Ideas for Building a Better Financial Future

Dana Brewer, CFP®
Mar 17, 2022 7:15:00 AM

young woman managing her personal finances on her laptop

What would you say if you could travel back in time and give your younger self some advice?  Would you tell yourself to slow down and enjoy each moment a little longer?  To quote Oprah, would you tell your younger self to "relax, stop being afraid" and to believe "everything is going to be alright?" 

While the advice to your younger self can be helpful, it can be even more beneficial when coupled with conversations with yourself about what is important. How can you talk to yourself today in a way that will make tomorrow better? 

While I would not consider myself a major sports fan, I appreciate the focus it takes to be good at anything–especially sports. Every day each of us gets the opportunity to plan our day and how we will spend our time. The challenge is to focus on areas of importance and avoid others that are not. Athletes need to be better than most at prioritizing to train. An athlete’s discipline to being their best can be applied similarly to financial discipline and decisions. Do you know how you’re going to prioritize your spending? Are you satisfied with how you prioritize these areas? If not, what neglected areas would most improve your life if you could devote greater care to their details?

Negotiating with Yourself

World-class NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant, talked about negotiating with yourself,  “I think it's how you negotiate with yourself. When you have those conversations with yourself, are you able to negotiate your way out of that little voice telling you it's not that important, or does that little voice get the best of you?”  

I know I can easily convince myself that sleeping in is better for me today than getting up and exercising, or this little bit of chocolate will not mess up my healthy eating for the day. But, for me, the voice that Kobe references often chirps up and sometimes is not so little.

When it comes to negotiating with yourself, do you tend to talk yourself into the things today that will make tomorrow better, or out of the things that result in tomorrow’s disappointments? How might you prepare yourself today to make tomorrow’s negotiations bring you better outcomes?

These last few years have thrown a wrench in everyone’s plan and it can be challenging to think about future projects and goals. Things have been changing from one week to another and it seems more complicated than ever to think about next week, next year, or even five years from now. But there is still a significant value in setting goals and objectives for your future.

Develop Good Financial Habits

Just like keeping your body healthy by developing good habits, you can improve your well-being by developing good financial habits. Below are a few good habits to get into:

1)           Create a Budget and Review Spending Habits Monthly

The first step to achieving financial well-being is knowing how much income you have and determining how much you can spend. Consider each spending category in an overall budget picture. For example, if you spend too much on housing, you will have less to spend on auto expenses or groceries. You can develop this budget with a simple spreadsheet or YNAB. Review your spending monthly. Consider monthly money meetings with yourself or with your financial partner.

2)           Automatically Invest

An easy way to invest in your future is through your employer retirement plan, investing automatically with each paycheck. In addition, many employers offer matching dollars to encourage employees to contribute. An employer match is essentially free money, which you may want to consider. Beyond this, your financial plan may suggest you invest additional money in your employer's retirement plan or other investments. The easiest way to do this is to invest the same funds every month. Preferably, these funds are invested either through your paycheck or automatically sent to your savings or investment account immediately upon your paycheck landing in your bank account.

3)           Current Me and Future Me

Write down where you would like to be financially in five or ten years. Then, break the goal down into smaller steps. Make the goal SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. 

For example, you may want to have saved $12,000 for a trip to Italy. Your SMART goal could be to set aside $100 per paycheck for the next five years in a savings account set up for this goal.

Or you may want to have paid off your car in three years instead of the five-year loan you started with so that in year four, you can put more money towards your child’s college account. What would it take to accomplish that goal, and will this goal make your tomorrow better?

How can you seamlessly incorporate the disciplines into your daily/weekly life? While you practice these habits, keep in mind their more significant purpose: They each support your ability to pursue your goals. In this way, achieving your big picture goals will become your lifestyle. In addition, working with a financial planner can help you break down your big goals into smaller bites that are more easily digestible. 

An often-quoted UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, “Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all. Initiative is the ability to act. Simple as that. You must prepare thoroughly in all ways. If you have done that, you must then summon the wherewithal to apply Initiative.” Take the first step–you can do this! 

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