Like physical fitness, financial fitness does not happen overnight. It takes dedication and discipline to reshape your bottom line, especially if you are not used to sticking to a budget. We all have poor habits that affect our health and personal savings, and to increase wealth, we must fight those habits. As Hall of Fame golfer Sam Snead once said, “Practice puts brains in your muscles.” Here are a few ways you can practice financial fitness.
1. Set and review your goals
Odds are you already have some short-term financial goals, so the first step is to get them on paper and make them part of a larger picture. It’s essential to look at the long term, not just your immediate wants and needs, and make time to review your goals at least once a year. Your priorities may change depending on what’s going on in your life.
2. Tackle your day-to-day finances
Next, review your daily spending habits. This is where you can see your most significant results. No matter how well thought out your long-term plan may be, you may be tempted to make small purchases without regard for your budget. Track your spending habits to find ways to cut unnecessary expenses. The good news? Establishing a budget—and sticking to it—is easier than ever, thanks to technology. And even if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, often learning to use financial apps is not as hard as it looks.
3. Pay down your debt
As you examine your spending habits, it’s also a good idea to tackle your existing debt. Some debt—such as a mortgage or credit cards—can be refinanced at a lower interest rate. This can lower your minimum payments and save you money over the life of the loan. You should also review your interest rates to identify which debt is the most costly. The higher the interest rate, the faster you want to pay it back.
4. Don’t forget your investments
Many of us find it stressful to make investment decisions; once we’ve allocated our funds, we tend just to leave them alone. That’s why it’s a good idea to do an annual review of your investment - on your own or with a financial advisor - to make sure you’re adjusting for changing markets and life events.
Make sure your portfolio is diversified with a mix of high-risk/return investment and safer/lower yielding investments that you feel good about. Money Market Accounts and Certificates - also known as CDs or Certificates of Deposit - are safe investments that are appropriate for any investment strategy. If you’re concerned about tying up your money in a Certificate for too long, you’ll want to learn about CD laddering.
5. Take care of the paperwork
Finally, there’s the paperwork. Two things most of us would rather ignore are insurance and a will, but believe it or not, spending a little time on them can put your mind at ease. Find out if you have the right kind of insurance for the right amounts, and whether you’re paying a fair price for it. It’s always good to shop around each time your policies renew. Premiums for auto and home insurance are profoundly impacted by the deductible you choose; you’ll want to be sure your deductible is an amount you’ll be comfortable paying if you should need to file a claim.
If you don’t already have a will and a living will, it’s time to get these critical documents taken care of. If you already have a will and a living will, any change in your life situation, such as marriage, a new child, or a move is an excellent time to review both and see if you need to change any of your choices.
There’s no secret formula or one-size-fits-all solution to becoming financially fit. Like physical fitness, your financial fitness is entirely unique to you. Taking charge of your finances may be overwhelming at first, and it may take you a while to see change. But in the long run, you’ll be glad you decided to evaluate whether your spending habits add value to your life.