A financial plan is a comprehensive overview of your financial goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Financial plans are usually written down in physical documents to make them as concrete as possible. Many people combine their financial plan with an investment plan, as investing is often part of what will help you save for the future. Other important aspects of a financial plan include an estate plan, a college savings plan, a retirement plan and more.
Do you need help building a comprehensive financial plan for the future? Speak with a financial advisortoday.
What Is a Financial Plan?
A financial planidentifies, organizes and prioritizes your financial goals, then outlines the steps you need to take to achieve them. They can also lend some insight as to if you’re on track to meet your financial goals or if you need to make adjustments to your spending. These plans may revolve around consolidating debt, opening bank or brokerage accounts, establishing a savings regime or building an investment plan.
Financial plans can stretch over years, months or decades, depending on the time horizon of your goals. But through seemingly small steps, like having a monthly savings goal or investing a portion of your paycheck, your financial plan can lead to much better preparation for the future.
Financial plans are typically flexible too, allowing for any possible life changes or unforeseen events. This could encompass an extended hospital stay, a marriage, the birth of a child, a move, a new job and more.
What Are the Essential Components of a Financial Plan?
You’ll want to create an extensive financial plan for you and your family to ensure it’s as effective as possible. To do this properly, you will need to involve multiple aspects of your financial life, such as your tax returns, retirement accounts and investments.
There are a number of key elements that are typically involved in a good financial plan. Although they all affect your money in different ways, their cumulative effect dictates what your financial future will look like.
Here are the financial categories and sub-categories to focus on:
Parts of a Financial Plan
|– Cash flow statement showing your income sources and expenses
– Balance sheet that reviews your assets and liabilities
– Positives and negatives of your current financial situation
– Education funding plan
|– Investment portfolio return reports
– Asset allocation plans
– Overview of retirement account investments
|– Post-retirement and Social Security income estimates
– Post-retirement lifestyle plan
|– Estate/inheritance tax estimates
– Completed will
– Philanthropic gift planning
|– 401(k) and IRA contribution plan
– Capital gains and income tax returns
|– Long-term care, disability and life insurance
– Beneficiary and survivor benefit plan
The 5 Main Steps to Creating a Financial Plan
Most people have a wide range of short- and long-term financial goals, from paying down debt toplanning for retirementto building a college fund. But since everyone’s personal situation is unique, each financial plan will look a bit different. In general, though, there are five main steps to the creation of any in-depth financial plan:
- Determine your financial goals.
- Pull together any relevant documents and account statements that paint a picture of your current financial situation.
- Create a short- and long-term plan to reach your financial goals.
- Begin putting your financial plan into practice.
- Adjust your financial plan as your life and goals change.
Step #1: Outline Your Financial Goals
The first thing you need to do when putting together a financial plan is determine exactly what you want to accomplish. Start by reviewing possible short- and long-term goals and objectives. These might include placing a down payment on a house, paying off your student loans or buying a brand new car. These goals will become the driving force of your financial plan.
Look at your financial future as a whole when outlining these goals. All of your finances are connected, so don’t just focus on one aspect. For example, when it comes to family planning, you may want to think about not only starting a college savings fund, but also putting a down payment on a house.
Step #2: Collect Information About Your Finances and Investments
Once you’ve established goals and you’ve gotten help if you want it, you can begin an overview of what your financial situation looks like. Include any assets and liabilities, such as properties, investments, retirement accounts and loans. Analyzing all of this information providesa more accurate understanding of your current financial standing.
When you’re collecting information, start with consistent items like your rent or mortgage, utility bills and other fixed expenses. Then look at your spending history to get an idea of what you normally spend on things like groceries, entertainment, travel, clothes, etc. And of course, you’ll want to have a clear sense of your income, including your paycheck and any investment or rental income.
Knowing where you stand now will help determine the next steps you need to take to achieve your goals. You can tweak your goals or timeline based off your starting point, determining their practicality and feasibility.
Step #3: Construct a Comprehensive Financial Plan
With your financial standing and goals defined, you can start developing the actionable steps of your financial plan. Most likely, this will include saving money for retirement, an emergency fund or a big purchase. Investing will also likely play a prominent role in your financial plan – over the long term, investing in the market is the best way to grow your wealth.
How exactly you invest will be up to your individual preferences and risk tolerance. If you work with a financial advisor, she can help you determine the best asset allocation between large and small-cap stocks, bonds, cash, and alternative investments for your preferences.
If one of your goals is a big purchase like a house or a new car, then you’ll also want to include in your plan steps to build up your credit. You won’t need to do much if you already have an excellent credit rating. If your rating isn’t where it should be though, part of your plan should be to focus on paying credit card bills and student loans on time and other methods for building up credit.
Finally, if you have significant debt, part of your plan will be to pay it down. How exactly you go about it, if you get a consolidation loan or not, if you increase your monthly payment or if leave it unchanged will be dependent on your situation.
A financial advisor can help with the financial planning process, offering recommendations based on your financial overview. Whether it’s suggesting asavings minimum or proposing a debt repayment timeline, they are there to help. Take into account any risks or alternatives they point out. If your financial plan ever needs to be changed,these steps can prevent you from getting stuck.
