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Five steps to help improve financial - and physical - health

(BPT) - Plans to improve health and finances are among the most common resolutions Americans make each year. Both are worthy goals, but did you know that improving your financial health may boost your physical health as well?

“Money problems are a well-known cause of stress, and the negative impact that stress has on one’s physical health is well-documented,” notes Lule Demmissie, managing director of investment products and retirement at TD Ameritrade. “It makes sense that relieving stress through better financial planning, among other remedies, can help contribute to better physical health.”

In fact, TD Ameritrade’s Retirement Survey indicates that taking care of at least one important financial task – retirement planning – may help alleviate stress, both today and in the future. Women who started saving for retirement before their 30th birthday and contributed regularly to retirement savings reported feeling less anxious, frustrated or regretful, and more positive and satisfied about retirement compared to those women who waited to begin saving for retirement or who didn’t regularly contribute to their retirement savings.

Fortunately, the steps for improving your financial health and physical health resemble each other. Whether your goal is to increase your retirement savings or the hours you spend exercising, these five steps can set you on the right path:

1. Set a goal – It’s important to define your objective. Be as detailed as possible in painting a vision for your future – one that includes the accomplishment of your specific goal. Remember to place direct needs first.

2. Create a budget – A budget is the foundation for any solid financial goal. Track your monthly income and expenses, both the “needs” and “wants,” and plan accordingly. You need to understand how you are already spending your money and how much you need to save to help achieve your goal.

3. Establish a savings plan – Prioritize where you allocate your money. First, it’s a good idea to pay down high-interest debt such as credit cards. Next, consider establishing an emergency savings fund with enough cash reserve to cover at least six months of living expenses. Third, if possible, maximize your retirement savings by contributing the maximum amount allowed by the IRS. If you can’t contribute the maximum, remember that no amount is too small. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, try to take advantage of it. Remember to use easy “set it and forget it” strategies like auto-investing into your 401(k) and IRA and saving regularly will not be a burden.

4. Develop an investment plan – After you’ve established a budget and created a savings plan, it’s important to make smart investment decisions with your remaining finances. Work with a professional to help evaluate important factors like risk tolerance, tax status, time horizon, etc. Make sure your investment plan aligns with both your short-term and long-term needs. If you have five years or less to reach your goal, you may need to find more liquid investment opportunities. If you have 10 years or longer to reach your goal, you may have more investment flexibility. If you prefer to do this last step independently there are many easy-to-use tools that can help you assess your risk tolerance and investment horizon.

5. Get educated about money – Money isn’t the only thing you need to invest in order to improve your financial health. You’ll also need to invest time to fully understand your personal financial situation and the options available to help you achieve your financial goals. Take advantage of free savings and planning tools on financial websites like TD Ameritrade’s Life 2.0. The website offers investors access to free resources like retirement calculators and portfolio planners, as well as information on how to make financial decisions that can help you pursue your financial goals.

“Just as it’s never too late to take steps to improve your physical well-being, it’s never too late to start saving for retirement,” Demmissie says. “Taking steps to improve your financial health can help relieve stress now and help you feel more confident about your plan for the future.”

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