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Funding Your Future

3 Key Ways to Protect Your Personal Finances in an Uncertain Climate

Ted Beck

National Endowment for Financial Education

The presidential election and what has followed has been divisive. Americans continue to await the status of the future security of their families, jobs and finances.

Immediately following the election, the National Endowment for Financial Education surveyed people asking how they felt and what they were most concerned about. Just 27 percent believed their personal finance situation would be better off under President Donald Trump. And the grass wasn’t greener on the other side, with just 19 percent believing their financial situations would improve if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Confidence is low, and it will remain low until people get answers.

So let’s focus on what’s causing the anxiety.

The top five largest concerns that people have about their finances under the new administration, in order, are health care costs, taxes, increased costs of living, retirement security and stock market fluctuations. Notice the theme? We cannot individually control any of these. We cannot control the personal costs of health care and rising premiums, whether our taxes are raised or lowered, the inevitability of inflation and an uptick in the costs of living and the unpredictability of a rising rate environment. While we hope answers will come soon, it takes time to implement policy changes, and it will be awhile before anything meaningful occurs. Certainly there are a lot of unknowns. But time is on your side, and there are things you can control.

While we wait for the next tweet, here’s the deal in less than 140 characters: Don’t overreact! Don’t let emotions obstruct rational thought. Focus on what you can control to achieve financial security in 2017.

1. Get debt under control

Take a hard look at what you owe. If there’s a clear warning sign of too much debt, take action. Set a goal to reduce your debt load next year by 5 to 10 percent. That might mean reducing impulse shopping. Six in 10 people admit they purchase on impulse, and 80 percent of those regret purchases afterwards. When you face temptation, walk away for at least 30 minutes and see if you still want it and it’s still a good idea.

2. Start saving now, and do so often

We don’t yet know what an alternative to the health care system would look like. But what’s certain is that costs continue to climb, premiums are more expensive and copays are rising. Assume medical emergencies are not a question of if they will happen, but when. Emergency savings can offset unexpected costs. Common advice tells us we should have six to nine months of income set aside. Again, set a goal—start with as little as $500. Of course, more is better, but by starting small you gain security and goal achievement and you reduce stress. And we know the rules of retirement have changed. Review your long-term savings, and ensure they are appropriate and on target.

3. Shop for better services

Where can you come up with $500 for an emergency fund? Make a contest out of shopping providers to find the best value in the services you use. How long has it been since you shopped your insurance policies? Any chance you can save money on your cell phone plan, internet or utilities? Go to your current providers and ask “what’s the best deal?” Also, be sure to understand your policy and services so that you are comparing apples to apples.

In the coming months, we may experience changes that put more money in our pocket, for example, through tax cuts. We may see changes to our health care plans that will provide services at costs that are not available to us now. We may see the stock market correct, increasing the chance for a loss to our savings. Time will tell. While Washington talks about “making America great again,” they also should focus on addressing the top concerns of real people.

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