By Jaymon Meikle, Financial Advisor
The year 2020 was many things to different people, but one universal feeling is that it didn’t go how anyone had planned.
Even though we’ve already had a rocky start to 2021, this year brings the hope that the world will go back to something resembling normal as more people are vaccinated.
With the prospect of life getting back to “normal” and lives stabilizing – at least to the level it was before COVID – I wanted to remind everyone to try and focus on the basics when it comes to their finances as we go through this transition. Those three basics include:
1. Set Up an Emergency Fund (Mental Minimum)
Some of us last year were lucky enough to not lose our jobs or have our wages reduced, but many people did. This is the exact reason why having an emergency fund is so important. No one ever intends to lose their job or for the unexpected expense, but if you had an emergency fund with cash readily available to you, you can cushion the financial blow.
People often ask how much they should have in their emergency fund.
I have personally heard anywhere from six weeks of living expenses up to 12 months of living expenses. Honestly, you could ask 10 different advisors and get 10 different responses.
What I like to ask – an idea from a friend and fellow advisor – is: What is your mental minimum?
Your mental minimum is however much you need readily available so that you can sleep comfortably at night. Whether that’s one month or 18 months of living expenses – it’s up to you and what your preference is.
I would add a caveat that it shouldn’t go below one month, even if you’re fully comfortable with it. You need a small buffer.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Debt
One thing that I will always give Dave Ramsey credit for is the work that he’s done to help educate people on the risk of debt.
It can be argued that his perspective is a little extreme, but his premise is good: Everyone should avoid all unnecessary debt.
Now, I’m not going to lecture anyone on financing a car or other large purchases because the reality for most people is that we don’t have the cash to buy a car outright. But just because you can squeeze in the monthly payment with the rest of your bills doesn’t mean you should.
Something my wife and I like to do to help dissuade ourselves from using debt, especially credit cards, for a purchase is to add what the interest payment would be on top of the purchase price.
For example, if we were tempted to buy something because it was a really good deal due to it being 10% off but have to use our credit card with a 15% interest charge on it, we would actually be paying 5% over the market price for that item.
If debt has become a problem for you, then I would urge you to read Dave Ramsey’s work. It’s going to be a rough road ahead, but you will get through it if you put in the work!
3. Stick to a budget
Sticking to a budget will help you establish an emergency fund and avoid unnecessary debt, because you will have a plan for your money. By creating a budget you take control over how much is coming in and how much is going out of your bank account.
Too often people’s “budget” mindset is, “If I have money in my account then I can spend it.” That eventually leads to spending more than they should.
One of the benefits of technology is having access to dozens of free or inexpensive budgeting tools. My wife and I use YNAB (You Need A Budget) which helps us designate where the money is going before we spend it. But there are plenty of other great tools that can be used like Mint or a simple spreadsheet.
The important thing is to have a budget that works for you and is simple to stick with.
There are several other basics to everyone’s financial lives that could use fine-tuning, but these three are ones that I have seen make the biggest impact.
If you would like to talk about your personal situation or anything that is of concern to you, please contact us at 623-869-7222.
Wishing you all the best 2021!
This is not intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor.