Personal finance is the financial management which an individual or a family unit performs to budget, save, and spend monetary resources over time, taking into account various financial risks and future life events.
In 1947, Herbert A. Simon, a Nobel laureate, suggested that a decision-maker did not always make the best financial decision because of limited educational resources and personal inclinations. In 2009, Dan Ariely suggested the 2008 financial crisis showed that human beings do not always make rational financial decisions, and the market is not necessarily automated and corrective of any imbalances in the economy.
Personal finance education enables individuals and families to make sound financial decisions. Historically, before 1990, the study of personal finance received little attention from mainstream economists and business faculties. However, several American universities such as Brigham Young University, Iowa State University, and San Francisco State University have started to offer financial educational programs in both undergraduate and graduate programs in the last 30 years. These institutions have published several works in journals such as The Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning and the Journal of Personal Finance. Research into personal finance is based on several theories, such as social exchange theory and andragogy (adult learning theory). Professional bodies such as American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and the American Council on Consumer Interests started to play an important role in developing this field from the 1950s to the 1970s. The establishment of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) in 1984 at Iowa State University and the Academy of Financial Services (AFS) in 1985 marked an important milestone in personal finance history. Attendances of the two societies mainly come from faculty and graduates from business and home economics colleges. AFCPE has since offered several certifications for professionals in this field, such as Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) and Certified Housing Counselor (CHC). Meanwhile, AFS cooperates with Certified Financial Planner (CFP Board).
As the concerns about consumers' financial capability have increased in recent years, various education programs have emerged, catering to a broad audience or a specific group of people, such as youth and women. The educational programs are frequently known as "financial literacy". However, there was no standardized curriculum for personal finance education until after the 2008 financial crisis. The United States President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability was set up in 2008 to encourage financial literacy among the American people. It also stressed the importance of developing a standard in financial education.
Personal finance principles
Personal circumstances differ considerably concerning patterns of income, wealth, and consumption needs. Tax and finance laws also differ from country to country, and market conditions vary geographically and over time. This means that advice for one person might not be appropriate for another. A financial advisor can offer personalized advice in complicated situations and for high-wealth individuals. Still, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack and personal finance writer Helaine Olen argue that in the United States, good personal finance advice boils down to a few simple points:
Look for low-cost, diversified mutual funds that balance risk vs. reward appropriately to your target retirement year
If using a financial advisor, require them to commit to a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest
Personal financial planning process
The key component of personal finance is financial planning, a dynamic process requiring regular monitoring and re-evaluation. In general, it involves five steps:
Assessment: A person's financial situation is assessed by compiling simplified versions of financial statements, including balance sheets and income statements. A personal balance sheet lists the values of personal assets (e.g., car, house, clothes, stocks, bank account, cryptocurrencies), along with personal liabilities (e.g., credit card debt, bank loan, mortgage). A personal income statement lists personal income and expenses.
Goal setting: Multiple goals are expected, including short- and long-term goals. For example, a long-term goal would be to "retire at age 65 with a personal net worth of $1,000,000," while a short-term goal would be to "save up for a new computer in the next month." Setting financial goals helps to direct financial planning. Goal setting is done to meet specific financial requirements.
Plan creation: The financial plan details how to accomplish the goals. It could include, for example, reducing unnecessary expenses, increasing employment income, or investing in the stock market.
Monitoring and reassessment: The financial plan is monitored for possible adjustments or reassessments as time passes.
Typical goals that most adults and young adults have are paying off credit card/student loan/housing/car loan debt, investing for retirement, investing for college costs for children, and paying medical expenses.
Need for Personal Finance
There is a great need for people to understand and take control of their finances. These are some of the overarching reasons for it;
1. No formal education for personal finance: Most countries have a formal education across most disciplines or areas of study.
Individuals pursue learning to earn a livelihood.
Their pursuit translates to earning tangible outcomes in the form of money.
Even when we realize the above to be a primary objective, there is no formal education at an elementary level in schools or colleges to learn money management or personal finance.
Hence, it is essential to understand this gap or disconnect in the education system where there is no formal way of equipping individuals to manage their own money.
This illustrates the need to learn personal finance from an early stage, to differentiate between needs vs. wants and plan accordingly.
2. Shortened employable age: Over the years, with the advent of automation  and changing needs; it has been witnessed across the globe that several jobs that require manual intervention or that are mechanical are increasingly becoming redundant.
Several employment opportunities are shifting from countries with higher labor costs to countries with lower labor costs keeping margins low for companies.
In economies with a considerably large younger population entering the workforce who are more equipped with the latest technologies, several employees in the middle management who have not up-skilled are easily replaceable with new and fresh talent that is cheaper and more valuable to the organizations.
