Financial Plan

crop farmer showing money in green summer field in countryside

When it comes to life’s biggest moments, you probably had a plan. Your wedding, for example, followed a timeline, a budget—even if you busted it with that last-minute table for extended family—and involved compromise and conversation. Smart financial planning follows the same logic.

These how-to articles can help. They take you step-by-step through what you need to know to create a personal financial plan and help get your money in order. From the groceries you need, to the retirement you want, and the car repair bill that’s looming, these ideas help you balance long-term dreams with short-term wants, plus those unexpected events that happen along the way.

In nine steps, you have a nice framework to build on throughout your life.

It’s OK if you’ve already started a few of these steps. It’s also OK if you haven’t. Just start with one task and keep going. (Or just tackle the whole thing on a long, rainy weekend with a big pot of coffee and a dog at your feet.)

Let’s get started.

Set financial goals.

It’s always good to have a clear idea of why you’re saving your hard-earned money. Think it through using our financial goals worksheet (PDF).

Plan for taxes.

It can go a long way toward helping you keep more of your money next year. Our tax planning worksheet (PDF) will help you think through potential income tax credits and deductions.

Build an emergency fund.

All the planning in the world won’t help if life throws you a curveball and you’re not prepared financially. That’s where an emergency fund comes in handy. Our quiz will help you decide when to use these savings.

Manage debt.

Understanding and managing debt is a key part of creating a financial plan. Use our debt management worksheet (PDF) to log your numbers and find the right balance.

Protect with insurance.

Life can change in an instant. People with a good financial plan hope for the best, but plan for the unexpected. Insurance helps with that. Use our disability and life insurance worksheet (PDF) to log your coverage and identify any gaps.

Plan for retirement.

Even if it’s a long way off, think about what you want your money to do for you when you retire, and create a plan to make it happen. A resource like the Principal® Retirement Wellness Planner may be a good place to start. 

Invest beyond your 401(k).

To reach your mid- and long-term goals, take your savings strategy and put an engine behind it. That’s what investing can do.

Create an estate plan.

You don’t have to be wealthy, old, married, or a parent to need an estate plan, which also lays out who makes financial and health care decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself.

Finished? Here’s when you should review your financial plan.

Take a fresh look at least once a year or after a big life change:

  • Significant change in income
  • Job change
  • Change in family dynamics like having a baby or adopting, getting married, divorced, or losing a spouse/partner
  • Selling or buying a home
  • Inheritance
  • Unexpected debt
  • Change in financial goals

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