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Posted under: Opinion

Get Your Financial Life Together In These 5 Steps

Your financial life is in limbo right now.

You’re deciding whether to stack up for your emergency fund or start paying more than the minimum balance on your credit card bills. Avoiding Sallie Mae’s phone calls, emails and letters has been a series of “Catch Me If You Can” since graduation and your credit score is a solid 640.

But now you’re at a point where you’re trying to make it better but you don’t know where to start. Here’s how — by creating a financial plan. According to Personal Financial Plan, a financial plan is a long-term process of wisely managing your finances to help achieve your goals and dreams, while at the same time negotiating the financial barriers.

In short, think of a financial plan as a financial roadmap for your money with an end goal in mind. If you're trying to create your financial road map, here's a few ways to buckle down and get to it.

1. Do a financial assessment

When it comes to doing your financial assessment, take a deep look at your financial situation. We’re not talking about your current bills, utilities and car notes. No. Look at your financial history. Pay attention to your spending trends, your credit score, retirement, accounts you have in collections and even your stocks.

Once you’ve taken inventory of your financial history, put all of your info on an excel sheet so you can visually see your financial track record. Below is a color-coded mock budget to give you an idea of how you can create and start your own financial assessment. You can even add or subtract some rows to see what fits best. There are also a ton of apps that can help you assess your budget.  

2. Assess your monthly income

It’s essential to understand and see where you are financially and where you’re trying to go. Reminder: A financial plan is a financial roadmap for your money. Try to determine how to reach your financial goals by taking a look at your monthly/yearly income. If you have one job, determine your monthly income and see if your job gives annual bonuses.

If you’re a freelancer or a side hustler like the one-third of millennials with a side hustle, it’s crucial for you to determine how much you’ll be making on a weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis. This assessment will help you realize if you need to work more or less to reach your financial goals — which leads us to point three.

3. Determine what your financial goals are

Now that you’ve laid all of your financial cards on the table, this is where strategy comes into play. Before you start putting a few financial goals in place, start to ask yourself what your long-term and short-term goals are. What are some goals you want to attain in three months from now and what are the goals you want to achieve by December or even by this time next year?

Trying to move out of your folks’ place by the end of the year? Aiming to save $5,000 by next summer? Maybe you’re saving up to buy bae an engagement ring? Figure out how much and how long it’s going to take you to reach those goals.

You can do that by using the 50/30/20 rule as a guide. You use 50 percent of your income to pay your bills and utilities, 30 percent for lifestyle things like eating out, groceries and shopping, and 20 percent for all of your financial goals. You can always adjust accordingly.

While you’re adjusting, remember you must give each dollar a mission. Think of it as a job to do. Reminding yourself that each dollar you’ve earned has a purpose is a way to remember that you shouldn’t be spending your money frivolously. Be specific and realistic with your goals as much as possible.

4. Trial and error

Just like everything in life, your finances are done by trial and error. After assessing, strategizing and executing your new financial plan, it’s vital that you must adjust depending on the time of year, new expenses and events that will happen. For instance, you can create a holiday budget during the holiday season so your budget isn’t thrown off completely.

If you do tend to go outside your budget, try not to beat yourself up. Whether you have an unexpected expense that you had to use your savings for or a boatload of tickets to pay off, remember your end goal — to become more financially savvy. Take the L and try your best to get back on track for the following months.

5. Get help

Whether it’s hiring a financial planner or going to your local bank and speaking with a financial analyst to get a second opinion on your financial plan, do it. If you have friends who are also good in personal finance and you feel comfortable disclosing your personal info with them, solicit their advice on how they achieve their financial goals. You can even ask your friends to join in on the fun so you have an accountability partner.

Let’s get planning!

Paulana Lamonier is a multimedia journalist who loves to tell compelling stories. She loves Jesus, chocolate and still cries when she watches the ending of 'Set it Off.' Check out her latest updates on her new site, Paulana.co.