Financial planning is vital to achieving your financial goals. Whether you are planning for the retirement of your dreams or looking to set aside some all-purpose savings, performing a detailed analysis of your income and spending is essential to drawing up an effective financial plan. Two other important components of financial planning are analyzing your investment portfolio to ensure it is properly allocated and estimating any insurance needs you may have.
When engaging in financial planning, it’s important to realize that taxes, retirement plans, and other financial conditions can vary depending on where you live. Financial planning in Malvern and the Philadelphia area is likely to involve different considerations than would be the case in other locales, especially those outside Pennsylvania. As a result, it can be advantageous to find a financial advisor who is knowledgeable about local conditions and can factor them into the planning process.
While drawing up a budget is a crucial component of financial planning, sticking to it is just as important; a multitude of important financial milestones, such as saving for retirement, buying a home or paying for a child’s college education, rely upon accurately budgeting your income and expenses.
When creating a budget, the following are factors to keep in mind:
- Be as realistic as possible
- Pay yourself first (set aside money for savings before making discretionary purchases)
- Perform regular budgetary reviews
- Consult with your spouse when drawing up a budget
- Track every dollar
- Allow for month-to-month variations
- Keep debt manageable
- Be prepared for unexpected expenses
In addition to budgeting, maintaining a healthy work-life balance should play a big part in your thinking when it comes to making financial plans. Saving for tomorrow is a necessary part of preparing for retirement, but the amount you set aside should take into consideration the impact doing so will have on your current lifestyle. Getting the balance between saving and spending right is crucial to successful financial planning.
In addition to finding an advisor familiar with conditions in Malvern or Philadelphia, PA, there are a number of other criteria to consider when trying to find the best financial advisor for you. These include:
- Credentials and training: Modern financial markets are complex, often requiring specialized training on the part of an advisor. Check with a prospective advisor to make sure he or she has sufficient training and the proper credentials to be able to provide the appropriate advice for your financial situation.
- The personal touch: While it’s possible to work with a financial planner remotely, most investors prefer working with a planner they can meet with in-person to discuss their financial goals and how to go about meeting them. It’s also important that your advisor reviews your progress towards achieving your financial goals with you on a regular basis and is available to answer any questions you may have between meetings.
- Cost transparency: Whether an advisor works for commissions or charges fees, it is important that he or she clearly explains to you both the method by which you will be charged and agrees to detail these expenses so that you can track them on an ongoing basis.
- Are they a fiduciary? Advisors considered to be fiduciaries are required to give financial advice based on what is in your best interest. Non-fiduciary advisors, typically including commission-only stockbrokers, are only required to offer financial advice that is considered “suitable” for your financial situation, a less rigorous standard.
Increasingly, financial advisors are offering their services on a fee-only basis. Finding an advisor who offers this type of billing arrangement is important because it helps remove a potential source of conflicts of interest between an advisor and his or her clients. Advisors who charge commissions face an inherent conflict of interest in that the more trades they make in a client’s account, the more their compensation increases, whether or not those trades make money for the client.
Fee-only advisors, on the other hand, face no such conflict as their compensation is not based on the number of transactions they make in your account. Advisors who charge fees based on a percentage of assets are incentivized to help you grow those assets because their compensation will rise as the value of your assets increases. Those who charge by the hour are motivated to give you the best advice possible because doing so is the best way for them to earn continued employment.
To ensure that you are receiving advice from a financial professional who has the training to provide you with comprehensive financial planning advice, look for advisors who have achieved the certified financial planner™ (CFP®) designation. Becoming a CFP® requires completing rigorous coursework and passing tests designed to verify that an advisor has mastered each segment of the financial planning process.
To maintain his or her status as a CFP®, an advisor must also adhere to the high ethical standards established by the CFP® organization’s governing board. Selecting a CFP® to help you plan for your financial future provides you with the peace of mind of knowing that you are working with an advisor who has the knowledge and training necessary to help you with every phase of the planning process.
All of the financial advisors at Financial Freedom Fee-Only Wealth Management are Certified Financial Planners™ (CFP’s®).
In today’s complex world, it is difficult to effectively plan for your financial goals in isolation. Trying to save for one goal, for instance buying a home, can have a significant impact on your other financial objectives (saving for a child’s college education, preparing for retirement, etc.).
How can you make plans that effectively incorporate all of your goals?
Comprehensive financial planning enables you to view your individual objectives separately and all together, giving you the ability to see how each piece of the puzzle fits into the overall plan. Such an approach goes beyond simply calculating how much money you are likely to need to meet specific financial goals and looks at your financial condition from a holistic perspective.
For instance, your health is an important component of meeting your financial objectives. Does your plan take into account health insurance? Disability insurance? Life insurance? If you are purchasing life insurance, should you buy permanent insurance such as whole or universal life, or term life? Should you buy long term care insurance?
Estate planning is another area that can be covered in a comprehensive financial plan. While planning for your estate may not be the most pleasant conversation to have, doing so ensures that your assets will be distributed in the manner you choose upon your passing. Laws regarding estate planning vary by state, so if your home is in Malvern or the Philadelphia area, be sure to discuss these matters with an advisor who understands the rules as they pertain to Pennsylvania residents. Estate planning doesn’t have to be complex, but it is important to understand basic concepts such as the difference between a trust and a will. Discussing these matters now can help provide the maximum benefit possible for your loved ones in the long run.
