It’s Not Too Late to Craft Your 2019 Financial Game Plan

Financial New Year’s resolutions are one of the most common as nearly one-third of Americans plan to make one in 2019 according to a Fidelity survey. While wishing to strengthen your financial situation in the new year is a good first step, actually following through on this can be difficult. Everyone’s situation is unique, but let’s take a look at a few of the top areas to address when crafting your 2019 financial game plan.

Reevaluate your savings strategy
The start of the new year is a great time to take a step back and reevaluate your current savings strategy. First, consider looking into your retirement savings options. If you have not already, maximize the match your employer offers for 401(k) contributions. One in five workers are not contributing enough to get the full match from their employer according to research from benefits administrator Alight Solutions. 

Additionally, consider sitting down with your GuideStream financial advisor if your goals or needs have changed recently. Perhaps you have a new child on the way and want to begin an education savings plan, or maybe you have set a resolution to make a big purchase in the new year. Whatever your new goal may be, being prepared for the financial commitment ahead of time will be a big help in achieving it.

Learn and build your credit score
Your credit score is a constantly evolving number that banks and other lenders use to decide whether to approve you for a loan or line of credit. If you do not know your current score, it can be easily checked for free on a number of sites such as or Checking your score on these sites does not hurt your score since it is a soft inquiry. A hard inquiry, on the other hand, is done by banks or lenders when you apply for a new loan or credit card. Too many hard inquiries in a short period of time can have a negative impact on your score.

Once you know your current score, there are many different actions you can take to improve it. The most impactful however is to improve your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of credit you are currently using comparative to your available line of credit. For example, if you have a $1,000 line of credit and just made a $900 credit card purchase, this will likely have a negative impact on your score the longer it remains at this high ratio. Paying off current credit amounts not only helps reduce this ratio but can help you save money lost on accumulating interest charges. Consider consulting your advisor on additional tips to improve your score and pay back debt.

Identify areas to cut back
Perhaps the simplest financial goal you can make for the new year is to reduce spending on non-essential purchases. One of the most popular ways Americans are cutting monthly costs is by getting rid of traditional cable. Though streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are far from brand new offerings, the content they offer is eliminating the need for many consumers to continue spending on cable TV. This results in cord-cutters saving an average of $85 per month even including the amounts spent on internet and streaming services according to Fortune.

In 2019, do not underestimate the savings that can be had in other purchase areas like restaurants and entertainment. Forbes contributor Priceonomics found that it is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than to cook at home. Of course, completely ditching all restaurant and entertainment expenses is not a realistic goal, but saving money on these occasions is still possible. Before planning a night out or heading to a restaurant, scan coupons sites such as Groupon and RetailMeNot for deals.

Biggest Retirement Savings Mistakes

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, a shocking 21 percent of Americans have nothing at all saved for the future, and 78 percent say they are extremely or somewhat concerned about not having enough set aside for retirement.

Everyone’s path to retirement is different, but there are general rules that can help guide your savings strategy over time. Here are retirement tips for each stage of your life:

Your 20s: Not taking the advantage of time
Fresh into your new job out of college in your 20s is an exciting time and can set the foundation for a successful financial future. The biggest mistake to avoid during this time is not getting started early and missing out on the most powerful retirement savings factor out there: time.

Recency bias can push young savers to dedicate more than is required to student loans lessening the ability to compound savings. It may be natural to think of retirement as a lower priority since it is decades away compared to student loans, both can be done at the same time. 

Be sure to understand how your employer’s match works and maximize this if possible. Even if you have doubts about your current job in the long-term, most retirement savings can be transferred to your next employer or an individual retirement account should you choose to switch jobs.

Your 30s: Getting housed in
Life changing events such as marriage and children will likely start coming into play during this time. As these events occur, some savers may find themselves buying a house too early. 

While you should not feel pressure to stay cramped-up in a small apartment, be sure look at your first home purchase from all angles. Buying a home too small for your growing family might not work for your needs years down the road. Spending lavishly on a big home might seem sensible now, but consider what happens in the event of a move or job transition.

Your 40s: Shifting your focus
Your early years are considered the accumulation phase but do not think that your 40s are a time to neglect retirement contributions. By this time, there are may be many different areas that need financial attention in your life. How much should you be setting aside for your child’s education? Should you use that new bonus for a home remodel?

Questions during this time can get complex and it is important to prioritize what saving areas need the most attention. Now is a good time to consult with your GuideStream financial advisor to break down these various areas and your goals for each.

Your 50s: Inaccurate assumptions
By your 50s, you likely have a clearer picture of what your savings situation looks like and can begin preparing for when you want to retire and the expenses you expect to have.

