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12 Steps to Financial Organization

12 Steps to Financial Organization

by Jen Weitsen

By the year 2020, women are expected to control 67% of the nation’s wealth. However, when it comes to finances, women are often more risk adverse and have lower rates of financial confidence than men.

So how can women focus on their finances in a regular, thoughtful manner to better define their future and achieve their goals?

In this Ellevate Jam session, Deirdre Prescott from Sandycove Advisors, and Holly Isdale from Wealthaven, provide a roadmap to financial security — offering 12 steps to financial organization.

Step 1: Get organized

It’s important to know where you stand and take an inventory of your current financial situation.

Gather your statements and important documents.

Make a list of all your assets — checking, savings, investments, trusts, life insurance, IRAs, 529 plans, etc.

Understand your liabilities and if your debt in control — mortgages, home equity lines, auto loans, etc.

Check your credit score.

Talk to your spouse, partner and financial advisor to determine your total net worth.

Create a statement of your assets and liabilities.

Step 2: Set your values and priorities for your life

Take stock of your long-term values and the priorities for your life. You can try writing your thoughts or even building a vision board.

Think about what you want to get out of life, the experiences you want to have and concerns you may need to address. What do you need to plan for and save for? Do you want to own a second home? What interruptions could affect your career?

Consider your fears: Do you have a sufficient emergency fund? What would you do if you lost 30% of your assets?

Step 3: Review your investment accounts

Look for opportunities to consolidate your investments, IRA rollovers and legacy 401K under one investment management company. Simplifying and consolidating will give you the ability to look at big picture and help you feel more in control.

Quantify your emergency fund and cash on hand requirements. Ask yourself what ready in cash do you need to sleep well at night? It’s optimal to have 6 to 12 months of ready cash for living expenses. For anything in excess of that, you may want to look for higher investments.

Step 4: Ensure your goals are reflected in your investment plan

Understand fee structure: When talking to an investment advisor, it’s important to understand their fee structure. It’s not what you earn with them, but what you get to keep on an after fee basis.

Consider passive vs. active management: Few managers out perform the benchmarks after fees and taxes are assessed, and you need to understand the cost you are paying for the performance.

Identify your goals into three buckets:

  • Secure: How much cash do you need in the bank to be secure? This bucket includes upcoming commitments in the next 3 to 5 years.
  • Retirement: This is your market bucket. Retirement has a longer time horizon and can be more growth oriented. There are long term benefits for being in stocks.
  • Aspirational: These are risky assets that you are willing to ride with and take the risk.

Evaluate your time horizon for each goal, such as 5, 10, 20 years.

Determine a comfortable risk tolerance.

Establish the right asset allocation (secure, retirement, aspirational).

Choose the correct investment strategy for you.

Step 5: Maximizing your retirement

Maximize your annual contribution to your retirement plans and the tax benefits that go along with it.

Step 6: Tracking expenses

Tracking your expenses for a few months can help you understand where you are spending your money. It helps you to identify opportunities to cutback or shift your cash flow. Consider the following questions:

  • What are your specific spending needs?
  • What are your income sources?
  • What are your overlooked costs (e.g. forgotten auto payments)?
  • Is your spending deliberate or impulsive?

Step 7: Tackling debt

Take a look at credit card statements and understand the interest rate you are being charged on balances. Over the next 12 months, try to simplify and consolidate credit card balances to the lowest interest rate. Ideally you want to have one credit card that you pay off every month.

Step 8: Know your tax return

Review your return every year and make sure you hold onto copies for your records.

Step 9: Know your insurance possibilities

Understand the roles that insurance can play, including life, long-term care and disability insurance. Investigate the possibilities and assess what makes sense for your financial situation.

Step 10: Review your estate plan

Review your estate plan in the event of changes in your financial situation, health, personal situation, life event or a move to a new state.

Establish the three core components of your estate plan:

  • Simple Will
  • Power of attorney (someone that can sign on your behalf)
  • Healthcare proxy.

Step 11: Saving for college

  • Evaluate private vs. state college benefits and cost.
  • Avoid paying for your child’s college education at the expense or making withdrawals from your retirement accounts.
  • Consider contributing to a 529 plan.
  • Great resource:

Step 12: Make it easy

Collect, store and backup your information in an accessible place online or hard copy.

  • List of accounts
  • List of locations of important documents
  • List of contacts
  • Letters to family, executors and trustees

Keep your information up to date and inform trusted others where your information is stored.

For more information on a roadmap to financial security, watch our Ellevate Network Jam Session.

Deirdre Prescott is the founder of Sandycove Advisors. As President of Sandy Cove Advisors, Deirdre is devoted to working personally and objectively with her clients to bring clarity to their complex financial affairs. Deirdre has had a distinguished career of 25 years in the wealth management and private banking industries. She specializes in family solutions from estate and investment planning to developing short and long-term financial goals. Prior to Sandy Cove Advisors, Deirdre was Senior Vice President at Lehman Brothers. She also spent 17 years with Mellon Financial in the Private Client Group. For more information, visit the website:

Holly Isdale founded Wealthaven in 2010, after 20-plus years on Wall Street. to Wealthaven provides clients with high level strategic planning, hands-on oversight and conflict-free advice. For more information, visit the website: