The end of the year is a good time to take stock of your financial life, if for no other reason than it's a noteworthy date and therefore easy to remember. Pull out your financial statements, check with your planner or accountant and run the numbers. How did the various parts of your portfolio do? Is it time to rebalance? Does your logic still hold? Is there a new wrinkle to consider?
With that in mind, I've distilled things to the three basics below. They're not particularly sexy, but keep them in mind, and your personal finances will be just fine.
- Financial planning: My first column for Entrepreneur was about how to pick a financial planner. It's still a good idea for most people most of the time to find a good fee-only financial planner (one who doesn't take commissions on investment sales) and draw up a basic plan. Pay the planner's hourly rate, get a financial road map and go back once in a while for midcourse corrections. Get recommendations from friends or co-workers, or find names of planners who might work well for you at napfa.org/consumer/planners or plannersearch.org.
- Estate planning: It's the least desirable aspect of your financial life--who wants to ponder their own death, after all? But it's the key to controlling your assets and not sticking heirs with a mess. At a minimum, draw up a will, a living will and a power-of-attorney designation. Find a list of estate planning lawyers in your area by searching under the "trusts and estates" category at martindale.com.
- Investment planning: The majority of your investment dollars should be in low-cost holdings that run on autopilot. Index funds and/or exchange-traded funds fit the bill. Rather than try to outguess the market, put 90 percent of your money into a few broad-category baskets and let them ride for years at a time. Spread the investments globally, then spend your time worrying about other things.
Scott Bernard Nelson is a newspaper editor and freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.