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5 helpful tips for getting your life back on track financially

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Inflation, unexpected expenses and career setbacks can leave you feeling off track financially and wondering how to get your finances in order. If you don't have a plan—or if you're not following the one you have—it can be hard to calm your nerves and feel comfortable.

The findings from Thrivent's 2022 Consumer Financial Outlook Survey show that you are hardly alone if you feel rudderless when it comes to your finances. Only 50% of adults have a financial plan, and many who do still struggle to follow through on their savings goals.

Fortunately, it's always possible to make progress. Here are five common challenges you may be facing and guidance for overcoming them.

1. Coping with inflation

More than three-quarters of the people surveyed strongly agreed with the statement that they wish they had more breathing room in their budgets. High inflation rates certainly have been an obstacle. A good way to cope with inflation while still working toward your savings goals may be to move some of your money to a money market fund, certificate of deposit (CD) or a high-yield savings account that pays more interest than the typical checking or savings account.

Another strategy worth considering is purchasing I bonds, an investment that helps your money keep up with inflation. These securities are issued and backed by the U.S. Treasury. Each year, you can buy a maximum amount of I bonds: $10,000 of electronic I bonds from the Treasury Direct website and up to $5,000 of paper I bonds with your tax refund. Paper bonds can later be converted to electronic ones if you like; converting I bonds won't impact your maximum limits.

You don't have to buy a large sum of I bonds at once. The minimum I bond increment is $25 for electronic ones and $50 for paper ones. Through April 2023, I bonds are paying a composite rate of 6.89% annually. Once you buy an I bond, your interest rate will change every six months based on the Consumer Price Index. You'll need to be prepared to hold your I bonds for at least one year, and be aware that cashing them in early can mean losing interest.

2. Saving more for retirement

If you haven't been saving as much over the last couple of years, you're not alone. Only about one-quarter of adults said they were saving "a good amount" in the survey, and that was less than in 2021 by six percentage points.

Even highly educated and higher-income adults haven't been immune to the challenge of keeping up with their savings goals. They actually had the biggest savings drop among the groups surveyed.

One strategy for increasing your savings is to automate the deposit process and put the money in an account that isn't easily accessible. For example, if your employer offers matching contributions for your retirement plan and you haven't been giving enough to get the full match, you could start by increasing your contribution to that minimum match amount. The money will come directly out of your paycheck, and while you'll have to adjust to having less take-home pay, the benefit is maximizing and automating your savings. Unlike a regular savings account, money in an employer-sponsored retirement plan cannot be withdrawn easily, so you'll be less tempted to spend it on something that doesn't support your long-term financial security.

Other similar options are setting up a traditional or Roth individual retirement account (IRA). You could set up automatic withdrawals from your checking account to contribute to your IRA each payday. The IRA contribution limit for 2023 is $6,500.* If you get paid every two weeks (26 times per year), contributing $250 per paycheck would allow you to max out your contribution. If you're age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000 annually, or $38 per biweekly paycheck.

3. Preparing for unexpected expenses

The survey found that 60% of adults would be concerned if they faced an unexpected $500 expense. This number rises to about 70% for lower-income adults and about 80% for adults who say they're not on track financially.

It's understandable: Sacrificing things you want in the present for things you may need in the future isn't fun. You may not even feel like you have enough income to start or build up your emergency fund. But if you commit to putting aside something as little as $20 each pay period, you'll be building a savings stash that could see you through an unexpected car repair or hospital visit.

One way to feel more in control of your finances and gain the knowledge and skills you need to increase your savings rate is to sign up for Thrivent's Money Canvas program. This free program consists of three one-hour virtual sessions with a money coach. In each, you'll tackle a unique aspect of your daily finances. You'll also get ongoing support from your coach between sessions, and they'll never try to sell you anything. It's part of Thrivent's mission to give back and support communities.

4. Creating a financial plan

Just over 50% of adults say they have a financial plan, according to Thrivent's research, and only about two-thirds of those who do state that they follow it closely. Their top financial priorities are saving for an emergency, increasing their income and paying down credit card balances or other debt.

If you aren't sure how to get your personal finances on track, start by identifying your top money priorities. Here are some you might want to consider:

  • Buying life insurance to protect your family.
  • Buying disability insurance to protect your income if you're too sick or injured to work.
  • Giving money regularly to your church, your local animal shelter or another cause you want to support.
  • Taking a memorable family vacation without going into debt.
  • Stepping back from your career to spend more time with your children or parents.

Without a financial plan, it can be difficult to achieve the kind of financial security that lets you live out your dreams and help the people and causes you care about. Creating a plan starts with identifying your goals, then coming up with manageable steps that will help you work toward achieving them. For example:

  • If you're feeling overwhelmed by debt, gain a sense of control by listing everything you owe.
  • If you can't give a large amount every month to a cause that matters to you, start small. No matter the amount, you'll be establishing a meaningful habit.
  • If you don't know whether you can afford life insurance or if you're even insurable, that's OK. You can fill out a simple online form and ask a representative to contact you.
  • If you want to help your children pay for college, start by reading one article about education savings plans.

5. Getting financial help

Many people need help setting goals and working toward them. A financial advisor is an expert in doing exactly that. Along with creating a plan, a financial advisor can help you celebrate your successes and minimize your setbacks. Most of all, they'll support you and hold you accountable.

The idea of working with a financial advisor can be intimidating if you've never done it before. You might wonder if they would be willing to work with someone like you or if professional advice is too expensive.

Fortunately, there are all different types of financial advisors who work with all different types of people. They'll usually have an initial conversation with you for free. Even if you don't end up working with the person you speak with, what you learn in that one conversation could change the trajectory of your financial strategies.

If you would like to speak with a financial advisor, one of Thrivent's 3,700 professionals can work with you virtually or locally. Don't hesitate to reach out.

* Contributions may be reduced or you may be ineligible to make contributions depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the year. See IRS Publication 590 for further details or consult your tax advisor.

If requested, a licensed insurance agent/producer may contact you and financial solutions, including insurance may be solicited.  

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.