Financial lessons you can learn in 15 minutes
Over the past six months, I have interviewed Kevin Collins, a financial consultant with University of Arizona retirement vendor TIAA, more than a dozen times on a wide variety of money management topics during the Life & Work Connections "15 for You" series.
From setting up a basic budget for the very first time to riding the roller coaster of the stock market, these bite-sized info sessions have aimed to help University employees stay on track – fiscally, at least – through a very difficult year.
Below are a handful of the lessons I've learned from those discussions. I hope you find them useful as you navigate your own financial journey in the months, and even years, to come.
Budget in a way that fits your life
Budgeting means different things to different people, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. As Kevin says, you need to find a budget style that fits your life. "If you can't live with it, you're not going to do it. You're going to go back to your old ways," he told me.
Many people think about budgeting for large-scale purchases, such as a home, car or vacation, but tracking the day-to-day expenses of groceries, gas or the occasional cup of coffee can make a big impact, too.
With benefits open enrollment starting Oct. 19, you can also take advantage of an important opportunity to plan for your annual health care expenses. Work to reduce your out-of-pocket medical costs, and look into whether a health care flexible spending account is a good option for your situation.
The important thing is to find a budgeting system that works for you, one that you find easy to stick to.
Be prepared for stormy weather
In Arizona, the rain doesn't mess around when it finally decides to fall. If you're not prepared with the proper gear, you will get soaked.
The same can be said about financial complications. It's easy to avoid thinking about a savings account when things are going well, but when an unexpected expense happens, those savings could be the umbrella, slicker and wellies that see you through the stormy patch.
After you set your budget, you can more easily check the dollar amounts for monthly expenditures. Collins suggested setting aside an emergency fund covering three to six months of expenses, just in case of a rainy day.
No matter where you are in life, you'll benefit from thinking about the future. That's especially true with finances, where an investment made early can reap significant dividends decades down the road.
If you're just starting out in your career, retirement might seem a lifetime away. However, today's small contributions can mean an extra cushion, and extra comfort, later in life. Explore the University's supplemental retirement plans and carefully assess your voluntary contribution, so you know you're making the most of your University earnings.
And remember that, one day, you won't be around – but your loved ones will. It's never too early to consider life insurance (PDF) and estate planning.
A quick reminder from Kevin: One small step you can schedule once a year is reviewing your beneficiary information, to make sure that the person you want to receive your assets is clearly marked and their contact details are accurate.
Ride the financial roller coaster with patience
You've learned over the past several months to not touch your face and to stay distanced from others.
Keep those guidelines in mind when you think about your retirement account. You may be tempted to dip into those savings when the economy takes a downturn, but as Kevin warns, "Try not to touch your retirement now. We don't want you to do anything rash, anything that's not based upon objective advice or good thought-out process."
Market volatility isn't going away, and holding firm during the ups and downs will mean stability in the long run.
Don't go it alone
Financial issues can be stressful, but you can ease that stress with the proper guidance. You probably schedule preventive checkups to keep your physical health in tip-top condition, and you can do likewise with your finances.
The University offers free one-on-one meetings with financial consultants for all employees, so you can get your specific questions answered and establish goals for your unique financial situation.
If you're interested in expanding your money management knowledge at your own pace, check out the financial literacy resources on the Life & Work Connections website.
Fiscal health is just as important as any other dimension of your wellness. Be proactive and patient in building up your bank account, just as you would in building any other healthy habit.
Chad Myler is a health promotion manager at Life & Work Connections, where he oversees programs that impact the population health of University of Arizona employees. He holds a master's degree in health promotion from the University of Utah and is a certified health education specialist.
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A version of this article appeared on the Life & Work Connections website.