Most people don't set out on a road trip without settling on the route they'll take — but chances are they haven't done the same with their financial goals. A variety of surveys, including recent ones from Fidelity and Charles Schwab, show that at least 75% of Americans don't have a financial plan.
"People don't lay out paths that get themselves to retirement, to having money put away for college tuition, even to having a basic emergency fund," says Jean Chatzky, CEO of HerMoney.com and bestselling author of books including "Women with Money."
Without a plan for their financial future, many people end up winging it, and that can make them ill-prepared for retirement or any emergencies that might pop up.
Don't feel discouraged if you find the process of trying to create a plan overwhelming, either, says Chatzky: "It's a challenge for most human beings." Here are two of her tips for making the process simpler.
If you're among those who have been winging it, the first step to take is to figure out what your goals are, Chatzky recommends. Your goals may well be personal, like buying a home, planning for a family, or saving for retirement.
"Take a step back and say, 'What do I want my money to do for me this year?'" she says. "'What do I want it to do for me in a couple of years? What do I want it to do for me five or 10 years down the road?'"
With those aims in mind, you'll need to divvy up your money each month so that you can start saving up, and investing, for short-, medium, and long-term goals.
If you've never created a personal budget, many experts recommend the 50/30/20 rule. It suggests you allocate 50% of your take-home pay to basic living expenses, 30% to discretionary spending, and the remaining 20% to savings and investments.
The earlier you can start planning your future, the better, as the money moves you make in your 20s and 30s will shape the rest of your life. Still, many small steps — such as the ones we outlined in Grow's 30-day easy money makeover — can help you save or earn more at any time in life.
And while you may have ideas for your goals, it's important to really think through what you want. "Give yourself a little bit of time and a little bit of space, either with yourself or with a partner if you have one, to just focus," Chatzky says. And then ask yourself: "'What do I want and how can I use my limited resources in order to accomplish those things?'"
With far-off goals that may be hard to envision, like retirement, it can be helpful to spend some time crunching the numbers. That will help you to see how the contributions you make today will add up over time, thanks to compounding interest. And by getting specific about your goals and needs, you'll also be able to figure out how much money you need to retire comfortably.
"It's really important to be really structured about what you want your money to do for you and how you're actually going to get there," Chatzky says.
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