Step #4: Implement Your Financial Plan in Your Everyday Life
Once you’ve created your plan, it’s time to put it in action. It may be easier to start off small, rather than immediately jumping into the deep end. For example, instead of saving half your paycheck at once, start saving in small increments.
The timeline of your financial plan can stretch for years, so there may not be any immediate results. But stick to the steps outlined in your plan and you will reach those milestones in no time.
It’s important to follow the steps you set in your financial plan. However, it’s just as important to recognize that unexpected things do happen, from startinga new job to having a medical emergency. Any situation that arises that you didn’t expect can impact your finances, so you should make changes to your plan accordingly. That way, itcan better reflect your financial standing.
Step #5: Periodically Revise Your Long-Term Financial Plan
Of course, financial changes may impact your ability to reach your financial goals. You’ll want to check on your plan to see if you can still meet those goals after those unexpected hurdles. If not, you can easily change the plan. You canalter your timeline, set a higher savings minimum or change the goal altogether.
Meeting with your financial advisor every few months can be helpful. If necessary, they can help make changes to your plan to steer you back on track. Be adaptable and open with your advisor when it comes to revising yourplan according to new objectives or setbacks.
Financial Planning With the Help of a Financial Advisor
While it’s certainly possible to craft a financial plan on your own, it’s an exceptionally difficult process. This is where are afinancial planning-focused financial advisorcan come in handy.
Financial advisors differ from specialized professionals like estate planning attorneys, as they focus on a more holistic overview of financial planning. They provide not only an overarching gauge of your overall situation, but also extensive advice to help you meet your goals. They can also help you create a tax-friendly plan.
When choosing a financial advisor to build a financial plan with, look for those with designations likecertified financial planner (CFP)or chartered financial consultant (ChFC). These certifications ensure that the advisor has garnered the proper education and experiencein the financial planning field. However, just because an advisor might not have these certifications doesn’t mean they’re not qualified to help you.
Though financial advisorsoften have an overall understanding of financial planning, most work within specific financial fields. For example, anadvisor may specialize in services for those close to retirement, while others work more with younger people clients. Therefore, pick an advisor that closely aligns with where you are in life.
A financial plan helps you responsibly manage your money and plan for the future. Though making a plan may take some time and dedication, it will likely pay off in the long run. In turn, you’ll have a clearer path to the future for you and your family. Don’t be afraid to seek out a financial advisor if you’re unsure of where to begin with your financial plan.
Tips for Building a Financial Plan
- Financial plans can get complex, so having the help of a professional can be extremely beneficial. Financial advisors often provide financial planning services, along with investment advice if you need it. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisorswho serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Do you want to start investing on your own? Start by opening a brokerage account and selecting an asset allocation for your personal risk tolerance.A robo-advisorservice can further simplify your investments, as they invest your money based on proprietary algorithms.
- For DIYers, there are plenty of useful financial planning software options on the market. Check out SmartAsset’s list of financial planning software to learn more.
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As someone deeply entrenched in the world of personal finance, I've spent years delving into the intricacies of financial planning, investment strategies, and wealth management. My expertise spans across various aspects of financial planning, including budgeting, investing, retirement planning, estate planning, tax planning, and risk management. Over the years, I've assisted individuals and families in crafting comprehensive financial plans tailored to their unique goals and circumstances, guiding them through the complexities of financial decision-making and helping them navigate towards a secure financial future.
Now, let's dive into the concepts covered in the article you provided:
Financial Plan Overview: A financial plan is a roadmap that outlines your financial goals and the steps required to achieve them. It encompasses various elements such as budgeting, investing, retirement planning, estate planning, and more.
Components of a Financial Plan:
- Budgeting: Tracking income and expenses, assessing assets and liabilities, and planning for education funding.
- Investing: Managing investment portfolios, asset allocation, and retirement account investments.
- Retirement Planning: Estimating post-retirement income, designing post-retirement lifestyle, and considering Social Security benefits.
- Estate Planning: Estimating estate/inheritance taxes, drafting wills, and planning for philanthropic gifts.
- Tax Planning: Strategizing contributions to retirement accounts, managing capital gains, and optimizing tax returns.
- Risk Management: Securing insurance coverage for long-term care, disability, and life, as well as planning beneficiaries and survivor benefits.
Steps to Creating a Financial Plan:
- Determining Financial Goals: Identifying short- and long-term financial objectives.
- Collecting Financial Information: Gathering data on assets, liabilities, income, and expenses.
- Constructing a Comprehensive Plan: Developing actionable steps aligned with financial goals.
- Implementing the Plan: Executing the financial plan in daily life, starting with manageable steps.
- Periodically Revising the Plan: Adjusting the plan in response to life changes, financial shifts, or unexpected events.
Financial Planning with a Financial Advisor:
- Highlighting the role of financial advisors in crafting holistic financial plans.
- Advising on choosing certified advisors (CFP or ChFC) with relevant expertise.
- Emphasizing the importance of seeking professional guidance, especially for complex financial matters.
Tips for Building a Financial Plan:
- Recommending the use of financial advisors for personalized guidance.
- Suggesting tools like brokerage accounts, robo-advisors, and financial planning software for self-directed planning.
- Encouraging individuals to start investing and seek professional assistance when needed.
By incorporating these concepts into a well-crafted financial plan, individuals can better navigate their financial journey and work towards achieving their long-term objectives.