It’s a springtime ritual for boat owners – scraping, sanding and repainting the hull. The work is tough and time-consuming, but it insures the vessel will move quickly and gracefully through the water while protected from rot and corrosion.
Maybe it’s time to pull your financial boat out of the water for a similar overhaul. It’s easy to have a set-it-and-forget-it attitude about our financial lives. But inattention results in the monetary equivalent of what boaters call “fouling” -- the build-up of barnacles and other crud that hurts performance and can even put the vessel at risk. A once-a-year stem-to-stern review of your finances can save money, improve investment results and otherwise make for smoother sailing towards your goals.
Here’s how to streamline your financial hull:
Budget – A truly effective budget is a scaffold, not a cage. So, it occasionally needs to be revised based on changes in your goals and circumstances. You may need to add or eliminate budget items, or adjust the amounts allotted to various categories based on your current situation or actual-versus-budgeted spending. Don’t have a budget?
Oh. Well. Do that.
Expenses – As you look at your budget, think about whether you are paying for stuff you don’t use. Do you need the platinum cable package? How much data do you really use on your cell phone? Do you ever read the newspaper on weekdays? Couldn’t you workout at a less-fancy (cheaper) gym? How many digital music or video streaming services do you really need to get your groove on? Price shop the services you decide to keep, starting with your current provider. You’d be surprised how quickly a cancellation call can turn into a telephone version of “Let’s Make a Deal.”
Comb your debit and credit card statements for recurring charges and auto-renewals of things you no longer need, and may have forgotten about – everything from credit monitoring services to digital subscriptions to charitable contributions. While you have those statements open, take a look at your banking expenses, too. What fees are you being charged? You might be surprised, even shocked. If so, consider moving your accounts elsewhere, perhaps even a credit union.
Credit – Start by checking you credit score, which plays a central role in determining your access to credit and how much you’ll pay for it. You can get your scores here. Next, assess your overall level of debt and, as part of your budget review, tweak or create a plan to pay it down. Look for ways to reduce your interest rates. Rate shop your credit cards, mortgage – even car loans can sometimes be refinanced.
Insurance - Review all your policies to make sure you still have the appropriate levels of coverage. Does your life insurance benefit accurately reflect your family’s needs? Are the beneficiaries still correct? How about your home or renters insurance? Don’t forget your auto policy -- should you still pay for repair coverage on a car that’s now worth just $2,100?
Again, once you’ve determined your current needs – Shop! Shop! Shop! Sticking with a long-held policy because of inertia or loyalty to an agent could be costing you significant money, especially when it comes to car insurance. One Wela user recently saved nearly $600 per year by switching his car insurance. The best part: the new policy provides slightly better coverage!
Retirement – Begin by reviewing the goals and assumptions that underlie your investment strategy. Has your vision of retirement changed? Your professional situation? Family obligations? If so, now is the time to adjust your investments accordingly.
Even if your strategy remains largely sound, it’s a good idea to look at rebalancing your portfolio annually to ensure maximum performance towards your objectives. Think of this like getting your car’s alignment done – it’s particularly important after riding the kind of bumpy market road we’re currently experiencing. This is also a good time to assess the fees you are paying on your investments. Dig deep on this one, as hefty but easy to miss fees can really cut into your returns.
If you still have multiple 401k accounts from various jobs, consider simplifying things by rolling those funds into your current employer’s plan. Check with the HR department to be sure you are making the current maximum employer-matched contribution to that account.
The free planning tools at GetWela.com can help you get a handle on your investments, and the rest of your finances, by creating a one-stop dashboard where you can monitor account balances and quickly calculate your net worth.
Estate Planning – This one is never pleasant to contemplate, especially in the spring, but estate planning is a critical component of your financial strategy. If you have a will or trust, pull it out and look it over. Make sure it accurately reflects your wishes and any changes in your life circumstances, including marital status and children. If you don’t have a will, prioritize making one. This will take some time and effort, but doesn’t need to be overly expensive. Consider using one of the many software programs that assist in creating simple wills.