Too often, savers underestimate what they will need throughout retirement. According to a recent study featured in Wealth Professional, 15 percent of retirees globally do not have enough income to live comfortably and another 43 percent say they could have used a little more income after retiring.

Similar to your 40s, these decisions of when to retire and how much will be needed can be complex to navigate. With the help of your GuideStream financial advisor, consider all of the factors that may be in play. These can include upcoming healthcare costs, what happens in the case of an underperforming market, and other scenarios.

30 and Successful?

by Caitlin Koppelman
September 2016

What’s the deal with being 30? Why does culture seem to press in on us to “have our lives together” by the time we reach this milestone? We’re told that college is the appropriate time to “find yourself”. There even seems to be a few years’ post-college where we’re allowed a “grace-period” to wrap up some last-minute things, but once we blow out those 30 candles: our Success-O-Meter had better be well on it’s way to 100%.

But, what does it mean to be successful? Somewhere along the way, most of us begin to look at the people and forces around us to tell us what success looks like: money, prestige, power… But what if we redefined success? What if we set goals for growth in different segments of our lives and let those things define our movement, instead of being pushed around by every wind and whim of culture?

I would never conclude that any of the aforementioned goals are bad. Money is simply a tool – not bad or good in its own right, but it’s all about what you do with it. Prestige (respect) and Power aren’t negatives either, but there are certainly two ways to carry these things. Our world seems to value arrogance and pride even though that’s not the only way to convey respect and power. For example: what if the most prestigious leaders led in humility and as public servants? Wouldn’t that be a lofty goal for a 30-something person!

I will say that some in this 18-30 age range seem to take pride in a lack of development. To that mindset, I would point out that your life is what you make of it. No one is obligated to create your life for you. Don’t wait for someone else to move first so you can follow them.

To those in my generation, looking to make their mark on the world, may I offer a bit of advice? Set Goals. Not cliché goals, but rather the kind that really shape your decisions. Think about who you want to be, what you want to do, what you want to offer society, and set goals accordingly. Let the things you value speak through your goals. Put some time frames on them and then set some simple steps to get there. Reaching for specific goals gives purpose and focus to where you point your resources: time, money, energy – the world tells us how we should spend those, but what if you let your values and your dreams point you in a direction and then pressed your resources into those purposes?

It is possible to be 30 and successful, but it won’t happen on accident, and what culture thinks is successful won’t fulfill you. Your life is what you make of it. Start building! 

Financial Planning – 30 & Under

December 2014
-By Caitlin Koppelman
While I was in college, people told me I had fewer obligations and more financial flexibility than I’d have in my entire life. I could not comprehend that at the time. In retrospect, I can see it now:  No mortgage, no kids, and those blessed student loans were still in deferment!  Life was so simple: almost no liabilities and a high percentage of discretionary income. Now, I have to remind myself that I’m in the “accumulation phase” of life. I’m accumulating valuable assets for the future: an education, our first home and starting a retirement savings plan. Those assets aren’t cheap, but I’m making an investment for the future. Every mortgage payment and every retirement contribution is like money in a future bank account.

Even though it’s natural to want to pay more attention to your present bank account, now is the time to make deposits for that far off phase of life. Do it now, while it’s easier than ever. Notice I said, “easier” not “easy”. It is never easy to delay gratification, but if we want to reap the benefits at harvest time, we have to sow and tend the garden along the way. With 35+ years on your side, a little bit now can multiply if handled wisely.

Who has time to tend that financial garden? There are only so many hours in the week and who wants to spend their down time planning a future retirement that they can barely imagine?  As a 28-year-old, I can’t blame you for being skeptical. You’re probably a little jaded by the whole idea of savings, debt, and retirement. It comes down to risk and reward. If a Traverse City cherry farmer is hopeful for a good crop, he faces the risk of frost, pests and drought, head on. It’s worth the risk for him because of the potential reward. His potential reward is higher because he took the risk and planted the trees. For me, I’m not willing to live a life of limited influence in the future because of financial constraints. So, I plant now and plan for a harvest.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

  1. Many employers offer 401(k) matching programs. Take full advantage of that by deferring at least the percentage at which the company will match your contribution. That’s free money! If your employer doesn’t offer a match, at least do your own contributing.
  2. Connect with a financial adviser you trust. Be brave and share your goals. Take advantage of their expertise. You’re a professional with your own expertise in a specific area. Let them use their wisdom and experience to set you free to focus on the things you care about.
  3. After you’ve made a trustworthy connection, make a plan and stick to it! Come flood or draught; keep your eye on the prize!

Remember, delayed gratification is not natural. When something threatens your cherry trees, you’ll be tempted to give up. Stay the course! The harvest is coming!