The Financial State of Our Union
With the State of the Union rapidly approaching, it’s time to take a look at the financial state of *our* union. My wife and I regularly discuss our finances, but this is the first year we are intentionally sitting down to conduct a year in review.
Similar to the State of the Union (SOTU), we’ll discuss the things we’re proud of, the areas that need improvement and lay out plans for the coming year(s). Unlike the SOTU, however, we’ll probably go without the applause after every sentence, but who knows!
Whether you’re single or married, consider joining us by conducting an annual review of your own. Half the battle is knowing where you’re at. From there, you can work on your goals and get to work!
What You'll Need
- Time – Set aside 1-2 hours of uninterrupted time. Turn the T.V. off, put your cell phones in a cupboard and prepare mentally to intentionally work through the current state of your finances.
- Beverage of Choice – The environment should be relaxing. Grab an ice cold brew, a glass of wine or your morning coffee, and settle in. Cheers!
- Statements – EVERYTHING! You’ll need access to all your bank/investment/insurance/credit card statements. We use Personal Capital so we can view just about everything in one place. I highly recommend Personal Capital if you’re looking for a way to start analyzing your personal finances.
- Budget – A hard or soft copy of your current budget. If you don’t have one, use your annual review to make one! We track our spending through a free budget app called EveryDollar.
- An Open Mind – If you’re doing your review with your spouse, you’ll need to keep an open mind as their financial priorities might be slightly (or vastly) different than yours. Don’t worry, though, the annual review will help you get on the same page!
- Introspection/Reflection – Before the review, do some introspecting and reflecting. Think about how *you* think about money. Think about how you handle your money. Can you make improvements? Some other questions to consider: What do you spend money on that you don’t care about (waste)? What brings you joy? Does your spending reflect your values? When do you want to retire?
- Two seats (side-by-side) – Sit next to your spouse (instead of across from each other)! If you sit next to each other, you’ll create an environment of teamwork, rather than opposition. If you’re doing the review on your own, just get comfortable.
There’s more than one way to work through each element of your personal finances. As long as you work through everything, you’ll be able to visualize how each piece is working together (or maybe not so much).
You may find areas of waste you can eliminate, a subscription to cancel or a retirement account allocation that is off balance. Without diligent evaluation of your personal finances, it’s easy for spending to spiral and savings to dwindle.
To start, I recommend taking a notepad and making a list of all your different accounts:
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts
- Retirement Accounts
- Loans (Auto, Student, Personal, etc.)
- Credit Card #1
- Credit Card #2
- Auto Insurance
- Home/Renters Insurance
- Any Other Accounts…
AND, go through your budget line by line.
“This is how much we spend on groceries, this is how much we spend on Netflix, this is how much we save for retirement each month, etc…”
Take a surface level look at each of your accounts and each line of your budget. This part of the review can be all about the facts.
We have $X saved. We owe $X on this loan and pay X% in interest.
Take notes (and save them for your annual review next year!). If you did a review last year, compare your account balances year over year.
After you review all your accounts, take the discussion one step further. Work through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Topics to Consider:
- Is your Emergency Fund fully funded?
- Are you properly insured? Home/Auto/Renters/Valuable Personal Property/Life — Starting a family? Learn more about Life Insurance.
- Are you aggressively paying off debt? Are you debt-free? Cheers!
- Does your spending reflect your values? If you did the introspection/reflection exercise, now is the time to discuss with your spouse. How are your values different? Make sure each of your values are reflected in your budget and overarching personal finance plan. Re-work your budget accordingly. Remember, keep an open mind.
- Are you saving enough for retirement? When do you want to retire? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have in retirement?
- What big life changes will happen this year? Having a baby? Moving? Buying a house? Are you prepared for these expenses?
- Charitable Giving – where did you donate to last year and where would you like to donate to next year?
Set (or re-evaluate) Goals and Plan Accordingly
The past year brought many financial changes for us and the forecast for this year is similar. It’s going to be busy! As a result, we’ll use our annual review to re-evaluate our personal finance goals and make sure we’re setup for success.
Over the coming months, our budget will change to reflect our growing family and the prospect of changing jobs and buying a house. During our annual review, we’ll develop a plan to ensure we achieve our goal of buying a house (assuming it still makes sense when the time comes) and that we are saving for baby’s future.
If you don’t have goals, during the annual review is the perfect time to make some. In fact, the annual review is pointless without goals.
A budget is a good place to start. In a sense, your budget is a bunch of different goals lumped into one. For example, your budget might reflect that you want to save $500 toward your emergency fund each month. That’s a (short-term) goal! As you work through your review, plan for both the short and long-term.
An annual review could spark the focus you need to make real progress on your personal finances! By being intentional with your personal finances, you’ll no longer wonder what’s happening to your money. Instead, you’ll know exactly where each dollar is headed and why it’s headed there.
If you’re married – remember, you’re in this together. Whatever you come up with will need to work for both of you, or it won’t work at all.
Be honest with yourself!
Your annual review cannot replace regular evaluation and communication about your finances.
Good luck and have fun!
Till next time,