Defining Financial Wellness Through the Various Stages of Life
As you move through the various stages of your life, you change along with your financial wellness goals. Although we all hope to achieve optimal financial health, what that might look like varies widely depending on what we're going through at the time.
Whether you're a college student crafting your first-ever personal budget, a young adult looking to start a family, or thinking about taking the leap and becoming a full-fledged homeowner, your financial wellness will shift right along with you. No matter what stage of life you're in, here are some ways to take control of your financial future.
The College Years
From taking on student loans to moving out of the house for the first time, the college years are monumental in terms of transitions. And what you do financially in your first steps into adulthood could set the tone for years to come. The good news is, you're in control of what that looks like. If you use your college years to become financially literate, responsible, and savvy, your future will be even brighter.
It all begins with a budget. For many college students, starting a budget can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be! Just start small and simple, calculating your daily expenses and measuring them against your income or available funds. The goal should be to keep credit card debt down and take note of any bad spending habits early on in order to nip them in the bud.
College is also a great time to build up financial literacy and know-how. Four years at a university can serve as a safe transition from financial dependence to independence. Want to know the difference between an IRA and your 529? Not sure whether to get that second credit card? Consider taking a course in personal finance. Many are offered online for free, and some colleges have personal finance courses as electives.
Your First Home
Buying your first home is a huge step, both in terms of your personal life and your financial wellness. It marks your transition into an exciting new stage of adulthood.
To prepare financially for your first home, start by checking your credit score. Speak to a credit or financial advisor to learn more about what you can do to improve it. Most importantly, your credit score is largely based on your debt-to-income ratio or the amount of debt you're carrying versus the amount you have coming in. The good news is that, even if your debts are high, you can start building better credit (and a better score) right away by saving more and making on-time payments.
Starting a Family
Family life comes with great joys, from your baby's first laugh to their first steps. However, it also comes with new responsibilities, like paying for day care and saving up for your child's future education. With children on the way or in the picture, financial wellness may include a pared-down budget, savvy planning, and a renewed commitment to long-term savings.
If you're already expecting a new addition or planning to start a family, it's time to take a closer look at your budget. If you haven't already, consider using a budgeting tool to help you home in on what you really need. During college, most students are only responsible for themselves, but now, it's time to factor in other long-term expenses.
And before you start those late-night feedings and welcome your little one, consider investing in their future by opening up a 529 plan account. This qualified tuition plan allows you to save for your child's higher education. You'll do this by purchasing units at a college in advance or by opening up an investment account that will help your little one fund their tuition one day. Talk to a financial advisor about your options so that you can make sure your plan will work best for your particular needs.
The Golden Retirement Years
If the college years are all about building financial responsibility, your golden years of retirement are about fostering peace of mind. Similar to other stages of life, a little planning and saving go a long way. One of the best ways to feel great about your future financial wellness is to set a workable, attainable goal.
Whether you're using a 401(k) or traditional IRA to save for retirement, start doing so as early as possible to make sure you have everything you need. While some financial planners suggest that you should save around 25 times your annual expenses for retirement, your needs may vary. You can use a retirement savings calculator or speak to a financial planner to figure out what your particular goal should be.
Lastly, aim to pay off all of your existing debts before you retire, so that you're not scrambling to do so later. This will ensure that you can enjoy your retirement years in peace and watch your hard work pay off.