Financial Planning 101 with Leah

Do you have a financial blueprint for your life at retirement? Operating without one is a little like closing your eyes as you drive down the freeway. You need to know where you’re going and how you expect to get there. But a financial independence plan will help you achieve your goals only if you incorporate it into your financial life, and that won’t happen unless the plan feels comfortable. And that comes from understanding its component parts and how they’re connected. For example consider these elements:
Cash flow analysis
Your plan needs to project where your money will come from and where it will go during the rest of your life (and your spouse’s life, too, if you’re married). What will come in during retirement, from Social Security, a company pension, annuities, and from drawing down your savings? And how will that match the needs of the lifestyle you want?
Several unpredictable variables complicate these calculations. Inflation affects how far your money goes, and investment returns, based in turn on economic and market cycles and your choices, determine how much you have to spend. Taxes will also play a role.
Investment choices 
Three factors affect what should be in your investment portfolio. Your goals: What kind of return do you need, both while you’re working and during retirement, to support your lifestyle? Your risk tolerance: How much volatility in portfolio returns are you willing to accept to meet your goals? Taking greater risks may provide higher potential long-term returns, but not if you panic and sell when the market takes a turn for the worse. And your time horizon: How long do you have to save for retirement, what is your tax bracket, and how many years do you need your savings to last?
Contingency plans
Job losses, expensive illnesses, or the unexpected death of you or your spouse could put your plan off track. There could also be unforeseen expenses involving your children or parents, and the need for nursing home care during retirement could quickly drain your savings. Having a cash cushion along with life, disability, and long-term care insurance can prepare you to handle potential setbacks. Not planning for lifestyle changes is a major mistake and will put your financial future in jeopardy.
Estate planning
This is crucial even if estate taxes aren’t likely to be an issue. You need a will, periodically updated, and a letter of instruction that tells heirs where to find information about financial accounts, life insurance, safe deposit boxes, and the like. It’s also important to designate beneficiaries for 401(k)s, IRAs, and other financial accounts that reflect your wishes and take into account potential tax liability.
It can be complicated to weave together all of these elements. But we have the tools, expertise, and experience to help you create a financial plan that feels comfortable.
Leah Stapleton, CFP, president of Stapleton Financial, is a national expert in financial planning and had been an advocate to Congress on taxation issues.
Stapleton Financial has been serving clients on financial matters since 1986.
To contact Leah Stapleton, call (858) 458-0991 or e-mail Leah at Stapletonfinancial@me.com.

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