How to plan if you are low on funds – Daily News

on Aug23
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If you (or someone you know) feel you do not have enough income or assets to require a financial plan, you are not alone.

A Federal Reserve study in 2018 found that 25% of Americans have zero retirement savings and that one-third of middle-class Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency. According to the US Census Bureau, 45% of Californians did not own a home in 2020.

Traditional personal financial planning starts with long-term goals, sometimes events that will not happen for over 30 years, like your retirement and educational planning for your kids. This is often an immediate turn-off if you are young or have limited funds. How can you think about buying expensive life insurance or setting aside 10% of your income (often called “pay yourself first”) for your retirement when you are barely making it month to month?

It is tough to plan for long-term goals if you are currently dealing with economic insecurity and have uncertainty about your future.

What if you already had a financial plan that was derailed? People most often file for bankruptcy due to sudden, unexpected life-changing events, including illness or injury, job loss, and loss of a spouse through death or divorce. With all of the suffering we see around us, why put forth all the time and effort, and make sacrifices right now for a promise in the distant future that may not happen?

The traditional financial planning process was developed in the last century for a different generation. It is improbable that most young people will ever possess the same wealth as their parents and grandparents. It is not your imagination that life is more expensive: Decreasing real wages, inflation, and “shrinkflation,” when we receive less service and smaller products for the same price, are real. It was much easier for baby boomers to graduate college without debt, purchase (and pay off) a home, and retire in their early 60s than it is for younger people today.

But, instead of throwing out the outdated financial planning altogether, what if we take the best parts of it to help you improve your financial condition (or that of someone you know) starting right now? Let’s just set aside the first step of drafting your long-term goals and, instead, understand and utilize the best (mostly free) financial planning tools available today.

Reacting vs. deciding

First, understand that even though you do not have a financial plan, you are still making financial decisions that impact your future every day. Any decision that has to do with money- spending, saving, charging, signing- is either something you planned or something that you reacted to passively or because it was convenient.

When you negotiated the salary and benefits at your new job, leased a car or an apartment, opened a bank account, or decided how much to pay this month on your credit card, you were participating in our economy, and those actions impacted your financial future. When it comes to finances, most people do not research and weigh their options, review contracts before signing, ask questions, or negotiate- and this is also part of planning.

For instance, in the book Women Don’t Ask, author Linda Babcock writes that 93% of women (and 43% of men) did not negotiate their first salary. Yet, those who negotiated were able to increase their pay by over 7%. It may not sound like much, but if you had an additional $350 a month salary and invested with an annual return of 8% in a tax-deferred account for 30 years, you would end up with over half of a million dollars.

Several industries are “banking” on you just doing what is easiest and not being an informed and mindful consumer.  For example, banks made $30 billion in overdraft fees last year, and the interest rates on credit cards will increase again in 2021, even though other interest rates have remained flat, according to Bankrate. Most consumers pick a bank based on the convenience of the location instead of on the service and fees.

There are companies everywhere that are ready to take what little you have. Credit card companies want you to respond to their special offers with introductory rates that go up after a short time. Private “diploma mills” are happy to sign you up for student loans with no guarantee of future employment or a raise. Car companies want to put you into a leased vehicle with a low down payment (but with high excess mileage fees) you can use on the delivery job you took to make that car payment.

There’s an app for that

To make better financial decisions, you will need help researching options, knowing what questions to ask, and helping you become comfortable with negotiating. The support to do all of that is available, mostly for free, electronically.

So, set aside some time to do some research and to start making changes.

First, you will want to make sure you receive everything available to you while you still have limited income. Right now, there are many benefits available to help with the cost of rent, utilities, higher education, food, dependent care, and health care. Make it a priority to research your living expenses to see if some assistance is available in each category. There is a list of federal programs, along with links to state programs at

There are articles on how to negotiate the best pay and benefits without fear. The Harvard Business Review at and are two of many sites offering career help. If you are thinking of adding a second job, maybe invest in yourself instead by using the time to add some skills, often for free or at low cost. Read up on how employers like Apple, Netflix, Google, and Tesla no longer require four-year degrees. Research the job you want, what skills are needed, and how to obtain those skills for free or at a low cost. Research where you want to live and how much you will need to earn to live there.

Many sites are excellent sources for general financial knowledge and comparisons of banking, credit card, and investment products and services. Hint: A couple of sites have “wallet” in the name. There are a few excellent apps that will track your expenses for you and make recommendations. has reviews of several apps. The tools are there, and most of them are free.

It is often claimed that John Steinbeck stated the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. If it helps you to think that your situation is only temporary, go for it. Most of my wealthy clients didn’t start out rich. Everyone has to start somewhere. Just commit to yourself to be mindful of your finances and be actively involved from this day forward. Research, contemplate, negotiate, and decide.

Michelle Herting is a certified public accountant, accredited business valuation specialist, and an accredited estate planner. She frequently speaks to professional groups about tax planning and charitable gift planning. Her offices are located in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.

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