The last 15-20 years have brought tremendous change to the financial industry and specifically to personal financial planning. The internet has enabled great change as well as social media to communicate business and financial information quickly between individuals. Individuals with a computing device and an internet connection can trade individual stocks and mutual funds for less than $10 per transaction, perform online banking, electronically pay their bills, prepare personal wills, and enter in legal contacts for financial services.
However, regardless of the medium in which we invest, the need for solid, lifetime financial planning for adults remains unchanged. Let’s explore several key financial recommendations that individuals should certainly consider in their lifetimes:
1. Obtain the best education and job career possible – While this is not directly financial planning, it’s probably the best decision individuals make as it will be the primary income provider for most people’s lifetimes. While any education one obtains should never be taken for granted, you also need to understand what careers have growth and thus a higher probability to be rewarding for financial planning purposes. USA Today, among other resources, highlights some of the 100 best jobs today and in the future.
2. Reduce or eliminate credit card debt – Credit cards have become a major convenience to many, but an albatross to some with some interest rates over 20%. Try to never to take on this debt or try to eliminate it as quickly as possible. The following resource on Realsimple.com provides some recommendations on eliminating credit card debt.
3. Retirement account matching – Some employees have access to retirement plans at work like 401(k) and 403(b) plans, and some of these plans offer partial matching by the company. If you are fortunate enough to receive that, take advantage of it. Where else are you going to be able to take advantage of a 25-100% return on your investment? Smart401k.com has an article that describes matching and vesting.
4. Pay off your student loans – College student loans have become an increasing part of a student’s payment mix. They may be essential for going to college, but they can also become part of college graduate’s financial burden. It is important to pay off student loans not because they always have the highest interest rates, but rather because student loans are typically never forgiven, including those who declare bankruptcy.
5. Understand the financial markets – Educate yourself on the financial markets, whether through Wikipedia, Yahoo! Finance, etc.. Bob Brinker’s Marketimer newsletter www.bobbrinker.com helps provide that education. While it is not free ($185/year), it is an excellent monthly newsletter to help you understand the stock market and provides recommendations on specific investments.
6. Invest in Index Mutual Funds – Buying and trading individual stocks is fun and exciting (ask friends who purchased Apple and Tesla). However, unless you “invest” significant time investigating stocks, you are more likely to lose money or underperform the market (ask everyone else who invests in stocks!) Consider regularly investing in index mutual funds that represent a significant portion of the US stock market. VTSMX is such a mutual fund and can be purchased by opening an account directly at Vanguard.com.
7. Bonus: Special financial planning considerations for children – I didn’t want to conclude without discussing financial planning when you have the great personal reward of having children. The financial decisions most helpful here are: 1) Obtaining a reasonable, low-cost term life insurance policy (such as from SBLI.com) to cover your spouse’s and children’s housing and college expenses, 2) creating a will, and 3) creating a tax-free 529 plan for your child’s college education, such as Fidelity’s 529 plans.