Happy new year!
OK, that wish may seem a little out of synch entering the Labour Day weekend, but for a lot of people, the end of summer marks a point of renewal and a feeling of "back to work." It's a great time to make plans and move forward.
Hopefully, your summer included some serious relaxing and downtime. The beginning of September may, therefore, be the perfect opportunity to renew your commitment to your personal vision and goals and to update your financial plan.
All of this is top of my mind, as I spent the summer finishing a book I hope will help people achieve their financial and life goals. Here's a summary of some of the things I have found in my research.
The most important thing about achieving success is to set specific, measurable and challenging goals. The stronger your commitment to your goals, the more likely you are to reach them.
Close your eyes now and create a picture in your mind of where you want to be in three and five years. Make the picture vivid and clear in every detail. Think about how you will feel, the things you will be doing, the people you will be with and the freedom you are enjoying.
Be optimistic and create a picture that truly excites you. Make the picture real.
Now try to get more detailed. Make your goals SMART. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.
Research has proven the most important factor in achieving success is having specific goals and a written plan to reach those goals. (What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School, by Mark H. McCormack, Bantam Books.)
Next comes the Financial Planning Process -- the Six Steps.
Step 1 is to determine your starting point, by taking a snapshot of where you are today. This means adding up your assets (things you own) and your liabilities (amounts you owe) and calculating your net worth. You can set goals specific to asset growth, decreases in liabilities or tied to an increase in net worth.
Income and expenses are also part of that snapshot. What are your current expenses compared to your income? This helps you determine your saving capacity and the resources you have available to reach your goals. You might also want to set specific targets to decrease spending and live within your means.
Take a snapshot of other items, such as your tax situation, estate plan, life insurance needs and disability coverage.
Step 2 is setting those specific, measurable goals. This is a statement of where you want to go. If your goal is "increase my net worth 10 per cent by Dec. 31, 2013," then you can put a specific number on that goal and develop a plan to reach it.
Step 3 is determining the gap between where you are and where you want to go. This will present both challenges and opportunities. If your goal is to pay off certain debts by year-end, then writing down all your specific obligations, their interest rates and payment amounts will show you opportunities to reduce the interest rate on some, and ways to focus on certain debts first. By fixating on your goal, a plan will begin to develop. Don't hesitate to ask for help -- we all do.
Step 4 is examining the alternate routes to your destination. Again, help may be valuable. There are always many options in financial planning and it's important you examine several before you make your decisions.
Step 5 is putting the ideas into action -- executing your plan. Without action, there are only good intentions. Get going.
Your motivation will come from the plan itself and the vision of success it shows you. Remind yourself regularly of your vision, your goals and your reasons for wanting to achieve those goals.
Step 6 is to periodically review your progress and update your plan as needed. This is an important and ongoing activity to ensure planning is a process rather than a one-time event. As your situation changes, your plan will need to be updated and modified. For best success, this complete review and update should take place at least once a year, with quarterly measurements of progress along the way.
Financial planning can be an exciting autumn sport, and achieving financial success is certainly thrilling. Please put some time aside this weekend to get started, before all the other fall busy-ness starts to take over.
I will raise a glass to your success!
Dollars and Sense is meant as an introduction to this topic and should not in any way be construed as a replacement for personalized professional advice.
David Christianson is a fee-for-service financial planner with Wellington West Total Wealth Management Inc., a portfolio manager (restricted).