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  • Writer's pictureNate Baim, MBA, CFP®

Organizing Your Financial Life for Success

Unlock Your Financial Potential: The Life-Changing Benefits of Organizing Your Finances


Is it time to hire a financial planner graphic

Getting organized is one of those goals that can seem like, if you could get there, it would be life-changing – but it's always just out of reach. A recent Forbes poll reported that 38% of respondents selected "improve finances" as a top New Year's resolution for 2024. It came in third, right behind improving fitness and mental health. And one of the foundational steps to improving your financial life is organization.


Getting organized can be enjoyable, and the results can help you feel more in control and focused. The problem is that we tend to put it off because there is always something more pressing. As we put off investing time in organizing our lives (especially our financial lives), we tend to accumulate more stuff (and financial accounts). And when we do go through bouts of energy to get our finances spruced up, we tend to get more accounts or easily get distracted by the next killer app or investment craze without actually addressing the issue of laying the foundation for genuinely improving our finances.


Having helped numerous households get their financial lives in order, I've seen all sorts of messy household account structures and systems at the start of the financial planning process. I've seen folks use multiple personal finance apps, have a dozen bank accounts, and various IRAs or 401ks. It rarely makes sense to have so many accounts and tools in place all at once.


Unlike most forms of organizing, the effort you put into your finances works now; it sets you up to succeed in the future. Getting your finances in order serves as the foundation for a financial plan that will help you:

  • Save more effectively

  • Be prepared for emergencies

  • Minimize financial anxiety

  • Optimize your assets

  • Create flexibility in your lifestyle

  • Make you and your family more resilient

While you will need to monitor and track your financial plan over time, the hard work essentially happens in the beginning. Once you do it, you have a blueprint you can follow and deploy tools and processes to help automate many aspects of your financial life. Let's discuss organizing your financial life for long term success.


Taking Inventory

First, gather all your information and take stock of what tools you are using. You should have a complete inventory of the following:

  • Checking and savings accounts

  • Certificates of deposit

  • Money market accounts

  • Taxable brokerage investment accounts

  • Health savings accounts

  • IRAs

  • 401ks, 403bs, 457bs, 401as, etc.

  • 529s or other education savings accounts

  • Stock plans include restricted stock units (RSUs), employee stock purchase plans (ESPP), non-qualified stock options (NQSOs), and incentive stock options (ISOs).

  • Real estate estimated values

  • Credit cards

  • Student loans, personal loans, and car loans 

  • Mortgages

  • Home equity lines of credit

  • Insurance policies

  • Estate planning documents

Tools for Organizing Your Financial Life for Success

Next, evaluate any personal financial apps you are currently using. Get rid of the ones that are not helping or adding to your anxiety. A good tool includes the following characteristics:


When selecting a personal finance application, you should review several critical evaluation criteria to ensure the tool meets your needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • User-Friendly Interface: Look for an application with an intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface. A user-friendly design will make it easier for you to manage your finances effectively.

  • Compatibility and Accessibility: Ensure the application is compatible with your devices and platforms (e.g., mobile app, web interface).

  • Account Aggregation: Confirm the application can connect to your bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial institutions. This feature streamlines the process of importing transactions and provides a more accurate overview of your financial status. Aggregation is often a place where folks get hung up. Keep in mind that no tech out there is perfect. Sometimes, you may have to track things manually (so make sure the app allows this). And sometimes, you need to switch to financial institutions that work with the technology's account aggregation. You need to find a system that, on balance, will work for you over the long term.

  • Security Measures: Prioritize the security of your financial data. Choose an application with encryption and two-factor authentication to protect sensitive information.

  • Budgeting and Expense Tracking: Check if the application provides robust budgeting features that allow you to set and track your spending limits across different categories. It should also offer detailed expense tracking to give you insights into your spending habits.

  • Goal Setting and Planning: If you have specific financial goals, look for an app that allows you to set and track those goals. Whether saving for a vacation, paying off debt, or investing, the application should support your financial aspirations.

  • Reports and Analytics: Assess the reporting and analytics capabilities of the application. It should provide insights into your spending patterns, income sources, and overall financial health.

  • Cost and Fees: Evaluate the cost structure for using the application. Some personal finance apps are free, while others may have subscription fees. Be aware of any additional fees for premium features.

  • Support: Check the availability and responsiveness of customer support. It's essential to have access to assistance in case you encounter issues or have questions about the application.

  • Reviews and Ratings: Look for user reviews and ratings to get insights into the experiences of other users. Reviewing the app's ratings can provide insightful information about its performance and potential drawbacks.


Considering these criteria, you can make an informed decision and choose a personal finance application that aligns with your financial goals and preferences. Right Capital, a tool I use with my clients, in my opinion, rates high on each of these evaluation metrics. 


Take a Holistic Approach

What should you focus on now that you have organized your financial life? Now that you are organized, you can ask more strategic questions to help improve your financial life. These are some key things to consider as a starting point for a solid financial plan:

Cashflow Planning

  • How much are you spending?

  • How much are you saving?

  • Do you know your net worth?

  • Do you have any significant expenses coming up?

  • Do you have a properly funded emergency fund?

Debt

  • How much debt do you have?

  • Do you have high-interest credit card debt, lower-interest education debt, or mortgage debt?

  • Would it be appropriate to consolidate your debt at a lower rate?

  • Is it manageable to pay off high-interest debt by increasing monthly payments?

Investing

  • Does your portfolio match your time horizon and your goals?

  • How much risk are you taking?

  • Are you well diversified across asset classes?

  • Are you considering other forms of investing, like income-producing properties?

  • Are you considering taxes as part of your investment plan?

Taxes

  • Do you have a multi-year tax plan in place?

  • Do you own your own business?

  • Are you maximizing tax-advantaged savings?

  • Are you planning for taxes in retirement?

Risk Management

  • Is your health insurance plan right for your needs?

  • Do you have life insurance?

  • Have you thought about term life or whole life?

  • Is it time for an umbrella policy?

  • Is it time to purchase long-term care insurance? 

Estate Planning

  • Do you have young children? Who would care for them?

  • Do you have a healthcare power of attorney in place?

  • Do you have a will? Have you considered a trust?

  • Have you created a safe storage spot for all your passwords?

Tackle One Thing at a Time

The above list is overwhelming if you think about doing all of it. But completing one task at a time will improve your financial health, and as you progress and rack up successes, your confidence in your financial situation will improve.


Breaking down objectives and working through them one by one gives you something to focus on in bits and pieces and sets you up for wins. A good approach is to rank the above topics by their importance to you and tackle the associated tasks. One month, you may tackle budgets; the next, you may work on investments.


Find a Human to Help

A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (TM) can help you create a plan that ties together all the elements of financial life, and they can work with other professionals, like your CPA and your lawyer, to ensure that your plan covers all contingencies and is flexible enough to evolve with you as you go through life. Additionally, a financial planner can help to motivate you and reduce the anxiety that goes along with money. A financial planner can help you have great conversations as a family and can help you see the big picture in terms of the choices and trade-offs you need to make to reduce the stress in your financial life.

Pursuit Planning and Investment, LLC is a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm in Portland, Oregon. We sign a fiduciary oath and do not receive a commission for selling products. We offer virtual financial planning services for working professionals. Feel free to review our services and place a commitment-free 30-minute discovery meeting on the calendar. Plan your pursuit!


Have something on your mind?

Nate Baim, MBA, CFP(R)
 

This work is powered by Advisor I/O under the Terms of Service and may be a derivative of the original.


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