emergency fund

The 4 Steps You Need to Take to Secure a Healthy Financial Future

By Christopher Haymon

Christopher Haymon is the founder of Adulting Digest.

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Are you planning for your financial future? If you’re like the average person, you’re more focused on today than tomorrow. But failing to plan comes with major consequences, and they don’t always wait until you’re 65+ to strike. These are the four steps you need to take to protect your family today and into the future.

1. Plan for Emergencies

According to a survey from GoBankingRates, 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account. That’s less than you need to cover a broken furnace or a trip to the emergency room, let alone a major event like losing a job.

If you’re among that 69 percent, prioritize building an emergency fund over other financial goals. Your emergency fund should cover three to six months of living expenses. This includes non-negotiable expenses like mortgage or rent, car payments, and utility payments, food, and gas. The exact amount in your emergency fund depends on your expenses along with other factors, such as benefits you might qualify for if you lost your job.

It’s also beneficial to have a general idea of how much your assets are worth when planning for emergencies. Assets include your home, cars, investments, and other items of value you own. You can use an online estimate to calculate an approximate value for your home.

2. Pay Down Debt

Debt seriously hampers long-term savings goals, especially if you have a lot of bad debt. Debt.org defines bad debt as debt that doesn’t increase your net worth or hold future value, and it’s this debt you should focus on paying off first. Common forms of bad debt are credit card debt and car loans. While student loans are often considered good debt, high balances can still make this debt burdensome, especially for privately held student loans with high interest rates.

There are two philosophies regarding paying off debt: paying off debt with the highest interest rate first, to minimize the total amount paid over time, or paying off debts with the smallest balance first, to build motivation by eliminating debt accounts. Choose the strategy that works for your finances and your morale.

3. Invest in Good Insurance

Life is full of unexpected events. If you’re not prepared in the event of a medical emergency, disabling health condition, or early death, you’re putting your financial security at risk.

Paying hundreds of dollars monthly for insurance is a hard pill to swallow, but when you look at the numbers, investing in insurance makes sense: one in four people will spend at least three months out of work due to a disabling condition, the average funeral cost is over $7,000 and is rising, and medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US.

Most Americans understand the value of a good health insurance policy, but life insurance and disability insurance are less understood. Disability insurance pays a portion of your income if you’re unable to work, both short-term and long-term disability policies are available. Many workers can purchase disability insurance through their employer at a discounted group rate. Life insurance pays money to beneficiaries in the event of the policy holder’s death. It’s important to have this if a spouse or children depend on your income or if you don’t have savings to pay for funeral expenses (though many people opt for burial insurance to help cover the cost of funerals). While many people opt for term life insurance due to lower premiums, a term policy doesn’t accrue cash value. Purchasing a whole life policy instead gives you the option to sell the policy later on to free up cash for retirement.

4. Save for Retirement

Unless you want to work until your final day, you need retirement savings. If your employer offers a 401(k), this is the best place to start. Workers contribute pre-tax income to a 401(k) through payroll deductions, and some employers match that contribution up to a set percentage. To save beyond the annual 401(k) contribution limit, or if you don’t have a 401(k), look to IRAs. You can save either pre-tax with a traditional IRA or post-tax using a Roth IRA. If you’ve maxed out both your 401(k) and IRA, talk to your financial advisor about other ways to invest.

You can’t afford to put off thinking about the future. While today may be comfortable, tomorrow won’t be without a strong financial foundation. Whether you’re just getting your finances on track or looking to expand your investments, talk to a financial counselor about how you can better prepare for your financial future.

How Much Should You Save In Your Emergency Fund?

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You’ve most likely heard many variations of answers when it comes to the question of “How much should I have in my emergency fund?” From $1,000, to six months of expenses, up to a year, and anywhere in between. These answers vary from person to person, so it’s hard to know which amount will be right for you.

We’ve come up with some guidelines for you to evaluate your situation and figure out just how much you should have saved in your emergency fund before taking the next steps towards financial freedom. Check them out below!

What is your living/family situation like?

The first thing you’ll need to consider is how many people you’ll need to support should you have to rely on your emergency fund for a while. If it’s just you, obviously you’ll need less than someone who is married with three children, or who has their elderly parent living with them. Keep in mind that the more people you have to support, the less your emergency fund money will be spent on you directly.

How do you pay for your living arrangements?

Do you have a mortgage? Do you rent an apartment? How long do you want to be able to make payments before going to work again, should you lose your job or have medical leave or maternity/paternity leave? Are you paying for it all yourself, or are you splitting payments with someone?

Do you own a vehicle?

If you car is your primary source of transportation with no options of biking, walking, or public transportation, you need to take that into account when building your fund. If your car breaks down, you have to be able to fix it as soon as possible so you can continue to go to work.

How much do you spend each month on bills?

Similar to how you assess your living payments, figure out how much you pay monthly on bills. Are there any bills you could negotiate to a lower monthly rate? Are there any recurring subscriptions that you could cancel (whether you’re even aware of them or not)? Do you split costs with anyone? Knowing how much goes out each month will help you figure out how much you can put into savings each month, and how much you’ll need to live three-to-six months without worrying about extra income should the situation arise.

How much do you spend on extra expenses (non-necessary)?

Ah, here come the worst part. We all have to have our vices now and again, but how often do you indulge? Those daily coffee runs can add up, so see where you can cut back. After that, figure out how much this monthly cost is, and figure out if you’ll be able to spend that much after you put away your monthly savings contribution.

Do you have savings already?

Perhaps you have some money tucked away already, but you aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Figuring out a goal for your emergency fund helps give those dollars just floating into accounts a job to do. Plus - you’ll have a cushion already, and you’ll be that much closer to hitting your goal and taking your next financial steps.

Do you use healthcare frequently?

How often you need to visit the doctor and dentist will drastically affect your emergency fund. Make sure you have enough saved to cover any co-pays, medication, and hospital visits should an emergency arise.

Do you have debt to pay off?

If you do, hopefully you’re already making monthly payments. Make sure to figure out how much you can pay if you need to rely on your emergency fund to cover costs. That being said, don’t dip into your emergency fund to pay for debt if you don’t have to. Ideally, this account should be used for last-minute emergencies that may come.

Do you expect a major financial crisis to occur in the next year?

Obviously, it’s hard to predict financial crises, but if you feel as though you may have to make a big payment (for example, you have a feeling your car will break down for good and you need solid transportation), it’s good to trust that intuition and budget accordingly. Hope for the best, but expect the worst (or at least, prepare yourself for it).

What number are you comfortable with?

All in all, it really depends on what number you feel you’ll be comfortable living off of for an extended period of time. Ideally. you won’t need to use your emergency fund hardly ever, but it’s good to have a solid number and time frame should you end up in that situation.

Still not sure how much you should save? Contact us for a free consultation, and we’ll be able to tell you exactly what you should do!