Cyclical nature of several industries like automobile, chemicals, construction; consumption and demand is driven by the health of the countries economy. It has been observed that when economies stagnate, are in recession, and in war - specific industries suffer more than others. This results in companies rationalizing their workforce. An individual can lose their job quickly and remain unemployed for a considerable time. All these reasons bring to the realization that the legal employable age of 60 is slowly and gradually becoming shorter.
These are some of the reasons why individuals should start planning for their retirement and systematically build on their retirement corpus, hence the need for personal finance.
3. Increased life expectancy: With the developments in healthcare, people today live till a much older age than their forefathers. The average life expectancy has changed, and people, even in developing economies, live much longer. The average life expectancy has gradually shifted from 60 to 81 and upwards. Increased life expectancy coupled with a shorter employable age reinforces the need for a large enough retirement corpus and the importance of personal finance.
4. Rising medical expenses: Medical expenses including cost of drugs, hospital admission care and charges, nursing care, specialized care, geriatric care have all seen an exponential rise over the years. Many of these medical expenses are not covered through insurance policies that might either be private/individual insurance coverage or through federal or national insurance coverage.
In developed markets like the US, insurance coverage is provided by either the employers, private insurers or through federal government (Medicare, primarily for senior citizens or Medicaid, primarily for individuals of lower income levels). However, with the rising US fiscal deficit and large proportion of the senior population, it needs to be seen whether the extent of the Medicare program is sustainable in the long run, therapy exclusions in the coverage, co-pay, deductibles - several cost elements are to be borne by individuals continually.
In other developed markets like the EU, most medical care is nationally reimbursed. This leads to the national healthcare budgets being very tightly controlled. Many newer, expensive therapies are frequently excluded from national formularies. This means that patients may not have access through the government policy and would have to pay out of pocket to avail of these medicines
In developing countries like India, China, most of the expenses are out of pocket as there is no overarching government social security system covering medical expenses.
These reasons illustrate the need to have medical, accidental, critical illness, life coverage insurance for oneself and one's family as well as the need for emergency corpus; translating the immense need for personal finance.
Areas of focus
Critical areas of personal financial planning, as suggested by the Financial Planning Standards Board, are:
Financial position: is concerned with understanding the personal resources available by examining net worth and household cash flow. Net worth is a person's balance sheet, calculated by adding up all assets under that person's control, minus all household liabilities, at one point. Household cash flow totals all the expected income sources within a year minus all expected expenses within the same year. From this analysis, the financial planner can determine to what degree and when the personal goals can be accomplished.
Adequate protection: or insurance, the analysis of how to protect a household from unforeseen risks. These risks can be divided into liability, property, death, disability, health, and long-term care. Some wagers may be self-insurable, while most require an insurance contract. Determining how much insurance to get, at the most cost-effective terms, requires knowledge of the market for personal insurance. Business owners, professionals, athletes, and entertainers need specialized insurance professionals to protect themselves adequately. Since insurance also enjoys some tax benefits, utilizing insurance investment products may be critical to the overall investment planning.
Tax planning: typically, the income tax is the single largest expense in a household. Managing taxes is not a question of whether or not taxes will be paid but when and how much. The government gives many incentives in the form of tax deductions and credits, which can be used to reduce the lifetime tax burden. Most modern governments use a progressive tax. As one's income grows, a higher marginal rate of tax must be paid. Understanding how to take advantage of the myriad tax breaks when planning one's finances can significantly impact.
Investment and accumulation goals: planning how to accumulate enough money for large purchases and life events is what most people consider financial planning. Significant reasons to get assets include purchasing a house or car, starting a business, paying for education expenses, and saving for retirement.
Achieving these goals requires projecting their costs and when to withdraw funds. A significant risk to the household in achieving their accumulation goal is the rate of price increases over time, or inflation. Using net present value calculators, the financial planner will suggest a combination of asset earmarking and regular savings to be invested in various investments. To overcome the rate of inflation, the investment portfolio has to get a higher rate of return, which typically will subject the portfolio to several risks. Managing these portfolio risks is often accomplished using asset allocation, which seeks to diversify investment risk and opportunity. This asset allocation will prescribe a percentage allocation for stocks, bonds, cash, and alternative investments. The budget should also consider every investor's risk profile since risk attitudes vary from person to person.
Depreciating Assets- One thing to consider with personal finance and net worth goals is depreciating assets. A depreciating asset is an asset that loses value over time or with use. A few examples would be the vehicle a person owns, boats, and capitalizes expenses. They add value to a person's life, but unlike other assets, they do not make money and should be a class of their own. In the business world, these are depreciated over time for tax and bookkeeping purposes because their useful life runs out. This is known as accumulated depreciation, and the asset will eventually need to be replaced.
