You Don’t Need to be Perfect to Reach Your Financial Goals

 

You may feel you’re struggling, but a game plan, small changes and guidance can help you prepare.

U.S. News & World Report, August 21, 2019

If you’re a middle-income investor, you likely feel anxious about your finances in some way.

You're not alone. Across the nation, middle-income families are struggling financially. They don't feel prepared to meet their financial goals and stay up at night worrying about their financial situations. For these families, the dollars just aren't making sense.

In the 2019 Primerica Financial Security Monitor, which this year surveyed 1,000 American households making between $29,000 and $106,000 a year, many people say they aren't confident about:

  • Making student debt payments (86%).
  • Paying for a child to go to college (76% of those with children).
  • Paying for life insurance (68%).
  • Paying for an emergency expense (63%).
  • Saving for retirement (61%).

More than two-thirds worry about how their families would cope financially with a major medical expense (69%) or a deep recession (67%). More than half (52%) said they didn't feel they had access to a financial professional they're comfortable with to help them navigate their financial situations.

After three decades working with middle-income families to help build their financial independence and security, it's clear too many people don't take action because they think they can only get ahead financially by being "perfect." They've been told they have to stick to a budget – like sticking to a diet to lose weight – and when they can't, they give up on setting financial goals and working toward them.

Just like when you're trying to lose weight, when it comes to finances, it's better to make little changes that build up to a healthy lifestyle, rather than try to be a perfect human specimen and fail.

First, Get Started

The most important thing middle income investors can do to start to move toward feeling more financially secure is to stop thinking they have to be perfect and just get started making better financial decisions.

For most people, it is best to ease into it. Try this: Decide that you'll put some money aside – whatever amount you could comfortably scrape together – every single month for three to six months. It doesn't have to be a lot of money – even saving as little as $25 per month is a great place to start.

At the end of that period, take an objective look back and see if the exercise was worth it or not. If you managed to save, celebrate your success at the end of your trial period. Take a little bit of the money you've saved and do something small to reward yourself.

Once most people see that they actually can live on a reduced amount, they'll want to continue to develop a savings habit and create a game plan for reaching their financial goals.

For most investors, financial success is not about going from $0 in the bank to millionaire, but rather about making progress toward realistic goals that will help their families become more financially secure. Future success is built on small yet measurable successes over time.

Next, Work on the Financial Fundamentals

In addition to asking middle-income Americans about their financial anxieties, the Primerica Financial Security Monitor also graded respondents based on whether or not they act on five financial preparedness fundamentals: (1) Making more than the minimum payment on credit card bills every month; (2) having $50,000 or more in life insurance coverage; (3) saving every month, regardless of amount; (4) investing some of their savings in accounts other than cash; and (5) having enough savings to cover three months of expenses if the primary breadwinner lost his or her job.

Of course, acting on one or more of these is better than none, and families can work their way up to all five. One thing that can help is having a professional to help guide you. People who had met with a financial professional were more likely than those who had not to act on three or more of the financial fundamentals.

The payoff went beyond financial security. Those who had met with a financial professional were more confident and optimistic about the future, too.

So, to get closer to financial security, don't try to be perfect. Take one step at a time, work yourself up to making a game plan and bring along someone who can help you make the journey.

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