal savings rate into that budget (more on that below).

A debt repayment plan

One of the easiest, yet worst things that you can do is not to have a strategy to repay your debt. You need to be strategic to pay your debt but not a penny more (paying interest sucks) and for as short a repayment period as possible. I did a detailed post that goes through the top two debt repayment strategies, check it out and see which is best for your situation!

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A savings plan

Yes, you want to be rich; almost everyone does! Welcome to the club. But what that looks like is different for everyone! What does being “rich” look like to you, and how soon? Being rich could mean a very modest home with money for travel. Or maybe rich means lots of free time for hobbies, or perhaps you want a huge house? To get to any of these outcomes, you need to save some money!

There are a few different vehicles for your savings…

  • High yield online savings account like Ally Bank. This is a great place to keep your emergency fund (6-9 months of expenses), as they have a much higher interest rate than a regular bank. Think 1.6% earned vs. .03% at a brick & mortar bank.
  • Checking & savings accounts – this is good for your everyday usage. Just be sure that you know how/why you will be charged fees, as they can add up fast and for odd reasons. Look for the fee table for your accounts. Usually, you can keep your account’s fee free by
    • having an automatic deposit
    • having a mortgage through your bank
    • maintaining a certain minimum daily balance
  • Saving for your retirement – Yes, you need to save for retirement, unless you want to work forever. I didn’t think so. So let’s talk about savings rates. At a minimum, you should save at least the minimum match amount that your employer contributes, usually anywhere from 2-15% (normal is around 5-7%). So there’s your minimum.

    You should try and save more though (of course, no one says to save less right). Your total savings rate depends on how much money you want to have at retirement, how soon you want to retire, and what you can actually afford out of your paycheck now. You’ll find a ton of different retirement calculators online, use the one that makes the most sense to you, a great starting point is this calculator.

    If you’re a little worried about not having enough to go around, an excellent place to start is 10%; ideally, you’d work up to at least 15%. There is a growing mania around the FIRE movement, where people are saving 50% or more of their income so that they can become Financially Independent and Retire Early.  
    • A workplace 401(k) – almost all offer a traditional plan (contributions are made pretax), and hopefully, your workplace offers a Roth option (funded with after-tax contributions). Using a Roth is my personal preference, I’ll do a piece on it soon as to why. For now, just know that there are plenty of people who like both options.  
    • An IRA – this is similar to a workplace 401(k), yet you control the investments, which is ideal, as workplace 401k options are limited and may not offer low fee options. These are great as SAHM can get a spousal IRA so that they can have their own retirement savings.
    • Social Security benefits- as a taxpaying citizen, you are entitled to a portion of that returned to you once you reach the age of 61 1/2. Yet, it may be in your best interest to wait until you get to 65. Just how much you’ll receive is up for negotiation. Many believe that SS will run dry soon, do I? I’m not nerdy enough to have an educated opinion on that. But I do know that you can go to My Social Security, sign up for an account, and they’ll tell you how much you’ll be entitled to based on your reported earnings.
  • College 529 Plan- if you have children, then you may want to consider saving money for your children’s future. College is crazy expensive, and it seems that it will only get more so! Each state has its own plan, but you’re not limited to getting the plan from your state. Here’s a great site to help you navigate 529’s and which plan might be best for your child.

These are the big accounts & reasons for saving money, but don’t forget that you may want to save for smaller things like holidays, vacations, birthday parties, etc. For these, you can set up sinking funds, either by using cash envelopes or regular checking accounts.

An investment strategy

Now that you are saving money, you need to put it somewhere safe, somewhere that it can grow. Yes, it absolutely needs to grow, as you can’t let it sit in a bank account, as it will never keep up with inflation, so in essence, you’ll be losing money.  Compound interest is one of the most important financial concepts to understand & master! To take advantage of this, you need to invest your money in some way.

If you are taking place in your workplace 401k your money is already invested (cool!) If your money is in an IRA, you need to make sure that you have actually invested it, and it’s not in a holding account so to speak. (that’s bad).  

You can invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, mutual funds, index funds, and more! (but no, you are not allowed to invest in bitcoin, that’s foolish).

Your investing strategy is something that you need to make sure you are 100% comfortable with, and you need to stick with it! You can’t flip flop back and forth like choosing tacos or nachos. You need to pick a strategy and stick with it for the long haul! Yes, of course, you can always change your mind, but that’s what kills growth and puts you back at square one).

When I say pick an investment strategy that you are comfortable with, I am talking about your risk tolerance. Do you want to invest your money at higher risk but with the potential for a greater return? Or would you instead go for lower returns but more stability? If seeing the market to a dramatic drop, and you want to sell it all, that’s bad, because that’s the wrong thing to do. You need to be able to weather the rocky years (because they will happen).

