The recent recession caused Americans to face some hard economic realities, but now the number of people putting off life decisions such as marriage, having children, buying a house and higher education is shrinking. However, bad financial habits are making a comeback as fewer people report making positive changes to their financial behavior. While the economy is stable, it's a great time to take a look at your financial plan to make sure you're not ever held back by your bank account.
There are many ways you can make sure financial worries don’t get in the way of life goals. The AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission recommends the following:
- Navigate expenses with a long-term financial plan. Establishing and sticking to a realistic plan to achieve your long-term goals, like a home purchase and funding retirement, can help you avoid difficult decisions that may hurt your financial wellness.
- Manage spending with a month-to-month budget. A current view of your income and how much of it is absorbed by obligations like rent and car payments can help you make better spending decisions. By knowing what you have available, you won’t find yourself having spent part of next year's income for this year's costs of living.
- Use credit cards cautiously. The temptation to overspend may be strongest when you feel like you're "riding high" and the media signals a growing economy -- but keep in mind that the economy has ups and downs, and even the most promising careers can come with an unplanned employment gap. Unpaid balances that grow with high interest charges, along with an income interruption from an unexpected layoff, can be a “perfect storm” of financial distress. If you can’t pay off your balances with cash each month, you’ve gone too far.
- Shore up resources. The economy is a roller coaster. Enjoy the time at the top, but make sure you’re buckled in for the drop. Take any extra income and use it to pad your emergency fund. If you’re in the type of work that would do layoffs during a downturn, start networking in your industry now so that if you do lose your job, you’ll have others who know you to help you find a new position.
- Rebalance your investment portfolio. After the market gains of the last couple of years, it’s time to make sure that your investment portfolio (both inside and outside of retirement plans) still carries an appropriate risk profile and that the proportion of “safe” investments such as money market accounts is sufficient to carry you through an unexpected financial setback. This rebalancing is critical on a periodic basis, especially after a long run-up in the market.