Do you know your money? Have you any plan to manage your money?
Below are some noteworthy questions everyone should be able to answer about their money.
Does your employer match any of your retirement contributions and are you getting the full match?
Many employers offer to match all or a portion of the money you contribute to your employer retirement plan. This is free money, and you should make sure you are getting as much of it as possible. If you aren’t sure whether your employer matches or if you’re getting the full match as your Human Resources or Benefits office for details about your plan.
What are your short, mid and long term goals and are you on track to meet them?
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? Just like you wouldn’t set off on a cross-country trip without directions, you shouldn’t be saving for your future without a plan. That plan should include your short- (within 12 months), mid- (within 5 years) and long-term (more than 5 years) goals and how you plan to get there. It’s important to come up with a plan that’s reasonable and to review it periodically to see if you’re still on track.
What’s on your credit report?
Credit reports are so important. They can impact all areas of your life, not just your ability to get a loan. Did you know that a bad credit report can result in higher auto expenses and that it could even make you lose a great job opportunity? It’s important to check all three of the major credit bureaus at least once a year. I recommend getting one report (from each of the three) every 4 months. Each credit agency will report different information but with this method you’ll be on top of your credit and see each report at least once. Before you spend your money on a score, just know that scores are only important if you’re applying for a loan. As long as you are paying your bills on time and there are no negatives on your report, your score should be fine, so it isn’t necessary to buy your score very often.
How much will you need for retirement and are you on track to get there?
This is a pretty personal question and depends a lot on the lifestyle you want to live in retirement. There are dozens of financial calculators on the web that can help you figure out how much you’ll probably need and how much you should be saving to get there.
What kind of expenses are you paying for your investments?
Sometimes we are paying for expenses with our investments, and we don’t even know about it. Does your fund have a sales load or a high expense ratio (anything over 1% is high)? Does your brokerage charge monthly or annual account maintenance fees? Review your accounts and make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. There is no reason to pay high expenses and fees when there are many well respected low or no-fee brokerage houses.
Are you in the right investments for your age, risk tolerance and timeline?
You should periodically keep check of your asset allocation to make sure that you’re investing correctly for your goals. There are many online calculators that will ask you a few questions and then give you a suggested allocation based on your responses. Take a couple of these and see where you stand. Make sure that you’re looking at all of your investments.
Where does your money go each month?
You don’t have to know to the penny, but you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re spending your money on. If you don’t know, you should find out. You’ll probably be shocked to see how much you spend on certain expenses like coffee or eating out. To develop a budget, get a notebook and track all of your spending for 30 days.
Write down every penny you spend and then put it into Excel and categorize it into expense categories (entertainment, food, gas, etc.). The numbers will probably be eye-opening, and you might be surprised that by making a couple small changes you can free up a nice chunk of money each year to put towards your goals.
Are you getting the most out of your savings?
Many people are still using the savings account that their regular bank offers, and which only pays .5% a year. With the advent of online banks like ING Direct, Emigrant and HSBC, traditional savings accounts are going the way of the Dodo. With rates over 5% at these online institutions and transfers only taking a couple of days to complete, there’s really no reason to keep your savings in a low-rate account. For the latest list on the highest returns, check out these banking sites.
When will you be debt free?
Everyone wants to know the answer to this question. It’ll take some math and usually a budget, but you can find out if you put in the effort. Start by listing all of your debts in order of the highest interest rate to lowest. Then list what the minimum payment is for each account.
Finally, figure out how much money you have available to put towards debt each month. From there its simple math. You want to pay the minimum payment on all debts except for the one with the highest interest rate. You want to throw all of your extra money at that one with the highest rate. Once that one is paid off, you’ll add that entire payment to the minimum payment you were making on the next highest interest rate debt. This method will save you the most money and will get you out of debt as quickly as possible.