Steering a course through major life milestones can be akin to navigating rapids. Both are best accomplished with the right tools and can be enjoyed much more with a little preparation. Financial stressors that sometimes accompany those milestones are usually easier to manage and more likely to have a positive impact on your wallet when there’s a plan in place to handle them.
1. Look Inward—and Be Critical!
When you think about the future, are you anxious or optimistic? What’s your decision-making style? Are you someone who goes with their gut, or are you a planner? Money management is subjective and personal, so if you don’t have a good understanding of how you approach life’s big changes, you could miss the boat financially.
Think back on changes you made in the past and dig deep into how you handled them. Often, a partner or supportive friend can help you gain insight into how you engage in change and where you might get stuck as you move through the process.
2. Shine a Bright Light on Your Values
Now’s the time to really think about what’s meaningful to you. Let’s say you’d like to buy your first home. What’s important about home ownership to you? Do you need to live in a neighborhood close to work or public transit, or in a good school district for your children? Will your purchase be an investment opportunity that will provide you with greater financial stability? Maybe you’re looking to put down roots and invest in a home that’s yours instead of a rental. Make a list, focusing on your values and how you want to live your life—your goal is to determine the “why?” behind your milestone.
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Information is critical to success. So what do you need to reach your milestone? Career advice? Help paying down student loans? Home buying advice? Legal support? Maybe you just don’t know yet, which is totally normal. Research online and consider different perspectives, but stay clear and grounded in your values. If you identify as an anxious planner, you may find yourself getting stuck in this step, or trapped in a circle of research. So pick the brains of optimists who have been in your position and who can help you make a decision and move on to the next step.
How you manage your transition could mean the difference between success and failure, so you need a strategy that considers different angles and paths. For example, how will starting a business play out financially in the short term and as you move through life? Will you have to keep your day job for a while? How long? If you’d like to start a family, look now into the details of your employer’s maternity leave benefits and consider taking better advantage of your employer-matching 401(k) plan. Visualize the future you want, and then create a chart that includes various approaches to designing it.
5. Consider the Changes You’ll Have to Make
To reach your milestone, financial adjustments will have to be made. For instance, if you’re starting a new job with a better salary, you may be able to put a little bit more toward retirement and add to your emergency fund. You may not see the same people every day, so maintaining important relationships might take some extra work.
If you want to buy a home, you might have to cut spending to afford a new mortgage, so take the time to modify your budget. If you’re planning to expand your family, you’ll need to consider new expenses, including childcare and additional healthcare costs, and start saving for your child’s education. Big life shifts translate to financial modifications and can be more successful with preparation.
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6. Taking the Leap
Change can be scary, regardless of how gutsy you are, but with information gathered, a plan in place, and a support system surrounding you, it’s time to make a decision and take the leap. If you tend to make decisions based on gut instinct, you may stumble here and worry in retrospect about whether you made the right one. But don’t panic even if you do, because you can always make changes down the road.
7. Fine-tune When Needed
It’s a fact of life: Not everything will go according to plan. So, there will be times when tweaks are necessary. Maybe you’ll have to adjust your budget or your timeline for achieving certain financial or personal goals. Staying positive and remembering that navigating life’s milestones is all about growth will help you control the shape of your financial future, and there will always be opportunities to correct missteps.
Big changes represent exciting—and sometimes challenging—times. But by being true to yourself and your values, and by understanding exactly what you need to reach your biggest goals, you’ll empower yourself to succeed on your terms. SoFi members can access experienced career coaches who can help you determine what success means to you.
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