There will never be a better time to set a budget than right now. No matter what time of the year it is, it’s always a good idea to take the opportunity to look over your finances, particularly if you haven’t been following a plan. Here are our top tips to take control of your financial future.
Tip #1 Set a budget for the next 3 months
Setting a budget goes a long way to enabling you to reach your financial goals. To do this, you’ll need to work out where your income comes from, how much you earn and then work out where your expenses are. Some might consider a budget to be restrictive, but it needs not be that way. Designed properly, a budget will allow you to have the money ready for expenses such as rent and bills, allow you to use some money for fun, and let you understand how much you can save to help you achieve your financial goals.
Start by gathering all of your financial documents. These are items such as bank statements, investment accounts, your payment summary, credit card bills, utility bills, mortgage payments (or rent if you are renting) and car loans etc. The more information you have at hand, the better you will understand your money situation.
Write down your income. You might have a wage with tax already taken out by an employer. Your net income will be ok to use. If you have investments or shares, or a rental, write down how much you receive over the month. If you are self-employed or earn an irregular income, average your income out over the month. If you receive government benefits or pensions, you can also record this income amount.
Record all of your expenses next. This will be, and not limited to, your mortgage or rent, car payments, insurances, groceries, utilities, entertainment, personal care, eating out, childcare, transportation, travel, loans and any savings you might make. Use the payments you’ve made over the last three months to work out how much you’ve spent.
Determine your fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are items that are not negotiable and must be paid. This includes rent and mortgage, loans, utility costs, childcare etc. Your variable expenses are items that change month to month and include groceries, petrol, travel, eating out and entertainment and / or gifts.
Tip #2 Trim the fat
Total your expenses and your income and see if there’s any room for setting money aside for savings or a retirement fund, or if you can pay off debt faster. If you’re spending more than you earn, you’ll be able to see where you might need to make some changes.
After you set your budget, you’ll need to monitor and track your spending as it occurs. Spread sheets or apps are a great way to manage this process and will help you to stop overspending, identify unnecessary spending or spending patterns that are detrimental to your financial health. Take a few minutes each day to go over your spending. You’ll be able to see if you need to make adjustments, where you can pay less for expenses or cut them out altogether.
Tip #3 Update your beneficiaries on insurance policies and super
You are able to nominate a beneficiary to your super account and on your income protection insurance. While this is an important topic, many Australians do not support their loved ones when they become ill, are critically injured or pass away. If your beneficiaries are not up to date and in line with your personal circumstances, your benefit might not go to the person you want it to. Your annual statements will show who you’ve nominated.
You are able to nominate a beneficiary over 18 to receive a payment. If the beneficiary is under age, the payment will be made to a guardian or nominated trustee until they turn 18.
On an insurance policy, the ‘life insured’ is the person whom the policy covers. If they pass away, the listed beneficiaries receive the payout. Depending on the type of policy and eligible events, the policy owner and the life insured can be the same person, or the policy owner can be separate to the life insured.
Your super fund is distributed differently to other financial assets. Your super fund will need a valid beneficiary nomination in order to release your super to whomever you want it to go to. You will only be allowed to nominate a dependant, such as spouse or de facto partner, your children or someone you have an interdependency relationship with. Your money can also go to multiple beneficiaries. You’ll need to supply a percentage breakdown of how you’d like your money distributed. Your super will be paid out as a death benefit should you pass away.
Beneficiary designations should be updated on any bank accounts, superannuation funds, investment accounts, retirement accounts, company benefit plans, life insurance policies, certificates of deposit, and any other asset accounts you own.
- The beneficiaries you nominate are legally valid
- That you decide on a permanent or lapsing nomination
- That you tell your beneficiaries that you have nominated term
Tip #4 Create or update your Will
If you don’t have a will now’s the time to write one. Not only will you breathe easier knowing that it is done, you will protect your loved ones if something does happen. It’s a good idea to regularly check your will if you have one and make sure everything is up to date. Make sure your beneficiary, executor or guardian is named and up to date. Marriage revokes your will unless your will has been specifically made to include your marriage. You will probably want to include your spouse and any step-children that may be involved. New births or adoptions will also need to be updated, as will new live-in partners and / or de facto relationships.
Alternatively, if you separate or divorce, your ex-partner may still have a claim on your estate no matter long you have been apart. If a child is no longer a dependent, or doesn’t need a guardian, you should update this in your will.
Changes to the value of your real-estate will need to be updated and other changes to your assets, as well as bank account details, accounts and passwords that will need to be accessed. You also might need to nominate an Enduring Power of Attorney, Advance Health Directive or if a dependent is involved, a guardian for their care.
Tip #5 Start good financial habits now
Starting ‘today’ is a game changer. You might save yourself years of financial burden by taking action today. Pay a set sum into a savings account, spend mindfully, track your spending, set up an app and / or automatic payments so you don’t have to remember. Switch to a debit card instead of a credit card and get rid of debt so you can start investing.
Habits grow stronger every day. More than forty percent of the actions you perform during the day aren’t decisions – they are habits. These habits can be positive or negative. Your brain can’t tell the difference. This is where you come in. All habits can be ignored, changed or replaced so take control and shape your life the way you want your future to look. There is no other time to start than ‘now’.
Tip #6 Avoid spending on credit as much as possible.
Credit cards can be great assets, but they are also a temptation to overspend money you don’t have. They are handy for building credit or to offsetting your mortgage, but you have to be smart when using them. Unless payments are made in time, they can cost money and incur interest charges that accumulate over time.
It’s easy to overspend on your credit card without realising. Limits can be set to help you minimise your spending. Alerts can be turned on to help you track your spending. Make a habit of checking your daily spending limit, even if its $200. If you’re prone to overspending on credit cards, the best thing you can do is not use them.
Overspending will always hinder your financial goals. A little bit one day, and then the next and the next may not be noticeable on a daily basis but will have an accumulative effect. Consider where you want to be in 5, 10 and even 15 years. Face your spending and saving choices to help yourself reach your financial goals. To create your 2021 Financial Plan, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1300 387 487