Financial planning can have a profound impact on your peace of mind and improve your confidence about reaching your goals.1 But do you need to hire a financial advisor to get all the benefits a financial plan can provide? Not necessarily. If you’re up for the challenge, you can do it yourself—and you may even enjoy it.
What is a financial plan?
A financial plan is a blueprint for managing your money. It's often constructed on some key financial pillars: spending, saving for the future, managing debt, protecting what you already have, and estate planning. But your starting point and the priorities you set are unique to you.
Flexibility is the name of the game when planning because your priorities may change as your life evolves. For instance, you may be focused on paying down debt now and saving money to travel or buy a home. But what if things change unexpectedly? Having a plan in place can help you change course since you'll already know what you need to maintain your current lifestyle, where you stand in regard to your goals, and the safeguards you have in place in the form of insurance and savings.
How to create a financial plan
With the right tools and a process for evaluating your situation and identifying what to do next, you can build your own financial plan
To get started, consider the short- and long-term goals you'd like to focus on. For example, you may know you want to retire one day in 20 years or so. But before that you want to build your emergency savings, pay down debt, and send the kids to college. That's a lot to tackle at once, so it can make sense to break it all down into manageable chunks and take it one goal at a time.
Here’s a 3-step process for doing just that.
1. Pick a goal and identify your financial resources
Whether it's a short- or a long-term pursuit, your goal is the destination and your current income, debtLog In Required, and spendingLog In Required and savings are the starting points. Identifying how much money you have coming in and going out will show you how much is left over—that’s the money you can save. Taking a close look at your spending can also help identify areas where you could spend less if you want to put more cash toward your goals.
Tip: With Fidelity's planning tools, you can add outside accounts to your planning dashboard so you can see everything in one place and get clear insights into your assets and liabilities.
You should know: Your insurance coverage and estate plan are critical pieces of protection and part of your financial resources. Though you can't spend them, insurance and planning documents like a will can help protect what you have in a worst-case scenario.
Get tactical: Define what you want to work toward. Research has found that having a specific goal in mind can help improve your odds of success versus a vague commitment to save more or spend less.2 You can even create a goal and name it in Fidelity’s plan summary. You’ll also be able to add as many goals as you like, see where you stand, and track your progress.
But let's just start with one. Saving for retirement is a goal for many of us but who has time to figure it all out?
To start a retirement savings plan, go to the Fidelity website and navigate to the planning summary tabLog In Required (login required). (You can do this on the Fidelity app as well.) Add a retirement goal and answer a few quick questions to get started. The questions will help you progress through the planning steps. At the end, you'll see where you stand with your goal, plus suggestions on next steps to help reach your goal.
2. Evaluate where you stand
Now that you have all of your financial details in one place, evaluate your entire financial picture with your goals.
This should help you see how achievable your goals are and gauge the progress you’re making toward them. Just seeing everything in one place can help you set your priorities and move on to the next phase of planning.
Back to our retirement example, once Fidelity’s planning tool has your goal and your resources in place, it can estimate what you could have, and what you likely need, in retirement. We'll start with your full Social Security retirement age but you can set a target retirement age. Then you'll get an estimate of how much money you may have in retirement and how much you may spend. If the numbers don't look right, you can adjust them.
Finally, you'll get an estimate of your potential monthly income in retirement and any surplus or shortfall you may have.
Of course, most people have more than one savings goal. Some of them may be short term—taking a vacation or making some home improvements—while others are long term, like retirement or sending the kids to college. Fidelity’s tool allows you to set multiple goals, and align your resources to them to give you a fuller picture. For now, the retirement goal is the only goal that will show a shortfall or surplus chart.
3. Taking the next steps
A clear snapshot of your full financial picture can help you understand how much money you have versus what you may need. If you're on track toward one or more goals, celebrate and start conquering another one if you're ready. If you feel behind or unclear about what to focus on next, we can help you stay focused on what matters to you.
Not on track? It may be counterintuitive, but finding out that your savings are lacking can be a good thing. It gives you the chance to improve your situation and puts you in the driver's seat. You may have several options to catch up: You could save more money, save for a longer period of time, and evaluate investment options that could help.
See Fidelity’s suggestions for prioritizing debt, savings, and goals, read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: How to balance debt, saving, and investing
And remember, if it was easy, no one would need a plan. But life and finances can be complicated. A flexible plan can simplify the way forward, show you what you need to do, and help you shift gears when your priorities change.