Money may not buy happiness, but it will pay for your education, home, out-of-pocket health care costs, vacations, food, clothing and vehicles. You can plan 10 or more years ahead so that you have a road map to the lifestyle you want. Creating such a plan requires a realistic appraisal of what's possible for you and an understanding of the changes you need to make in your current finances.
Your financial planning begins with your career goal. You must decide how far you want to go in your chosen career. This affects all of your other financial planning. For example, if you can hardly wait to retire early and go fishing, you have a different set of income expectations than if you're seeking the corner office at a prestigious firm. Estimate your income 10 years from now.
Ten years is long enough to pay off a lot of debt. Determine if you can become debt-free in the next 10 years. Calculate the monthly payments you would have to make to achieve that goal. Credit card statements come with a chart showing you how long it will take to pay off the balance if you pay the minimum versus a larger amount.
You should choose an amount you want to have invested in the next 10 years. Even if you are paying off debt, you can set aside money to invest. In fact, you can pay matching investment and debt amounts. For example, if you need to pay $300 per month on debt, plan on investing $300 a month as well. This will give you the feeling you are making positive progress instead of just paying off old obligations. Write down how much you want to have invested in the next 10 years.
Looking ahead 10 years, choose how you want to be living. Decide if you will own a house or condo, or rent an apartment. Whatever decisions you make, you can estimate the cost of that lifestyle. Write down the figure you plan to spend on housing a decade in the future.
It costs money to raise a family and to keep one going. Decide how big your family will be in 10 years. Estimate costs for food, clothing, education and incidentals for the size of family you want. The website Real Simple (RealSimple.com) gives estimates in child-related costs, for example. It suggests typical school fees, medical expenses, travel for sports, entertainment, and toys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers an online calculator for the cost of raising a child.
Travel and Entertainment
Make a decision about how much fun time you plan to have in your life 10 years from now. This includes vacations, concerts, dining out, and any hobbies you enjoy or will develop. Estimate your annual expenditures on such activities. Don't leave this category to chance, or you'll never do any of it.
It may sound contradictory to plan for an emergency, but in fact you can calculate the money you would need if you couldn't work for several months, or if you got displaced from your home due to fire or flood. Plan to have three to six month's worth of living expenses set aside for emergencies.
Putting it All Together
Add up all the cost of all of your 10-year plans. In order to implement such a plan, you will need to know your monthly financial obligations for each category. For example, you should determine how much you need to set aside each month to reach your savings goal and your debt pay-off, plus create an emergency fund. Your home, family expenses, and entertainment needs will come out of your income, so describe how you will get to the level of income you will need in 10 years. Your savings and income activities fuel your 10-year plan.
Kevin Johnston writes for Ameriprise Financial, the Rutgers University MBA Program and Evan Carmichael. He has written about business, marketing, finance, sales and investing for publications such as "The New York Daily News," "Business Age" and "Nation's Business." He is an instructional designer with credits for companies such as ADP, Standard and Poor's and Bank of America.