I am not your financial advisor, yet one of the most common sense books about investing is JL Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth. To me, it just makes sense. I am not looking for flashy investments or quick gains with lots of actions. I am a believer in the slow & steady; that’s me. I want to put my money in and not touch it for a few decades, just ride the market fluctuations out, and choose when I want to withdraw my money (and not be forced to sell in bad markets due to necessity).  

You need to decide this without influence from others. You don’t want to give yourself ulcers or have panic attacks, yet you want your money to grow. So choosing the right combination of investments is something that deserves your full attention.

Covering your bum with life insurance

Isn’t bum just fun to say? 🙂 What I mean by covering your bum is having adequate insurance…

  • health insurance
  • car insurance
  • home/renters insurance
  • life insurance (if you have dependents)
  • disability insurance
  • umbrella policy

I’d rather not shell out loads of cash every month for something I don’t use and don’t want to use, but I know I need to make sure we are covered. Going through insurance coverage is a whole beast, so we won’t go into the tiny details here and now, just know that you need to have most of the above-bulleted list. Yet, if you have a yearning to learn more about the different types of insurance, then jump on it now!

One thing I do know is that you never want to get life insurance through your workplace; you always want it to be independent of your job. Why? Well, when you get life insurance, you get a better rate the younger you are (as you are less likely to be ill). Let’s say you have a job for ten years, and then you leave that job. You have just lost your life insurance, and now that you are ten years older, it will cost you a lot more to be covered. Or worse yet, you lost your job (thus your life insurance), and something horrific happens to you before you get a new job. Your family now doesn’t get anything. If you are the primary income provider, this is going to have a dramatic impact on your family, at this especially hard time.

Another common mistake is not insuring the stay at home parent, especially if you have young ones at home. As a SAHM, you are stereotypically the…

  • house cleaner
  • errand doer
  • daycare provider
  • meal cooker
  • misc planner

If you weren’t there to do these things, then most likely, your spouse would have to hire help to do most if not all of the above. Daycare costs alone could strip your monthly budget down to nothing! So be sure that you are covering all your bases by insurance the stay at home parent!

Another safety net that I always recommend to people is that they freeze their credit. For themselves and their children (sometimes elderly parents too). There’s no reason to leave yourself open to scammers and data breaches! It takes 20 minutes max, so get on this today!

Your financial plan & your family

Along with having adequate insurance, you need to get your estate ready. These are probably the hardest documents to complete as we never want to think about passing away and leaving our family, especially if we have young children. Yet, if you have a family, you absolutely want to get this taken care of!  

You will need legal & notarized documents that include…

  • a will:  what you want to happen with your assets
  • an advanced directive:  what you want to happen in a medical sense if you are incapacitated
  • a power of attorney:  who you want to manage your finances if you are unable to make decisions
  • guardianship of minors:  this is who you want to raise your kids if you should pass away before they turn 18. If you have a complicated family life, you absolutely want to make sure that your child goes to the person you trust the most! This can sometimes be designated within your will.

Even with these documents, you may want to go a step further and put your assets into a Trust, specifically a Revocable Living Trust. This is a vehicle that transfers your assets to your designated trustees in the most tax-efficient and timely manner. Depending on the complexity of your assets, you could do them online at LegalZoom, or go to a lawyer. Again, depending on the complexity, this could be $300 up to a few thousand dollars.

Your financial plan working to make your dream retirement

I hate to say it, but there are a few more things you’ll need to consider when making your financial plan

  • Housing in retirement:  will your house be paid off by then? See if you can make that happen if at all possible, as that’s a significant expense to have monthly without any income coming in.
  • Healthcare costs:  this is proving to be the most expensive part of retirement for many. According to PlanSponsor, “A 65-year old couple retiring in 2019 can expect to spend $285,000 in health care and medical expenses throughout retirement”. (insert awkward silence and a teensy tiny bit of shock).
  • Taxes:  The stereotype of older Americans moving to Florida is actually for a good reason, besides the weather, readily available healthcare, the taxes make it less expensive to live there. In fact, WalletHub rated Florida the #1 state for retirees.
  • Part-time employment:  Many retirees take a few years off for fun and then find themselves a bit bored, or they get a job and work just enough to get healthcare benefits. It could be a good option for you if you like to stay busy and need a bit of income.
  • Life expectancy:  oh fun! Yup, your investments need to cover you through your entire life, but that period could vary wildly. You don’t want to scrimp and save only to die at 67. Yet you don’t want to be 98 and living in poverty. So there we are. In 2018, the average life expectancy was 78.7 years. This is where you would use the 4% rule. This is a generally accepted rule of thumb that says you can withdraw 4% of your portfolio value each year in retirement without incurring a substantial risk of running out of money. 

At the end of the day

When you create a plan around something, you gain control over it. I know creating a financial plan sounds a bit daunting & overwhelming, but you will feel so much better after you do this. After you do this, you will know what you want your future to look like (don’t worry, you can change your mind), and what you need to do to get there! Creating a financial plan makes your dreams become your reality!

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