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Did you know that October 7-11th is Financial Planning Week? As part of the week, the CISI (Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment) is encouraging everyone to sign up for a FREE financial planning session.
Now before you switch off and think ‘oh that’s not for me because I don’t earn enough money’ then think again. Although typically financial planners do work with relatively wealthy clients, helping them manage their investments and savings, Financial Planning Week is for everybody. In fact, if you don’t currently have much in the way of savings or retirement plans then all the more reason to take up the offer of a free session.
I know that looking at your finances can be scary but financial planning is actually something I feel very strongly about as money has an impact on so many other areas of your life. In my twenties I spent a long time ignoring debts I had built up as a student and single parent, hoping they would go away, but you know what? They don’t. All that happens is that you get more and more stressed and worried about them. At some point you have to stare your finances right in the eye and remind them that YOU are in charge. Once you stop being afraid of money, that’s when you can start to feel more in control and make proper plans.
Feeling confident about your finances is incredibly empowering.
So how does the free financial planning session work and what can you expect?
The first step is looking at where you are right now. What plans do you already have in place? What savings or pensions, if any, do you have? This was covered in a few simple forms that I had to fill out before my session with Andrew and Sarah at Berry and Oak, so that they could have a picture of my situation before we spoke.
To be honest, even just this stage was really valuable as it forces you to take stock. I consider myself relatively well-prepared financially, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly what the terms are on my life assurance, or for how long my income protection insurance would pay out should I find myself unable to work. I wasn’t even completely on top of what my monthly income and expenditure was. Just taking an hour or so to fill out the forms gave me a much clearly idea of my current position, and made me feel much more confident, before I’d even spoken to Andrew and Sarah. I also checked my state pension online, which was much easier to do than I’d imagined and is really important as it tells you how much state pension you’re set to be entitled to.
TOP TIP from Andrew and Sarah: even if as a family you think you earn too much to be eligible for child benefit, claim it anyway and then pay it back as part of your tax return. If you’re a stay at home parent, your state pension only knows to take this into account by checking to see if you’ve been receiving child benefit, so if you stop claiming because your partner is earning too much, but you’re at home raising your family, then you could miss out.
Next you think about where you’d like to be, both in the short term and years down the line when you’re ready for retirement. It might seem like a long way away but the sooner you start thinking about it, the more you can get out of it. Because that’s the ultimate goal after all right? To be in a position to be able to spend more time doing what you love. Like taking amazing train journeys around the world. (I’ve never done this but always felt like I’d love it, especially if I had to solve a mystery on board.)
The session itself was conducted remotely via FaceTime, which was great for me as it meant it could fit around my schedule and I could do it from home. Many of the financial planners taking part in Financial Planning Week offer the option to do your session this way, or via Skype or the telephone. You can check this when you’re finding your planner to book your free session.
What I loved about my financial planning session was that as well as feeling generally much more motivated about my finances, I came away with some really practical, tangible next steps. As soon as we hung up I went up to the spare room for a rummage in my box of useful documents, and have already started laying the foundations for a more effective financial plan.
Below I’ve filled you in on nine things that I did straightaway after my free financial planning session as part of the CISI Financial Planning Week. (Strike while the iron is hot and all that.) Obviously this will be different for you in your own session, but it should give you an idea of how a financial planning session might be useful, what you might get out of it, and how it could help you turn those dreams of train travel, or whatever it may be, into reality.
When you think about it, a train journey is a pretty good analogy for financial planning – you have a destination, stops along the way to keep you on track, and hopefully, if you plan it right, you enjoy the journey and don’t end up stood next to the toilets.
So, here’s what I did…
I changed my mindset
This was such an important one for me, as there were a couple of things in my finances that I had become fixated on as ‘things I must do’. One of them was overpaying on my mortgage. I only got on the property ladder very recently, and so still have 28 years of a mortgage left to pay off. Never having been a homeowner before this often feels very unsettling and I feel like I’m behind so many other people my own age that I should be catching up.
Once we’d chatted it through though, I could see that this is purely phycological, and when you think about it financially it makes no sense to be rushing to pay off a debt that is only charged at around 2% interest when I could be paying the money instead into a pension, earning a much better rate, and getting tax relief.
I focussed on one thing at a time
This was the other big thing I was doing wrong – trying to do everything at once when I’d be better focussing on one target at a time. As well as wanting to overpay on my mortgage, I was also trying to increase payments into my pension, overpay on a loan and build up short terms savings, but it’s too much.
