Whether you have a lot of money or a little, financial planning is a beneficial practice that can help you achieve financial stability and preparedness for the future. There are a number of different financial planning tools available, and selection of the best ones largely depends on individual goals. Many financial planning tools are as simple as budget spreadsheets and cash flow management plans, while others, such as tax structuring, retirement investing, and estate planning can be significantly more complex. Choosing the tools that are right for you begins with an assessment of what you are trying to achieve. Much financial planning work can be done individually, but in many cases, a professional financial planner can be an indispensable resource.
Financial planning can take many forms. A household budget that tracks money in and money out is a form of financial planning, as is any form of investment or long-term savings account, including college savings accounts. The key to financial planning is that it is, in fact, a plan—a plan that is flexible and forward-looking. The tools you implement in your financial plan should be tailored to your financial situation and your goals.
The first step in choosing financial planning tools is knowing what it is you are trying to achieve. Many financial planning websites offer free budget planning spreadsheets, and there are a plethora of money management software programs available, often with free trial periods. Books and subscription-based websites also offer advice for do-it-yourself financial planners on matters such as debt consolidation, strategies for increasing savings, and personal financial structuring, with examples appropriate for many scenarios.
Independent financial planning can be a lot harder to do if your goals are more complicated, such as setting up an estate plan to distribute money and assets to your children and grandchildren, aggressively investing in the stock and bond market, or planning for tax-deferred retirement savings. The laws and rules for setting up trusts and wills, accounting for investment income, and planning for taxes vary dramatically by location. Laws are different in each country, and even within the United States, each state has its own rules. A professional financial planner who knows the local rules and can objectively assess your finances and your goals can often be very helpful in identifying the best financial planning tools for your situation.
Financial planners usually offer a range of services, from simply walking through a plan to actually setting it up for you. If your financial goals involve transactions that you are not sure you know how to set up, or if you are interested in new ideas for how you could be doing some parts of your planning better, even just a few consultations with a financial planner could help you get more out of your planning.
There is no objective test for choosing the best financial planning tools, but finding what is right for you is often as simple as figuring out what you want, then learning how to set that plan in motion. Getting started and sticking with it are often the biggest challenges. Do your research, make your plan, and look forward to a more secure and predictable financial future.