The biggest savings goal you're likely to ever have is retirement. But it's probably not the only one.
Life is full of wants and needs, and some of them are expensive. Most people can't write a big check for a wedding, a new home, college tuition, or a business venture without putting money away first.
So, what do you do when you need to save for retirement and meet other important milestones along the way? You plan for it.
Like navigating with a map, the process of financial planning helps you determine where you'd like to go, even if you have several destinations. You'll have choices when it comes to how you get there and where you stop along the way. Detours may slow you down until you're able to get back on track. As with any journey, a good financial plan starts with your goals, but you can make adjustments as conditions change.
Set your priorities
When you have multiple goals and a budget that only stretches so far, every goal can't be the most important one. Financial planning starts with identifying your goals and then prioritizing them based on importance, cost, and when you want to reach each one.
For most people, retirement is up there at the top and requires the most advanced planning. After all, you could need your nest egg to last 25 to 30 years—or longer. Besides retirement, what matters to you financially might vary depending on your life stage, family needs, and other considerations. When you're starting out, paying off high-interest credit cards or student loans, building an emergency fund, and saving for your first home might come next. Later, long-term wealth and security for your family, including potential for a legacy, could take priority.
Planning doesn't come naturally to every investor. A financial planner can help you identify goals, land on a savings amount, create an investment plan for each goal, and put your plan in writing so you can stay focused on what you want to achieve. As new goals enter the picture, a financial plan can guide you toward which ones you can afford given your income, expenses, and time horizon. Then, you can reprioritize if you need to.
Find your next step
In addition to helping you estimate the costs and timing to reach each goal, a good financial plan generally has personalized action steps, including check-ins with your financial planner. Based on your goals and budget, a financial planner can help you determine what steps to take next and consider different ways of keeping your goals on track. This can be especially helpful when you have competing goals.
Take education, for example. Once you have kids, you might feel pressure to cut back on retirement savings to put money away for their college years. But an action step from a planning session could suggest specific ways to reprioritize or augment your budget so you can make progress on both goals.
You might find you have more wiggle room than you thought in managing your costs. Or you might be inspired to supplement your income, investigate scholarships, or start saving and investing earlier to give your money more potential opportunity to grow. A good plan will also help you choose strategies, such as use of tax-advantaged accounts, so you can potentially minimize fees and invest tax-efficiently.
Adjust as you go
Life comes at you fast, and often changes. What's important to you today might not be so important tomorrow. You might face expenses or losses that weren't supposed to be part of the picture. Or you might have an unexpected windfall and be able to reach your goals faster and add new ones.
Whatever happens, you can better manage life's inevitable changes with a good financial plan that adjusts along with your goals and priorities—and by getting personalized help when you need it.