As we approach the year-end, look at your financial situation: are you where you want to be? Have you achieved your financial goals for the year? Where are there gaps? What are some actions you can take to fill the gaps?
Last year, I wrote about an acronym I use to remember key areas of financial health. The acronym RECAP serves as a reminder to review your retirement accounts, emergency fund, cash flow, assets, and plans for your finances.
Retirement accounts: If you are employed and have access to a retirement plan like a 401(k), have you maximized your contributions for the year? If not, consider increasing your pre-tax contribution amount by 1% so you get closer to your retirement goal without experiencing a large reduction in your paycheck. If you are self-employed, have you set aside money for your retirement plan? Which retirement plan are you using to maximize your retirement contributions? Now is a good time to check-in on your retirement accounts.
Emergency fund: Do you have access to funds to cover an emergency like a car repair or loss of employment? In a perfect world, those of us who are single have 6-months of expenses set aside while those of us who are married have 3-months of expenses set aside. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and there are reports in the popular media that indicate few Americans have more than $1000 in emergency savings. Therefore, if you have $1,000 in emergency savings, give yourself a high-five and work on saving your next $1,000 so you can get closer to your emergency fund target. If you are struggling to save $1,000, break the goal down into smaller parts like $10 a week or $50 a month so you, too, may reach the $1,000 milestone. Although $1,000 may not be an adequate emergency fund amount, it is a start. If you make saving a consistent habit now, you increase your chances of a positive outcome in the future.
Cash flow: How much money do you make? How much money—after payroll deductions—do you keep? Basically, you want to understand how much money is coming into your household and how much money is going out. A variety of apps may help you track your cash flow, including those available with banks and financial institutions. Often, your bank or financial institution is already tracking your spending so you may find it easy to identify where your money is going every month and formulate a budget so you may exercise more control over your spending habits.
Assets: What do you own? Assets include bank accounts, your investment accounts, your vehicle, and, if you own your house. If you participated in this exercise last year, find your notes from 2022 and compare where you were last year to where you are now. What are the differences that make you proud? What are the differences you would like to change? Do you have loans? How much do you owe? What are the interest rates you are paying?
Plans for your finances: Did you create a plan for your 2023 financial situation? If so, compare it to where you are now. If not, take the opportunity to carve out a plan right now. Write out the acronym, RECAP, and fill in the numbers. An example of this would be to write out from the acronym your personal goals like this (note: the letters X, Y, and Z represent figures you would fill in):
Retirement: My retirement account balance is X. I contribute Y% per month.
Emergency Fund: My emergency fund amount for 6-months of expenses is Z. I have saved X. I save Y per month to reach my goal of Z.
Cash Flow: I earn X per year. I spend Y per year. I use the X app to track my finances. My budget is X and I spend Y.
Assets: I have accounts with X, Y, Z for a total of $X. I own a car worth $X. I own a home worth $X. (Loan balances for my car ($X at a rate of Y%) and my home ($x at a rate of Z%).)
Plans: For 2024, increase contributions to my 401(k) from X% to Y%, refinance my X loan, and have $Y saved in my emergency fund.
Now that you have invested time in RECAP-ping your financial health, keep your plan close. Consider keeping it either in your phone or written down in a space where you will see it regularly. Keep in mind that money ebbs and flows. Remain flexible and open-minded so you may address whatever surprise comes your way. Wishing you much success now and in the new year!
Wendolyn Forbes is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with Wealth Transition Finance, A Member of Advisory Services Network, LLC. Wendolyn is a fee-only financial planner and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). For more information, please visit her website at www.wtf-asn.com.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP® (with flame design) in the US, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
This material is provided as a courtesy and for educational purposes only. Advisory Services Network, LLC does not provide tax advice. The tax information contained herein is general and is not exhaustive by nature. Federal and state laws are complex and constantly changing. Consult your own legal or tax professional for information concerning your individual situation.
Originally published in the September 27, 2023 issue of Rumble by Smoky Mountain News.