Written by Katie Murphy
On January 26th, WISE Boston held its first event of the new year - Financial Fitness presented by Citizens. Typically held to encourage information sharing and an open dialogue about finances, this topic couldn’t be more relevant after the year we all had in 2020. Starting off the new year by thinking about your finances feels like a standard “to do” list item, but how many of us actually follow through on the suggestions we are given? Perhaps more of us will this year since we probably saw job loss affect one (or more) of our colleagues.
The event was moderated by Meredith Gorman from NESN and featured three senior ranking women from Citizens: Van Liao, Carla Cavallaro, and Amanda Etheridge. They covered a range of topics including family planning, getting married, retirement and overall tips and tricks that they themselves use to keep their finances on track.
Overall, here are a few good financial housekeeping items they discussed:
- On overall budget tips:
- Each panelist had their own ways of saving money here or there. Some of my favorites include putting aside $20/week so you net an extra $1,000 at the end of the year! Or NOT using your credit card for one week out of the month (Carla does this the third week of the month). If you can’t pay cash, you can’t buy it. And finally - definitely have a rewards credit card of some sort.
- All of the panelists suggested having either an app or system to manage your finances - something like Mint, Quicken, or simply just regularly going through your statements.
- On emergency funds:
- This depends on your risk tolerance but all of our panelists agreed having at least a few months (3-6) of cost of living expenses in your savings account is a good idea. Using their budgeting tips to stash away $20/week can help you build this up if you don’t already have it.
- On job loss/retirement funds access:
- We didn’t get to this on the call, but the panelists were able to answer it for us afterwards. Here is their response in full: “We usually do not encourage people to tap into their retirement accounts for current expenses because that is the funds you save for retirement. However, in extraordinary circumstances like a pandemic and job loss and you cannot find another income source to help with the current needs, sometimes you don't have other options but to borrow against your retirement funds or make a withdrawal. My advice is, try to take a low-interest loan from your 401k if you can and make a plan to pay it back in the future. Doing so can avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty and income tax hit if you were to take a direct withdrawal. Note, your former employer is unlikely to let you take a loan, so you may need to look into the 401k of the spouse who is still working. I include the link here from the IRS to learn more about this topic. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/hardships-early-withdrawals-and-loans Good luck!”
- On family planning:
- Have a will! Many employers offer this as a benefit taken out of your paycheck (like medical coverage) or you can use a service like LegalZoom. I hadn’t done this and went the LegalZoom route – it took me 15 minutes, cost less than $100, and it is already being shipped my way! Even if you don’t have children but own property or have specific wishes about your assets, you should set one up.
- Take advantage of every employer and state provided option you can. Have a very open discussion with your partner about who can stay home and for how long when the baby arrives, and consider childcare costs ideally before you bring the baby home.
- On getting married:
- Keep at least a small account separate and just for you. All three of the panelists thought this was a good idea for making sure you maintain some level of independence (not having to explain every coffee purchase) as well as being able to plan for surprises for your significant other, and as an added emergency fund that you can use for yourself or you as a couple.
- On retirement:
- At minimum, meet the employer match if your company offers one (“you would never turn down a raise, this is free money!”).
- Aim to hit the $19,500 yearly limit over the next 5-10 years by increasing your contribution 1% every 6-12 months (January & July are good points to check in on this). Or if you get a raise/promotion, increase your contribution at this point so you don’t even feel it!
- If you have more than one 401k (from previous/current jobs) you have three options: you can leave it where it is, roll it into your new 401k, or roll it out and into an IRA to get more investment options and potentially lower fees. But before you decide what investments to pick, you should consider how you want to manage them: You can lean on a financial advisor or DIY? Keep in mind that employed sponsored retirement plans like 401k generally have the best protection level when it comes to creditors, bankruptcy, and lawsuits. Funds in IRAs are protected under separate laws but may be more vulnerable to creditors. Always seek professional advice if you are unsure.
Overall, it was a great event with lots of interesting discussions. I personally got a lot out of it and have already actioned a few of their suggestions!
To join us at our next event, WISE Boston will be hosting Speed Mentoring Roundtables event on Thursday, February 25th at 5 pm. Learn more about the event and register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wise-boston-speed-mentoring-round-tables-tickets-136958114407