Many people file away all their important-looking paperwork, yet they’re still not clear on their basic financial situation. Do you know roughly what your assets are and where they are? How much your total living expenses are? What about your total debt?
If you can’t answer these questions, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. Although many people don’t take the time to do it, getting organized is easy and can be done in a single evening. Here’s what you need to do to take control of your finances:
Start with a complete overview of your short-term and long-term living expenses. To find out how much money you need to maintain your current lifestyle, spend an hour or two reviewing your checkbook, credit-card records, bank statements, loans and mortgage payments.
Identify all the costs that are essential, such as food, shelter, transportation and health care. Total those up. Then, figure out the percentage of those expenses that your income covers and the percentage that comes from various other sources.
It can be a little frightening to realize how threatened your financial security would be if your income were suddenly cut in half. But, isn’t it better to find that out now than to wait until something happens?
Do you know which accounts are in your name alone and which you hold jointly with your partner? Examine your pension plans and retirement investments, too. When will you have access to those funds? What amount can you expect them to provide?
It’s a good idea to know what your health and insurance plans cover in case of an emergency. Now, while you have no emergency, you should find out whether you need authorization to get emergency treatment. Also, be sure you know where copies of life insurance policies are and whom you must call to file a claim.
Finally, you and your partner should both know where all your legal documents are and how to access them.
Once you have a grasp on your current situation, schedule a time to review your finances annually and note any changes. A good time might be shortly after you’ve filed your income taxes. Once you know where you are financially, you can begin to plan where you want to be.