April is National Financial Literacy Month, and it’s the perfect time to plant the seeds for long-term financial success.
Spring is about April showers that bring May flowers, preparing flowerbeds and gardens for new growth, and tossing out those never-used things as part of spring cleaning. Spring brings new hope – and new life.
Another reason why April is an excellent time to button down and get serious on establishing a financial plan? Chances are you recently filed your tax return. Whether you cheered a refund or jeered owing taxes, an effective financial plan can make dealing with Uncle Sam a bit easier – and possibly more rewarding.
As is the annual tradition, Governor Jerry Brown designated the month of April as California Financial Literacy Month and The California Department of Business Oversight has once again put together a tremendous webpage to highlight the multitude of financial resources available to Californians.
Financial Literacy Month encourages consumers to learn more about financial tools and establish a financial plan. We want consumers to learn about important financial matters such as creating and managing a budget, paying down debt while saving for emergencies, and establishing achievable financial goals, from building a college fund for your children to a retirement plan for you. Of course, if you’re already making use of these financial tools, you are steps ahead of most people.
About three of every four consumers live paycheck to paycheck. It would be great to see consumers lower that percentage – and having the appropriate financial literacy resources available is a great place to start. Plus, a few dollars saved today could definitely help if a financial storm hits in the future.
Here are five basic steps that will help you build a better financial foundation.
- Make a commitment: Consider how you view – and spend – money. Be honest, are you a spend-every-dollar consumer or do you spend wisely?
- Assess your financial situation: List your assets – house, savings, retirement plans, etc. – and your monthly spending. How can you save more and spend less?
- Get organized: Make sure you are aware of all of your finance-related accounts and situations, from every credit card and their balances to the homeowner or renter’s insurance policy. Develop a financial organization system (the pile on the kitchen counter doesn’t count).
- Establish priorities: Understand your needs (food, housing) and wants (cashmere sweater, weeklong cruise to the Bahamas). Also think about what you are working and saving for: A house, college for the kids, retirement (even if it’s decades away). It is never too early to start saving for college and/or retirement, they come fast.
- Live on a budget: Spend a month tracking your spending, save every receipt. Then, establish a monthly budget to determine what you need – and what you can live without. Passing on the cashmere sweater every so often and saving those dollars can help you reach your long-term goals and be better prepared for a financial emergency (car repair, medical bills, a home plumbing problem, an unplanned trip for a family emergency).
There are many excellent books about financial planning and numerous online resources, including many of our partner housing counseling agencies, that will help with the five steps listed above and so much more. Also, many banks and credit unions offer financial planning resources and services.
We encourage everyone to take full advantage of Financial Literacy Month and establish a financial plan for long-term success.
We also understand that even with the best financial plan in place, hardships happen. A job loss, cut in pay, a death in the family, divorce or even extraordinary medical bills are hard to prepare for and recover from financially.
If you’re facing that situation, please consider Keep Your Home California. The free mortgage-assistance program offers as much as $100,000 to help hard-hit homeowners with their payments. The federally funded program has helped more than 71,000 homeowners through March 2017.
In addition to a financial hardship, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – must participate in Keep Your Home California. More than 260 servicers, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, are enrolled in the program.
Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or find more information at www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language through a free translation service.