The 30-Day Financial Fitness Plan

An easy-to-follow regime for breaking down your financial goals into manageable tasks and improving your chances of achieving financial success

Christine Benz 18 September, 2012 | 9:00AM Morningstar.co.uk Editors
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“To change one's life, start immediately, do it flamboyantly, no exceptions.”--William James

James, a psychologist, was right on the money with the "immediate" part. But does enacting lasting change in your life need to be momentous or flamboyant? Nah.

Instead, most people who have achieved big goals will tell you they've done so little by little, one small step at a time. The person who lost 10 kg did so by walking an extra mile a day and putting skimmed milk in her coffee instead of full fat. The author who wrote a best-selling first novel got it done by writing a few pages a night, after he had put his kids to bed.

The same is true when you're aiming to achieve your financial goals. The broad goals of funding a comfortable retirement, paying for education, or buying a first home can seem daunting, particularly when you think through the pound amounts that you'll need to save. But if you break these broad goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks, and tackle them one at a time, you can begin to make real progress toward your goals.

To get your finances in order immediately, you can start by completing one financial-planning task per day for the next 30 days, with an eye toward getting in the best financial shape of your life. Learn how to invest for goals that are close at hand, how to build a retirement portfolio, and how to make sure your investments are on track from year to year.

Below are 30 manageable steps to help you on your way towards financial health:

Week 1
Before you tackle more complicated financial tasks, it's important to lay the proper groundwork: You need to get organised and have a good view of your financial picture. Helping you get there is the focus of the tips in Week #1.

Day 1: Start tracking your expenses
Day 2: Check your credit report
Day 3: Set up a bill-paying system
Day 4: Take stock of your assets and liabilities
Day 5: Create a master directory

Week 2
While we are strong advocates of long-term investing, we also recognise the competing need to focus on the short and medium term. It's important to make sure you have sufficient disposable income for rainy days and the tools to handle your day-to-day financial decisions with finesse. This is exactly what Week #2 focuses on.

Day 6: Update your filing system
Day 7: Check up on your insurance coverage
Day 8: Check your emergency fund
Day 9: Get maximum mileage from your cash holdings
Day 10: Map out your financial goals

Weeks 3 to 6
Having laid the groundwork and ensured you’re financially ‘backed up’, you’re ready to tackle what is the primary concern for most investors: Successfully building and monitoring a long-term portfolio. For many of us this includes making financially sound retirement plans.

Week 3
Day 11: Invest for mid-term goals
Day 12: Allocate capital like a pro
Day 13: Conduct a "quick and dirty" portfolio check-up
Day 14: Check up on the quality of your company retirement plan
Day 15: Make the most of your pension plan

Week 4
Day 16: Maximise the benefits of an ISA
Day 17: Look to target-date funds for cheap asset-allocation advice
Day 18: Use a "bucketing" system when constructing your retirement portfolio
Day 19: Look for opportunities to streamline
Day 20: Prepare for retirement

Week 5
Day 21: See if you're on the right track for retirement savings
Day 22: Get a plan for your retirement portfolio
Day 23: Get your estate plan in gear
Day 24: Put in place a system for tracking cost basis
Day 25: Set the date for your annual check-up

Week 6
Day 26: Hedge against threats to your retirement portfolio, part I
Day 27: Hedge against threats to your retirement portfolio, part II
Day 28: Hedge against threats to your retirement portfolio, part III
Day 29: Hedge against threats to your retirement portfolio, part IV
Day 30: Schedule regular check-ups

Helping you achieve your financial goals without getting overwhelmed by them was the impetus behind my book 30-Minute Money Solutions: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Your Finances. The book coaches you on completing 30 separate financial-planning tasks, from creating a budget to crafting a retirement portfolio, each in a half hour or less.

An earlier version of this article was published on Morningstar.co.uk in January 2011 and January 2010.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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About Author

Christine Benz

Christine Benz  is director of personal finance at Morningstar and author of 30-Minute Money Solutions: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Your Finances.