Alice Lightner Johnson is a long-time member of St. Johns and the owner of LifeShift Services, LLC. She specializes in assisting clients with streamlining and organizing financial and estate documents, and also provides downsizing and move management services. Alice shares her top tips for getting organized this new year.
I like to think of these cold and dark days of winter as an opportunity to attend to tasks that get pushed aside at other times of the year. With my work in the financial services business over many years, I see great value in examining your financial situation on a regular basis. Taking these steps can help get you started on your path to financial wellness.
Take a good look at your spending and saving habits. Examine credit card and debit card statements from the past year and highlight expenses you can cut out. Do you have an emergency fund? If not set up automatic withdrawals to get one started. Does your charitable giving reflect your values and are you supporting the causes you care about? Prayer and careful thought can help direct you to changes you may want to make for the coming year.
If you have retirement accounts, life insurance or annuities that have beneficiaries, review those designations to make sure they are correct and update if needed. It is also a good time to take a look at your estate plan. If you don’t have a will or estate plan in place, get it done! The Minnesota Attorney General’s office has a helpful website with a wealth of information to guide you, https://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/handbooks/probate/default.asp.
Worthwhile goals are having less to keep track of and less paper coming into the house. Start by making a master list of all of your financial assets and obligations and identify what can be streamlined. If you have debt on several credit cards perhaps they can be consolidated into one lower interest loan. Maintaining multiple retirement accounts from job changes can mean lots of unnecessary fees, so look into rolling them over into one account. Set up online bill paying to simplify managing monthly bills.
Most of us hang on to paper much longer than we need to. My rule of thumb is that if you can get the information somewhere else you don’t need to keep it (if in doubt always check with your CPA or financial advisor). Clean out files of old statements and bills you no longer need. Set up a binder or file with all of your important estate and life documents so loved ones can find them. Include your master list of financial assets and obligations, as well as computer passwords and information about online accounts. I am always in favor of keeping hard to replace documents like birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports and the like in a fire proof safe or bank safe deposit box.
Talking about finances and money with loved ones can be hard, but it is so important to have those conversations! If you have kids include them when you discuss family finances, charitable giving and your estate plans. Communicate with those you have designated to take care of your affairs if you become incapacitated or die so they know your wishes and know where to find things. I have seen in families where there is good communication about money, there is less chance of misunderstandings or hard feelings happening down the road.
Similar to taking care of your physical health, giving time and attention to your financial matters on a regular basis carries over into other areas of your life in positive ways. We honor ourselves, our work and our loved ones and we are showing gratitude to God for the gifts He has given us.
Thank you Alice!
Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. A look through the Gospels shows us that Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of finances. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.