In order to succeed at anything, you’re going to need the right tools for the job. People can make all sorts of recommendations on how best to tackle your task, but you’re the one who’ll need to do the hard work. One of the jobs a financial advisor has is recommending retirement tools that will make working towards your goals easier.
When you go to your doctor, your doctor is going to recommend changes that will improve your health. Maybe you need to lose weight. They might tell you to exercise more and eat better. You might have to cut down or give up doing something you really enjoy. A doctor will give you all sorts of advice on how to make you better, but the reality is that you’re the one that needs to make changes.
My own doctor has made several recommendations over the years. He told me to head to the gym for my sore back. I needed to change my diet as I aged. He offered advice on how to handle the stress of being a small business owner. He recommended changes. There was just one important caveat; I had to make these changes myself. A doctor can’t make the changes they recommend, they can only offer their advice and show you the tools you need.
As a financial advisor, my role is very similar. I can make recommendations and I can provide you with the tools you need. The quality of the advice and guidance you get from an advisor is key to your success. The two professional designations I have educated me on the tools and advice that works best for my clients’ needs. The Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) educated me on the tools, products, and the complete financial planning process. The Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠ (CRPC) focused specifically on how to act as a retirement counselor.
My job is to tell you what you need to do to reach your goals. Your job is to make the changes needed. Below are some of the tools we’re going to need to get you there.
- Your Financial Records
- A Good Budget
- Planning Calculators
- A Plan to Follow
- Someone to Keep You On Track
The first tool you need to have available are your financial records. Without them, neither you nor your advisor will be able to understand your current situation. Why is this information an important retirement tool? The reason is that the information helps with creating a budget, helps discover tax savings, allows you to uncover areas of additional savings, and helps with protecting you from the unexpected.All of which will help you develop a retirement plan.
Here are a few of the records you’ll want to make sure to have:
- Checking and savings statements
- credit card statements
- Pay stubs
- Loan Documents
- Legal papers such as wills, birth certificates, and so on
- Income tax returns and claim deductions receipts
- Automotive information
- Health records
- job papers
- Homeowner papers
- Social Security and plan information
Having a budget is obviously important. It helps track your income and spending. This allows us to identify money that we could be putting towards your retirement goals. The problem with a budget is, quite honestly… they’re boring. Budgets are boring to create and a bore to maintain. Most people never create a budget, and the few that do often find it difficult to maintain.
When I teach my financial literacy class, I pass out a four page excel spreadsheet to my students that has every little item that you could possibly track. Each time, their eyes either glaze over or they look at me with panic. I have a simple point to make… don’t overcomplicate things. There is no point tracking every penny. The only thing that will accomplish is you giving up on following the budget.
I recommend that they start simple. Take what items they want from the budget and create their own. You can go online and download all sorts of templates to make your own. There are paid programs like Quickbooks or free software like Mint that help you organize your budget (Keep in mind, a service like Mint will sell your information and attempt to sell you investment products). My clients can aggregate all of their bank, savings, and retirement accounts in one place as well as craft a budget that considers their cash flow.
Whatever way works best for you, set up a budget. Try your best to stick with it, BUT DON’T BECOME A SLAVE TO IT. A budget is just one of your retirement tools. It’s necessary, so you don’t want it to become a burden. It’s there to make your life easier, not harder.
Calculators will help you get an idea how much to save, how much you may have to live on in retirement, or how much insurance you should cover. A quick search of the internet can find retirement calculators, life insurance calculators, educational saving calculators, and many more. These are simple ways to get started with savings.
Take advantage of these tools. They are cheap and affordable. Unfortunately, there are limitations. The trade off with free is the fact that these calculators can only offer generic information. Additionally, they are quite simple compared to more advanced retirement tools. The software I use for financial planning is able to look at every unique aspect of my client. The old fashioned financial calculator I use, Hewlett Packard’s 10BII Financial Calculator, has a 144-page long instruction manual.
The point here is that a tool is only as good as the maker and the user. Start simple, but know when it’s time to reach out to a professional.
You’re putting money away into your retirement account. Your budget showed you how much extra you can save at the bank. Are you putting away enough? That’s the question most people really want answered. Up until this point, the retirement tools you need have been tools everyone can take on with varying degrees of success. The next two tools, a financial plan and ongoing advice, are tasks a professional will help with.
A financial plan takes, on average, about ten hours to complete. The reason is that a financial plan has to look at your budget, your financial records, insurance documents, investment accounts, risk tolerance, tax liabilities, and even estate planning. Sure, there are places that will shoot out a quick retirement roadmap after a ten minute phone call and then ask you to spend thousands in commissions. You’re not getting a financial plan for that kind of money (though you should be).
A financial plan is going to provide you with specific changes that you need to make in order to make the goals that are unique to your situation. Like the doctor analogy, you need to follow through on these recommendations. If you’re working with a fee only advisor, you can request that your advisor manage some or all of your investment portfolio. You’ll still need to make sure you’re following your budget and putting away the right amount of money though.
That’s not always easy to do, which is why the next retirement tool is so valuable.
Ongoing Advice and Counseling
The first three retirement tools are things you can take on yourself. If you want to have a financial plan created, you can reach out to a financial planner and request a project based plan. If you really want to protect your goals, you have to protect them from the biggest obstacle in reaching them.
For most of the people I’ve worked with over the last decade, the biggest obstacle to success was themselves. During the Great Recession, clients sold everything despite the fact that most wouldn’t need the money for decades. I once had a client hold on to a single stock because he retired from the company… he was down 8% for the year while a diversified portfolio was up around 10% for the same timeframe. An engineer I had worked with had a 10-year average rate of return of 1%. He would move all of his investments into the hottest stock of the year not realizing that investment was at the peak.
There are many tools that will help you achieve your long term financial goals. An objective guide is perhaps the most valuable one. The best path to success is not only building a financial plan, but adhering to one. That’s not always easy when times are tough. A good guide will help you get through to the end.