How To Get Your Finances In Order In 7 Steps
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Dealing with money can be hard. You’ve got to tackle bills, living expenses, unexpected events, and at the same time, put aside some savings for long-term goals. How do you balance all these financial responsibilities?
Fortunately, having a practical personal financial plan can help. Here is a seven-step guide to getting your finances in order.
1. Understand your current financial situation
The first step to improving your finances is to understand where you currently stand. That means taking stock of these areas:
- Income. How much do you earn from employment, freelancing, rental earnings or any other source of income?
- Expenses. How much do you spend every month on food, transportation, housing, entertainment and so on?
- Debt. How much money do you owe? This could include your home loan, car loan, education loan, credit card bills and personal loans.
- Emergency fund. How much savings do you have to cover unexpected costs?
- Net worth. What is the value of all your assets, after subtracting all your debt and liabilities?
2. Set financial goals
Next, think about your financial goals. After all, they are the reason why you are being so careful with your money!
It helps to categorise them by time frame and priority. For each goal, consider if it’s a short-term goal, medium-term goal or long-term goal. Then, consider if it’s a critical goal (i.e. something that you have to do in the short-term), a necessary expenditure or something that you just want. For example:
|Time frame||Goal||Target date||Priority|
|Short-term||Pay off all your credit card debt||By this year||Critical|
|Short-term||Set aside RM2,000 for travel||By next year||Want|
|Medium-term||Put aside RM50,000 for a house down payment||By 2030||Need|
|Long-term||At the age of 55, retire with RM1.5 million||By 2050||Need|
3. Start creating a budget
You can create the financial goals but at the end of the day, it all comes down to your budget. Budgeting helps you to live within your means while still putting money aside to achieve your goals.
If you haven’t previously done so, now is the time to estimate all your monthly expenses in each category of spending. Even better, keep track of your spending for a few months. You may be surprised to learn that you’re spending more or less than you expected.
Once you know how much you are earning and spending, you can plan for future expenses with a budget. You can budget by using the 50/30/20 rule, where you spend 50% of your monthly income on ‘daily expenses and fixed bills, 30% on ‘savings’ and 20% on investment.
4. Create an emergency fund
An emergency fund refers to savings that you set aside for emergencies. This covers unexpected costs like a car repair or a sudden retrenchment.
The general rule of thumb is to save three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund. You could consider a bigger fund if you have uncertain income, or if you have a lot of people depending on you financially.
To build your emergency fund, you could automatically channel some savings into a separate savings account every month.
5. Pay off high-interest debt
Before you start investing, consider paying off any high-interest debt.
High-interest debt, such as credit card bills or personal loans, can drain your finances faster than you can grow it through investing. After all, credit cards generally charge a whopping annual interest rate of 15% to 18% a year!
To pay off your debt, consider how much you can put aside every month, then set up automatic repayments. You may need to temporarily cut back on unnecessary expenses to channel more savings into becoming debt-free. If you need help, the Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK) offers free debt counselling services.
6. Save for retirement
It doesn’t matter if you have just started working or if you are years into your career: you need to plan for retirement. That is because your mandatory savings through the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings may not be enough. Around 75% of EPF members have balances of less than RM250,000 at age 54, which could mean less than RM1,050 a month to live on during retirement. That is hardly enough to live comfortably.
Saving for retirement helps you increase your chances of having enough during your golden years. Here are a few ways you can beef up your retirement fund with unit trusts:
- Through the EPF members investment scheme. This scheme allows you to invest part of your EPF Account 1 savings in approved unit trusts for potentially higher returns.
- Through PRS. The Private Retirement Scheme (PRS) is a voluntary investment scheme that helps you increase your retirement savings. Under this scheme, you can invest in approved unit trusts and claim tax relief of up to RM3,000 until the year of assessment 2025.
- Through regular unit trusts. You can also invest in unit trusts directly through Principal, which offers a range of award-winning funds.
7. Establish a regular progress report schedule
Finally, you will want to review your finances periodically – once a year, perhaps. This helps you figure out if you’re still on track to meeting your financial goals, and if you need to adjust your financial plan. Here are a few areas you could look at:
- How has your net worth changed?
- How have your income and expenses changed?
- Do you need to reduce spending?
- Do you need to top up your emergency fund?
- How much progress have you made on your financial goals?
- Are you still able to meet your retirement goals?
- Do you need to adjust your investment portfolio?
Achieve your financial goals with Principal
Getting your finances in order can be hard, but you don’t have to go at it alone. Principal has a range of investing solutions to grow your wealth, whether you are looking to invest your EPF savings, through PRS or directly into unit trusts. It also offers investment expertise and market commentary to help you make sense of investing, so you can reach your financial goals.