Now I’ve prioritised, so while I keep all my payments at the current levels, I’m channeling everything else into reaching a short term savings goal so that I have an emergency fund equivalent to three month’s income. Once I’ve done this I’ll switch the money I was putting into that to clear the loan, then only when that’s clear will I increase my pension contributions. It sounds so simple, but I just hadn’t focussed properly.
I set up a dedicated savings account
I actually had three online savings accounts linked to my current account, which are all easily accessible. You’d think then that I would be good at the short term savings bit, but actually when I properly LOOKED, it was a bit of a mess, the accounts had names that weren’t relevant any more and I was only using one of them. I decided I needed just two – one for my tax and one for the short term savings that are my first priority. I split the money between them properly, and renamed them more appropriately, and already I felt much more organised.
I checked that my pension funds were suitable and delivering as they should be
When I set up my pension I was questioned quite extensively about my attitude to risk and came out as very open to taking more risk with my investments. This is exactly how it should be at my age (41) – if you’re not in higher risk funds when you’re younger then you’re really missing out as even if things don’t go your way you have plenty of time for them to even themselves out. It’s only as you start getting into your 50s and 60s that you should be reassessing things and starting to transfer into more secure funds.
I also checked to see what my average growth has been over the last few years and how this compared with the average I should expect given my attitude to risk.
I set up Emma
Emma is a money management app recommended to me by Andrew and Sarah. Emma helps you set budgets, tracks your spending for you, and helps you to categorise it, which is definitely something I could benefit from as I’m really guilty of that ‘£5 in Starbucks, £10 on a book’ type of spending.
Emma also helps you to reduce spending by identifying wasteful subscription services that you might not have realised you were still signed up to. I did this exercise a few months ago – cancelling or downgrading subscriptions to various work related services – and saved about £70 a month.
If you’re not convinced about the benefits of cutting back on small spends, have a read of this post from Berry and Oak about the ‘cappuccino plan‘ and see how giving up a daily coffee could make you over £12,000 in 15 years.
I checked the details of my insurance policies
I currently have a fixed term life assurance policy that would pay off the mortgage if I died, and income protection insurance in case I’m unable to work, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the details of these. It only took me ten minutes or so to check the terms of each to make sure they’re still suitable for me. I also set myself reminders for when they were coming up from renewal so I could take another look.
I wrote everything down
This is probably the most important one of all, because we all know that just committing something to paper makes it much more likely that you’ll succeed. I’ve written down target dates for the savings and listed my priorities, and already I feel much more in control. This is essentially what a financial plan IS – a written plan of your financial goals and how you’re going to achieve them.
I made a list of my next steps
Obviously I couldn’t do everything all at once and still write this post in time for you to get your own free financial planning session, so to finish up I made a list of all of my next steps. This includes updating my will, (probably not ideal to have an ex-partner as your executor) and setting up a lasting power of attorney. (So much better to just do this now rather than waiting – find out how to set up an LPA here.)
If you’re over 55 you can make use of Free Wills Month, or if not then try Will Aid. Will Aid runs during November, so it’s good timing, but it fills up fast so be quick.
I’m going to have a look at setting up a separate bills account to keep all my direct debits together in one place and I also want to create a document for Bee and Belle with details of all of my financial matters, insurance policies and will, so that should the worst happen everything is easy for them.
I gave myself a big pat on the back and ate a Jaffa Cake
Although you might moan to a friend about your mortgage interest rate, (or reverse mortgage rate for those over 62+), or complain about the price of the food shop going up, we don’t often go into detail with other people about our finances so it can be hard to know whether or not the things you’re doing are enough. Most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable going around asking all of our friends the value of their pension pots, so unless you speak to a financial planner, it’s easy to feel like you’re floundering.
One of the biggest takeaways for me from my free financial planning session was just that reassurance that I’m in a good place. I don’t have millions of pounds or anything, but I’m doing the right things and in the right direction. With just a few tweaks and updates, which I feel much more motivated to do now, my financial future is looking half decent. Given that I was pregnant at 16, have managed very low income levels for years, and have been self-employed for the last ten, I don’t think that’s too shoddy.
Sod it, let’s make it two Jaffa Cakes. Now bring on the trains.
Start the new season with a FREE financial planning session, available for booking before, during and after CISI Financial Planning Week 7-11 October.