Retirement planning is understanding how much it costs to live at retirement and developing a plan to distribute assets to meet any income shortfall. Methods for retirement plans include taking advantage of government-allowed structures to manage tax liability, including individual (IRA) structures or employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Estate planning involves planning to disposition one's assets after death. Typically, a tax is due to the state or federal government when one dies. Avoiding these taxes means more of one's assets will be distributed to their heirs. One can leave their assets to family, friends, or charitable groups.
Delayed gratification: Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. This is thought to be an important consideration in the creation of personal wealth.
Cash Management: It is the soul of your financial planning, whether you are an employee or planning your retirement. It is a must for every financial planner to know how much they spend before their retirement so that they can save a significant amount. This analysis is a wake-up call as many of us know our income, but very few track their expenses.
Revisiting Written Financial Plan Regularly: Make monitoring your financial plan regularly a habit. An annual financial planning review with a professional keeps you well-positioned and informed about the required changes, if any, in your needs or life circumstances. It would be best to be prepared for all the sudden curve balls life throws.
Education Planning: With the growing interest in students' loans, having a proper financial plan in place is crucial. Parents often want to save for their kids but make the wrong decisions, adversely affecting the savings. We often observe that many parents give their kids expensive gifts or unintentionally endanger the opportunity to obtain the much-needed grant. Instead, one should make their kids prepare for the future and support them financially in their education.
Real Estate Planning: Shelter is a basic human need, and as such, it is imperative that one understands how to obtain a place to live and at the same time maintain their financial security. Housing can be very complicated, with decisions regarding buying or renting, mortgages, insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc. Apartment or house? That question is crucial for any individual as each option has pros and cons.
Buy or Rent: If you choose to buy a house, you can make a financial investment in your home and improve your credit score and history. You could make your life more stable. But it would be best if you cared about the price of the house, including the down payment, monthly mortgage payment, and other costs. Otherwise, you pay fully. If you choose to rent a home, there is no need to worry about maintenance and no real estate taxes. Then your life will have more flexibility since you can move wherever you want. But it would be best to care about the rent fee, including electricity, water, internet, and parking. If you have a pet, you will also have a pet fee.
Mortgages: When purchasing a home/real estate, it is essential to understand your options. Most people either go with a 15 or 30-year plan. The payment rate can be a fixed plan, a constant payment of the same amount over a certain period. The other is an ARM mortgage (Adjustable-Rate Mortgage). This rate can be adjusted and agreed upon to be changed in the given plan. Mortgage plans depend on your situation, and it is essential to assess your credit score and financial status when contemplating plans.
Location / Wants and Needs: When choosing a new home, it is essential to consider where you would like to reside, along with the qualities that you both want and need in a home. These variables can cause an increase or decrease in the price of an estate. When deciding where you want to live, some things you should consider include, but are not limited to, whether you’d prefer the city or rural area, what length of a commute you want, the importance of quality public schools, what level of safety you’d like to have, the amount of land you want, included amenities, and if you’d like to live close to family. Examples of variables that would affect the value of an estate include but are not limited to, the quality of school systems in that area, proximity to the community, shopping and entertainment/recreation, safety levels and crime rates of the neighborhood, amenities, and land size and surrounding developments. It is essential to keep all of this in mind when thinking about the future value of a home and, if you are buying, how much it will be worth if you want to sell it later.
Costs: Real estate can be expensive. A planner must consider all sorts of costs, such as a mortgage, maintenance, taxes, utilities, insurance, etc. What mortgage plan are you looking at: fixed vs. ARM? 15 years vs 30 years? Oh no, a tree just fell on your roof; how will you fix it, with your own time and work or with cash to hire a handyperson? Homeowner's insurance is a must; however, what should be covered can be tricky. Can you get by with a basic plan covering aspects such as dwelling and loss of use, or do you require additional coverage such as flood insurance? Own a house? Prepare for property tax. The heat won't stay on itself, your energy company needs its cut, and the same goes for electricity and water. Keeping all these aspects in mind, it is no question that there are many associated costs with real estate.
According to a survey done by Harris Interactive, 99% of the adults agreed that personal finance should be taught in schools. Financial authorities and the American federal government had offered free educational materials online to the public. However, a Bank of America poll found that 42% of adults were discouraged. In comparison, 28% of adults thought that personal finance is difficult because of the vast amount of online information. As of 2015, 17 out of 50 states in the United States require high school students to study personal finance before graduation. The effectiveness of financial education on general audience is controversial. For example, a study by Bell, Gorin, and Hogarth (2009) stated that financial education graduates were more likely to use a formal spending plan. Financially educated high school students are more likely to have a savings account with regular savings, fewer overdrafts, and more likely to pay off their credit card balances. However, another study done by Cole and Shastry (Harvard Business School, 2009) found that there were no differences in saving behaviors of people in American states with financial literacy mandate enforced and the states without a literacy mandate.
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