Financial planning can be your personal tar pit. This term was coined by Andrew Zumwalt, assistant professor at the University of Missouri. He often sees the ugly emotional baggage many people carry in their financial lives, which can prevent them from acting wisely with their money.
Maybe it's because of how they were raised or what they were taught in school. They have feelings and emotions that dictate how they interact with debt or savings or personal finance in general.
People get hung up
One obstacle is when people become obsessed with their long-term goals before solving their short-term problems. Or they get caught up in their fear of living in debt or impressing their friends with money they may not have.
Then, what is the best way to look at financial planning? Whether we like it or not, it plays a very important role in almost everyone's life. This includes everything from everyday shopping to planning for future goals such as retirement.
The problem, Zumwalt points out, is that financial planning isn't something you just go and do; it's an action we're always taking in one form or another. So, the question is, "How far do you want to take it and how serious are you about it?"
While there is clearly no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some general rules to keep in mind and resources you can turn to when you need help.
Take small steps in your financial planning
If you're like most people, one of your first questions will probably be where do you start?
Dave Ramsey talked about the small steps you can take to overcome financial obstacles by taking control of your money.
Most experts say that the initial steps should align with your goals. There are a number of different factors that can shape your finances and even change your priorities. High-interest debt, age and occupation play competing roles in the process, which can make it difficult to deliver general advice.
What most financial experts suggest is to start by building an emergency fund. Many recommend putting six to 12 months of living expenses in the bank. If you have a steady job that produces a steady income, six months should be sufficient. However, if your job is intermittent or you are paid on commission, you should try to save closer to 12 months.
Where things can get tricky is that making saving money a priority takes a lot. For example, if you have high-interest credit card debt or, worse, payday loans, you should start paying those off first. Once you've eliminated those balances, you can start putting more money into an emergency savings fund to create a big financial cushion.
The trials and tribulations of budgeting
The task of creating and adhering to a budget can also be complicated. In another Columbia Tribune article, David Keller, community bank president at Bank of Missouri, says the answer is to manage your money as little as possible. "If you never have it in your checkbook, you'll never have the opportunity to spend it."
A good solution is to set up automatic deposits from your checking account to your savings and retirement accounts. Psychologically, it's harder to miss money you never actually see. If you can't set this up through your bank, sign up for an account at Mint.com. An added bonus is that this free app will also monitor your bank account expenses. This will help you track your net worth by combining data from your savings and retirement funds.
In addition, there is a free program called Personal Capital, which some people claim is better. While Mint can provide a holistic snapshot of your finances, this program allows you to link all your accounts so you can see your "net worth" at a glance.
By keeping track of your credit cards, bills, income, IRAs, 401(k)s and loans all in one place, you can assess your financial health and start planning for the future. One person described Personal Capital as "mission control for your personal finances." Because the app's dashboard will give you everything you need to measure every detail of your funds.