I see it every day: High net-worth clients feeling stressed out, overwhelmed and sleep-deprived. Despite their affluence, they feel like they have no free time and are missing the joy in life they so desperately desire. And as I look into their weary eyes, I want to ask: “What is pursuing wealth costing you in terms of the quality of your personal life?"
Many people put off the fun and life-enriching activities until an indefinite time in the future when we retire or reach some other personal or financial milestone. The problem is, we can wind up deferring the real joys and satisfaction in the present because we allow life’s responsibilities and other distractions to get in our way.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify, simplify!” In that spirit, here are six ways to “go into the woods” and streamline your finances, freeing you up to live life in the here and now, rather than in some indefinite or arbitrary future date:
1. Prioritize. Sit down with your spouse or significant other and prioritize the next 90 days. Identify your top financial goals and develop a sequence to accomplish each over the coming months. Focus on what must get accomplished, commit to get it done, and revisit your priorities at your next quarterly meeting. Tackling one task at a time builds momentum and increases your chances for success. This is also an ideal discussion to have with your financial advisor. Developing a partnership with your financial advisor brings an additional degree of objectivity to help you achieve your long-term goals as well as bring contentment to your daily life.
2. Delegate. List all the financial tasks and duties you must address and divide them up between you and your significant other based on your unique abilities. Have the savvy consumer in the family do the shopping and the math wiz balance the budget or track investment returns.
3. Automate. Direct deposit your paycheck (preferably to a bank that offers free checking). Bank online so you can review deposits and withdrawals timely, keep track of your balances and move funds between accounts at your convenience. Take advantage of online bill paying services for recurring bills. Set up an automatic savings program in conjunction with your financial advisor’s recommendations to make sure you pay yourself first. These programs make building an emergency fund or buying stocks and mutual funds easy and can build your asset base more quickly. Incidentally, making investments on a systematic basis often provides a higher return in the long run than trying to time the market from day to day.
4. Consolidate. Take a look at the different financial institutions you use and how many accounts and credit cards you have to see where you can consolidate accounts. This will not only simplify your finances and reduce paperwork and fees, but can save you significant time and eliminate confusion with your family’s finances. Remember, when consolidating bank accounts, make sure your bank is FDIC insured and that the combined funds at any one institution don’t exceed the FDIC’s deposit insurance limitations. Visit www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/ or call 1877-ASK-FDIC for more information.
5. Declutter. Unburden your mind and clean out your home by purging your closets, donating stuff you don’t need to charity, and banishing the clutter to help you reclaim your time as well as your space. Get rid of old and unnecessary paperwork and develop a system for organizing your financial documents. Many of the physical documents can be scanned and saved on your computer rather than filing mounds of paper in your home or office. Here are some guidelines:
- Keep ATM slips, but toss after checking them against your monthly statement.
- Keep pay stubs and throw them away once you get your W-2.
- Keep your bank statements, but discard once you get your annual statement.
- Keep tax returns in your computer database, including the most recent three years close at hand.
- Keep birth certificates, marriage license, deeds and titles, trust, estate and financial planning documents and death certificates in a safe or safe deposit box − making sure trusted family members have access.
- Keep active warranties and insurance policies in a special file for ready access.
- Keep non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA or conversions to a Roth IRA; save the IRS form 8606 you filed when making the deposits. When you withdraw during retirement, it will easy to prove you’ve already paid the taxes.
6. Outsource. Too busy to do busy work? Life full of tasks you don’t want to do? Outsource! Outsource! Outsource! According to Timothy Ferriss, author of the best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek, people spend 80% of their time on the most trivial 20 percent of tasks. Ferriss urges us to outsource anything that can be done for a cost less than the value of our own time. He goes beyond the usual hire a housecleaner or use a service to deliver your groceries to outsourcing more personal tasks like researching less expensive airfare and shopping for gifts. Some sites use only American virtual assistants to answer calls, screen emails and more. There are sites that use less costly talent pools outside the U.S. We have been referring selected clients to hire a part-time bookkeeper or accountant to pay their bills and organize their financial record-keeping. They get an organized look at where their money goes and grows; I get well-organized monthly statements to help oversee cash flows and assist us in the wealth advisory process.
In short, step away from the small stuff, eliminate the clutter, and get out from under that cloud of distractions so that you can focus not only on enjoying making your living but also on creating a rich and fulfilling life.
This information in this article is general in nature and may not apply to your own financial situation. Please consult your own professional tax, and/or financial advisor regarding this information and your own personal financial needs. For a complete disclosure statement, please see my biography.