6 Reasons Why Financial Planning Isn't Just for the Wealthy

By Dan Rafter on 14 February 2018 0 comments

There's an unfortunate divide when it comes to financial planning. The lower your income, the less likely you are to have a financial plan. But it doesn't have to be that way.

A 2016 Financial Engines report found that only 37 percent of American workers with yearly incomes between $35,000 and $100,000 have a comprehensive financial plan to grow their wealth. Meanwhile, 48 percent of workers with an annual salary of more than $100,000 do have a plan. What's more, wealthier Americans tend to have more comprehensive financial plans than those followed by middle-income earners.

The problem with this is obvious: Financial planning can help everyone, not just people with higher salaries. But too many lower- and middle-income earners think that they don't make enough money to warrant having a financial plan. This is dangerous thinking, as lacking a financial plan can scuttle your efforts to save for retirement, help pay for your children's college education, or even buy a home.

Here are six reasons why you need a financial plan, even if you don't make over $100,000 per year.

1. Without a plan, it's harder to set or meet financial goals

How much money do you need to save for a healthy and happy retirement? Without a financial plan, you probably have no idea. And how do you accumulate these savings? Again, if you don't follow a financial plan, the odds are likely that you won't meet your retirement goals.

According to the Financial Engines study, people with financial plans save about 10 percent of their salaries toward retirement, while those without save only 6 percent. This can make a big difference. The study uses the example of a person starting out with $50,000 in retirement savings. If that person earns $100,000 each year, and saves 10 percent of that salary for 25 years, they will have amassed as much as $1.13 million in retirement savings. Meanwhile, someone saving 6 percent of that income for 25 years will only have saved around $890,000. (See also: Here's How Far $1 Million Will Actually Go in Retirement)

2. A financial plan can help you rein in your spending

When you get to the end of every month, is your bank account nearly drained? Do you know where your money has gone? If not, a financial plan can help.

A basic pillar of creating a financial plan involves tracking where your money goes each month. It's all about creating a household budget that lists the average dollars you spend on everything from utilities and rent, to transportation, groceries, dining out, and entertainment. Once you have these figures in front of you, and once you compare them with how much income you bring in, you can adjust your spending so that you aren't constantly running out of money each month. Without a financial plan, you'll just keep overspending. (See also: Build Your First Budget in 5 Easy Steps)

3. It will help you reach big financial goals

Do you want to buy a house? Or maybe you dream of helping your children pay for their college education. Attaining big financial goals such as these is a far more challenging task if you don't have a financial plan to guide you.

A financial plan will spell out how much money you'll need to reach life's big financial goals — everything from saving enough for a down payment on a home, to buying your first car, to saving enough money to help your children graduate from college without mountains of student loan debt.

Unfortunately, a majority of Americans earning lower or middle-class incomes don't plan for attaining these big goals. The Financial Engines study found that only 41 percent of middle-income workers have financial plans for saving for a child's college education. A far higher number — 61 percent — of wealthier Americans have financial plans that address this challenge. (See also: Why Saving Too Much Money for a College Fund Is a Bad Idea)

4. It will help you protect your loved ones

If you died unexpectedly, what financial ills would fall on your children or partner? If you invest in life insurance, you can help protect these loved ones in case you do die.

The problem is, Americans who don't have financial plans are far less likely to take out enough life insurance or disability insurance to properly protect their families. The Financial Engines study found that 67 percent of middle-income earners have purchased life or disability insurance, while 83 percent of upper-income earners have these policies in place. (See also: Why Your Group Life Insurance Is Not Enough)

5. With a financial plan, you're likely to have less credit card debt

The 2013 Household Financial Planning Survey and Index, completed by the Consumer Federation of America and the CFP Board of Standards, found that those with financial plans tend to have less credit card debt and, when they do, are more likely to have a plan for paying it off.

According to the survey, 38 percent of adults without a financial plan have significant credit card debt, and only 47 percent of these people have plans to reduce it. Meanwhile, even a little bit of financial planning seems to help people rely less on credit cards. Among adults who fall into the "limited planners" category — meaning they have a financial plan, though not an especially detailed one — are less likely to have such debt. The survey found that 61 percent of these limited planners have no credit card debt at all. And only one in five people with comprehensive financial plans have significant credit card debt that needs to be paid down, with 92 percent having a plan to do so. (See also: 5 Ways to Pay Off High Interest Credit Card Debt)

6. You'll be better prepared for a financial emergency

What happens if your car's transmission goes on the fritz? What if your home's furnace conks out in the middle of a chilly night? If you don't have an emergency fund built up, you might have to pay for those repairs with a credit card.

Even worse — what if you suddenly lost your job? This is why that cushion is so important. Financial experts recommend that you have at least six months' to a year's worth of daily living expenses saved in an easy-to-access fund, like a savings account.

Building an emergency fund takes time, but if you have a financial plan, you're far more likely to set aside the money you need each month — even if your salary isn't particularly high. Just $200 or $300 a month can add up over time. And if you have a financial plan that shows you how to save that money every month — perhaps by cutting down on unnecessary expenses — you're far more likely to build an emergency fund. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

Creating a plan

Now that you know why a financial plan is so important, it's time to create one. The good news is that while a financial planner can help, you don't necessarily have to work with one if doing so is too costly.

Start by creating a household budget that shows how much you spend each month, including estimates for discretionary expenses, and how much you earn. Then, determine how much money you need to save for retirement, college tuition, and building an emergency fund. If you can't save a lot, start by saving whatever you can each month. From there, you might be able to boost those savings by reducing some of your less important expenses.

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