A financial advisor can help you understand how all these factors interact when it comes to designing a financial plan that is right for you. This includes helping you select and monitor investments to meet your savings goals and figure out how to budget and pay for insurance. Taking the time to engage in financial planning is an essential step towards securing your financial future. During the planning process, be sure to talk to your advisor about your plans for the future as well as your investments – given the inextricable link between the two both need to be considered when building a comprehensive financial plan.
At Financial Freedom Fee-Only Wealth Management we believe a comprehensive financial plan should address these areas of your financial life:
- Asset allocation, investment recommendations, and portfolio management
- Retirement planning
- College funding for children or grandchildren
- Risk management and insurances
- Cash flow and taxes
- Estate planning
- Stock options, executive compensation, etc.
Retirement planning is a subset of financial planning that focuses on the steps needed to build up enough funds to provide you with an acceptable level of income when you retire. This type of planning involves many moving pieces, including company retirement plans such as pensions and 401(k)s, Social Security, annuities and income paying insurance, among other sources of income. Above all, retirement planning requires the discipline to set aside funds today, whether in a company-sponsored retirement plan or in a non-qualified investment account, in order to enable that money to grow so that you can benefit from it when you retire.
Given everything that goes into the process, retirement planning can be intimidating to some people. Don’t let the complexity of the planning process cause you to delay making retirement savings plans: the earlier you start setting aside money for retirement the more likely you are to reach your savings objectives in time to retire when you want to, as opposed to having to wait until you can afford to. Either way, until you retire, it’s never too late to put aside money for retirement.
Whether you are just starting out in your career or are closing in on retirement, taking the time to evaluate your retirement objectives and set aside the money to fund them is crucial to making your retirement dreams a reality. To give themselves the flexibility to keep working as long as they like, even if only on a part-time basis, some investors prefer to plan for financial independence rather than setting a firm retirement date. Whatever your approach to retirement/financial independence, effective planning is key to reaching your goals.
Estimating the amount of Social Security benefits you will receive is an important part of the retirement planning process for many people. A financial planner can help you determine what claiming strategy to use when it comes time to start receiving benefits. It’s also important to think about the lifestyle you want to lead in retirement well before the time comes to move on to the next phase of your life.
The following questions are often asked in the retirement planning process:
- How will you spend your time in retirement?
- Are you confident you have selected the right place to live?
- Will there be sufficient social opportunities to keep you occupied?
- Are you saving enough to retire at a time of your choice?
- Are you investing in a way that will help you meet your retirement savings goals?
- How will your investments change as you get closer to retirement?
- What will you do with your 401(k) when you retire?
- How much can you afford to spend in retirement?
- How likely are you to outlive your savings?
Answering all of these questions and more like them can help you make important retirement-related decisions such as where you want to live and how much income you will likely need to enable you to enjoy the retirement lifestyle of your choice.
Your retirement plan should address issues such as:
- When will you start receiving income from your investments?
- When will you start taking Social Security benefits?
- How to handle Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts.
- When your pension payments start and what election options to use?
- How much of your retirement income is taxable?
- How will you cover healthcare expenses after you retire?
- Long-term care and longevity risk.
The issue of longevity risk, which refers to the risk of outliving your retirement savings, has become more relevant in recent years as lifespans have increased. With people living longer and longer, retirement planning has become increasingly necessary as a way to make sure you have covered all of the bases when it comes to providing yourself with income for an extended retirement. With the help of a financial advisor, constructing a comprehensive financial plan will give you a good idea of what you need to do to thoroughly prepare for retirement.
A financial planner will typically consider the following when helping you plan for retirement:
- Your current level of savings and investments
- Your amount of discretionary income
- Your risk tolerance
- Sources of retirement income other than your savings
- Your preferred retirement lifestyle
- Whether you are on track to meet your retirement savings goals
Your planner will monitor your progress towards your financial goals and help you address any challenges you face as you move towards retirement. He or she will often use retirement planning software to help illustrate your progress towards your goals and model any changes that need to be made due to changing circumstances. Such software enables your advisor to present a variety of options to help you reduce taxes and maximize the funds available to you in retirement.
Whether you are investing for retirement or for any other goal, professional investment management can help you meet your performance objectives. Investment management involves more than just selecting the right mix of assets, it also includes monitoring your investments and making adjustments as needed when your financial situation or investment objectives change. Additionally, it should feature close monitoring of the investments, whether in the form of mutual funds, ETFs, or separately managed accounts, within your portfolio.
An important part of investment management is analyzing the risk-adjusted performance parameters of a proposed portfolio. The expected risk and return parameters of a portfolio allocation should be taken into account when making investment decisions. Such a process can be used to generate an optimal portfolio allocation for an investor’s portfolio given their risk tolerance and investment objectives based on the historical performance of various asset classes.
Because different people will have different risk tolerances, talking with a financial advisor about how to handle risk is an important part of the planning process. To do well in the stock market over the long run requires being able to weather the ups and downs of the market – including both bear and bull markets.