Five Steps to Financial Fitness: Your Financial Planning Tips For 2023

Cardinal Financial January 11, 2023 | 5 min read
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According to WalletHub, nearly one-third of Americans made finance-related resolutions in the new year. That’s a lot of people. If you’re one of them, congratulations! And you’ve come to the right blog for tips. 

It’s not always easy to stick to your goals, especially when life throws challenges your way. That’s why we assembled a short list of financial planning tips for 2023. Together, we’re going to get your finances in shape so you can maximize your budget this year and in the future.

1. Self-Evaluate

Before you know what financial planning tips you need to act upon, you need to know where you’re at. This is one of the toughest parts of financial fitness, because it involves a hard, honest look at your finances. 

According to CNBC, 63% of U.S. adults are living paycheck-to-paycheck, leaving little money leftover for spending once bills are paid. Despite some news stories suggesting this is because people are spending too much on lattes and avocado toast, the simple fact is that prices for just about everything in life have been increasing—cost of living and rent included—while wages remain stagnant.

So let’s ask ourselves the hard questions:

  • How much money do you earn, after taxes, per month?
  • How much of that money goes to essential bills, like electricity or childcare?
  • How much of that money goes to non-essential bills, like streaming subscriptions?
  • After all of your bills, how much is left to spend?
  • More importantly, how much is left to save?
  • How much do you have in savings right now?

The answers to these questions may not be easy to swallow. The best medicine rarely is. 

While there are a host of apps that can help you manage your budget and track your spending, a simple spreadsheet may be your best (and most cost-friendly) option because it forces you to type out everything line by line and update it regularly. 

The point is that before you get in shape, you need to know where you stand. Once you’ve painted with broad strokes, you can get into the finer details by creating a budget and a plan of action.

2. Pay Down Debt

According to debt.org, Millennials (ages 24-39) have an average debt of $87,448. Gen X’ers (ages 40-55) are almost $141,000 in debt on average. Considering the median age of a first-time homebuyer is 33, it’s easy to see why many people are hesitant to buy a home. 

Look, debt is a fact of life. And not all debt is bad debt! For many of us, we’ll be paying off student loans for years to come. For others, credit cards are a looming shadow. If you’re overwhelmed by your debt, add a tab to your aforementioned spreadsheet and start tracking that as well. 

Balances, due dates, interest rates, minimum payments, etc.—all of it will help you regain control over your financial fitness.

3. Plan Ahead

Once you’ve got your debt under control—or once you’re comfortable with your debt—it’s time to plan ahead. That means savings.

In life, there are three main things to save for: emergencies, retirement, and buying a home.

We’re not financial advisors, so we can’t tell you how to save for retirement. What we can tell you, however, is that saving is vital to financial fitness. 

Think about it: a lot of people go into debt because an emergency pops up. 

A car breaks down, a pet gets hurt, a roof leaks, someone loses a job—there are a litany of emergencies that could arise at a moment’s notice, and being able to dip into cash savings is healthier than wading into a deeper pool of debt

One of the safest assumptions for an emergency savings fund is three to four months of your monthly net income. Alternatively, enough cash to cover three to four months of your monthly expenses (cost of living, bills, etc.). That gives you the liquidity to cover yourself and your family until things get back on track.

4. Check In

Next to the self-evaluation, this is one of the most critical financial planning tips for 2023. 

It’s one thing to make a resolution. It’s another thing to make sure you’re sticking to it. Once again, it involves answering hard questions. 

  • How much debt have you put on or paid off?
  • How much money have you put into savings?
  • What extraneous bills have you gotten rid of?
  • Have you been updating your budget regularly?

Checking in doesn’t always require positive progress, either. Things happen. Life throws curveballs, and that’s okay. What matters is that you maintain a clear view of where you’re at and what steps you need to take to get to where you want to be.

5. Reward Yourself

Financial fitness is a lot like physical fitness. It’s not all about the grind—it’s about celebrating the wins, even the little ones. 

Like we said earlier, too many blame lattes or avocados for the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. For many, lattes aren’t even a concern—a full tank of gas is. Don’t let other articles make you feel guilty for rewarding yourself. 

Hit your savings goal for the month? Go to dinner with the family. Pay off a credit card? Go get a massage. Do something that makes you feel good, because after all’s said and done, it’s still your money.

What’s important is making sure the rewards don’t turn into a daily occurrence, and that your rewards still fit within your overall budget. 

At the end of the day, small progress is still progress.

Before you get in financial shape, you need to know where you stand. Once you’ve painted with broad strokes, you can get into the finer details by creating a budget and a plan of action.

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