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4 steps to create a written financial plan

Alexis Christoforous

Don’t have a written financial plan yet? Unfortunately, you’ve got plenty of company. A recent Yahoo Finance survey found just half of you have one.

Twenty-five percent of respondents said their financial plans are in their heads, but not written down. That’s dangerous, says certified financial planner Barbara Ginty of Planancial. “You’re much more likely to be successful if you have a written-out financial plan because you know what your numbers are.” She adds, “You can’t hit your goals if you’re not accurate about the money coming in and the money going out.”

Our survey results revealed that there are a lot of myths out there when it comes to writing a financial plan. So, let’s dispel some of those myths right away.

Myth #1: Financial plans are just for the 1%

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies show that having a comprehensive, written financial plan can benefit people at all income levels.

Plus, the vast majority of people we surveyed, nearly 85%, told Yahoo Finance that having a written plan makes them feel more financially secure.

Myth #2: You’re too young to have a financial plan

The truth is, you’re never too young to plan for your future. Numbers prove that the earlier you start making savvy money decisions, the sooner you’ll reach your financial goals.

Myth #3 You must hire a professional

A full 40% of respondents said it’s too expensive to create a financial plan. That’s not always the case. Believe it or not, some certified financial planners will sit down with you for free just to build a plan. “For young people, college graduates, who start at a good job and have a lot of student loan debt, I work with those people for free. I know they’re going to be good clients down the road,” says Samuel Sharples, CFP at LPL Financial.

But while a professional can certainly be helpful, you don’t need one to get started. You can write your own, for free.

Myth #4: Writing a plan would be too confusing

Nearly 30% said writing a financial plan would be too confusing. It doesn’t have to be, if you’re organized and truthful with yourself and your partner about your finances.

“It so much easier for [someone] to stick to goals when they have something concrete in front of them,” Sharples said.

Here are some tips to get you started

Make a List

First, come up with a list of your current assets. Those are the things you own, like cash in a bank account, a car, or stocks.

Next, make a list of your liabilities; that’s what you owe. Those are things like credit card debt, student loans, or medical bills.

Now, subtract your total liabilities from your total assets. That will give you your “net worth,” and that’s the starting point for your financial plan.

If you hold a lot of debt, your net worth might actually be negative. Don’t be alarmed, after all that’s why you’re creating this plan.

Define Your Goals

Now it’s time to define your financial goals — short, medium, and long-term. Be specific. It’s not enough to say, “I want to pay off my credit card debt.” You need to give yourself a timeline, such as, “I want to pay off my credit card debt in 18 months.”

Remember to be realistic. Paying off your student loans in a single year probably won’t happen, unless you win the lottery.

Track Your Money

Next, keep track of what you spend – on everything – for 3 months. Then analyze it, and be honest about where you can cut back.

Plan of action

Now you’re ready to create a plan of action, and stick to it. Maybe you need to boost your savings or bump up your retirement contributions. Find ways to bring in more cash, which might mean considering a new job.

Build in some small wins to keep you motivated. This can be something like paying off one semester’s worth of student loans.

It’s ok to celebrate these milestones, just don’t overdue it. Once you reach a milestone, reassess your overall financial picture and make changes as needed.

Waiting for Mr./Mrs. Right?

More than a third of respondents who had created a financial plan said they did so when they were single, so don’t let that stop you. In fact, having a written financial plan can make joining finances with a future spouse significantly easier.

There you have it, your very own written financial plan. But remember, it’s a work in progress. Life changes, so be flexible, and make adjustments as you go.