June 29, 2023
Empowering women is near and dear to our hearts, as we are both passionate about the topic. to help women succeed in every area of life – especially in our financial lives. It’s hard to “do it all.” Then how can we break things down to tackle something so important and not get overwhelmed? In this multi-part series, we will share aspects of our financial journeys and offer practical tips on building financial muscles from our individual experiences. In this first installment, we’ll explore the benefits of using discipline, structure and annual reviews as tools to help you achieve and maintain financial health. And please know, we are not perfect and don’t always do what we know to be good for our financial fitness. This is not about being perfect, it’s about taking steps towards what’s most important.
I am Cammie Doder, CMO. At work I am Aspiriant’s chief marketing officer; at home I’m the chief mommy officer. While I love and am enriched by both roles, they are equally intense and require a lot of time and attention. So, there’s not a lot of room for much else. But it’s critical to make time for the other things in life, like health and wellness and … financial fitness.
Health and wellness have been part of my routine since I was a young kid. Volleyball was my sport growing up and I learned important foundational skills that I continue to apply to my overall physical fitness – from physical activity to the food I consume. Where I lack that same discipline or routine is with my financial fitness. Hey, we all have to have our thing we struggle with, right?!?… Or do we? I’m committed to making my financial fitness a priority. In doing so, I am sharing some fundamental things I’ve learned from my colleagues at Aspiriant. These can apply to anyone interested in starting their journey to financial health.
You can’t achieve a goal if you don’t have a good system in place. I learned this from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. He also recommends making the changes small, so they are achievable. This advice holds true with health and fitness goals: chip away at them versus trying to tackle the whole thing at once. Make sure it’s repeatable.
I’ve been told that three is the magic number. From what I understand, our brains like patterns. Three is optimal as any more is challenging to retain. With that in mind, let’s discuss a few simple and achievable steps towards financial fitness:
You can’t squeeze this into your already packed schedule. Our colleague and Chief Client Officer, Sandi Bragar, recommends setting aside time for your financial fitness routine at least on a monthly basis. In other words, and this is definitely for me, don’t assume you can cram it into your already overflowing day. Set aside time – it’s important. Just like we set aside time for the other important things in our lives.
We suggest reviewing all your different accounts monthly. This type of consistency reinforces the first step. If you are challenged with knowing the right time, an easy way to fit it in is to review your statements as they are delivered either through mail or electronically. Below is a sample list of potential accounts to include:
Does everything look correct? Are there recurring transactions that need to be re-visited or subscriptions that are no longer being used? Are there opportunities in each to have a better result? For instance, should you invest some of the cash you have or are there better options to keep your cash that pay interest. Is it time to rebalance your portfolio? Those types of questions.
Our colleague Sandi’s second piece of advice is to take a few moments and reflect on your spending, saving, and investing. Do they reflect your values? Are you surprised by anything? Have a conversation about what you’ve observed with your spouse, partner, or a friend. These make for some rich money conversations.
Take the spending and earning information and establish a budget, or a spending plan. It can be as detailed as you want it to be. Start with an achievable goal.
For me, our budget – which is still aspirational as my husband and I are not consistent about keeping it up to date – is a high-level understanding of what we spend and where. When brought up to date, this is a great tool to help us ascertain whether our spending is in line with what we value most. Some might be “must haves” like our water. Some might be “nice to haves.” It’s ours to decide and creates another great mechanism for some fun money conversations. Aspiriant definitely believes in the importance and power of having money conversations – we demonstrate it each week on our Money Tales podcast.
I am Jan Vega, the director of wealth management. As a mom of two daughters, one of the financial habits I’ve built and look forward to is my annual financial checkup. Just like I set aside time for my yearly physical and other checkups, I give the same priority to my finances. It’s during this time that we update our personal financial statements and create our spending plan. Going through this exercise annually provides a foundation to discuss our goals and priorities as a family. We engage our daughters by talking to them about their extracurricular activities and passions as we make decisions and prioritize what to spend our money on each year.
Our daughters are at a great age where we can have honest conversations around the cost of activities and tradeoffs in the context of time and money. It has allowed us to share with them how we make financial decisions and give them the opportunity to practice making decisions and gain practical knowledge of how much things cost.
Regularly updating financial statements can be highly beneficial on the road to financial fitness. By keeping track of our cash flow (the amount of money we bring in minus our expenses and any money set aside for savings) and balance sheet (our financial snapshot of what we own minus what we owe), our family can easily assess and prioritize our financial wellness. Below are my three tips for maintaining financial health.
Our financial statements have become the central place to see all our accounts and assets. We can see how our net worth has changed from year to year and make decisions based on it. In our balance sheet, we also reference all bank and brokerage account numbers along with the names, allowing us to easily review and update every year. By updating our spending plan, we can see the categories where our spending has increased more than planned and adjust based on our priorities. It’s also helped us catch things like subscriptions that are on auto charge that we no longer need. It’s amazing how much those can add up!
Over the last couple of years, we sought out opportunities to re-finance and secure low-interest debt to take advantage of low rates. Banks often asked us to supply a personal financial statement (or balance sheet). Having one readily available made the process easier and faster. The hardest part is creating it the first time; once you’ve created it, updating it as needed or on an annual basis it is much easier.
Life insurance, retirement, estate planning, education planning – knowing where you stand now is so helpful in planning for the future. By looking at our net worth annually, we can see a snapshot which buckets we need to prioritize and adjust our planning. As our oldest daughter enters high school next year, we’ve focused on education planning. Our spending plan and net worth statement have been our key tools to guide our decision making on high school, summer programs and club sports while factoring in the potential future costs of college coming soon on the horizon.
At the end of last year, our family experienced a medical emergency which really reinforced the value of having regular financial habits in place. We were reminded that many medical conditions (even one-time occurrences) can affect your ability to get life insurance. Our process of evaluating and reviewing our finances annually allowed us to keep up to date on the amount of life insurance we wanted to have in place at the best and lowest premiums while we had no major health issues. If we tried to get the same life insurance coverage amount today, we likely would be declined for coverage or the premiums would be at a much higher cost. We also realized that regularly logging into our accounts forced us to put a password management system and a shared email account in place. By having these systems set up, I was able to retrieve my husband’s accounts and financial information easily and it was so helpful in communicating and acting on his behalf while he was in the hospital and recovering for several weeks.
We don’t profess to have all the answers as we are both works in progress. However, we believe prioritizing your financial health is just as critical as staying on top of your physical health. We hope our tips help you feel empowered to begin your journey on the road to financial fitness. We will share more in the coming months. In the meantime, if you have topics you would be interested in us discussing, please reach out to us. And whatever you commit to do, don’t berate yourself for what you don’t do. Celebrate what you have done. We’re sure it’s a great step in your financial fitness!
Want the latest wealth management tips, investment insights and Aspiriant news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for regular Fathom updates so we can send you the most relevant content you selected below.