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Saurabh Awasthi, 26, a media professional from Hyderabad was trying to figure out his financial goals. His wife Seeta, 25, too, was helping him in the exercise. At the end of the day both Saurabh and Seeta had exhausted themselves. They could not figure out as to what their priorities were: Planning for their 2 year old son's higher education, buying a home for themselves which they desperately needed or spend Saurabh's bonus on a world tour.
This, often, is the dilemma faced by many people planning their future finances. The most common question in such cases is how you should plan your finances. In the fast-growing Indian economy everyone is so keen on concentrating on their career and earning as much money as possible that they forget that the surplus money has to be invested for the future.
Or even if you do remember a bandwagon concept is adopted � you invest where everyone else is investing. But in the world of financial planning you must remember that one size does not fit all.
In my interaction with the people who I come across and further discussions with them I have noticed that they lack a clear picture of the purpose of their investments. Everyone just wants to invest and become rich. I wish if that were so easy.
Do not invest just for the sake of investing. As Ralph Seger rightly said, "An investor without an investment objective is like a traveller without destination." Although this quote has been used n number of times I would still like to use it here as planning without a definite goal is akin to a traveller without destination.
First and foremost you must remember the most important aspect of financial planning, and that is, what you want to achieve? Try doing this: jot down 5 important financial goals that you want to achieve in the next 10-15 years. I am sure not many will be able to do this.
But there is a simple way that may help you to develop a fundamentally sound financial plan and achieve goals for which you are working so hard. The first and foremost step is to note down your goals as this is the starting point of your planning.
Goals give you an idea as to what you want to achieve. They can vary from just plain savings to your retirement, to your child's education, buying a house, buying a car, funding your or your son's/daughter's marriage etc. The job does not end here though. Even after listing them, you must have a clear vision about their priorities. The best, way to make this daunting task easy is to divide your goals into the following three categories:
~ Responsibilities: Like providing for your parents, providing education to your children, funding their marriage, meeting any unforeseen events etc.
~ Needs: This includes requirements that you have like providing for retirement, buying a house, providing for day-to-day life and also saving for the near future, etc.
~ Dreams: Or aspirations. It can be anything like buying a luxury car to buying a solitaire for your wife or a world tour. Your dreams may be out of reach but there is no harm in listing them as this can act as a constant reminder for you to work hard.
Based on the above three criteria you categorise your goals. You need to prioritise the above listed goals in an order of importance in your life and their requirements. There needs to be a fair balance drawn between needs and responsibilities as at a certain point in time both could be equally desired by you.
Once you have set your goals then the second important step is to decide the time frame in which you would like to achieve them. This factor is very important when you are planning to invest. The time period for investment is based on the time in which you wish to achieve your set of goals.
Let's take an example to understand it better.
Say you are planning to buy a car but are not sure when you can do it. You invest a part of your money in Public Provident fund, National Saving Certificate, Infrastructure bonds and some close-ended funds. After say 4 years a new car is introduced in the market which suits your requirements and you decide to buy it. But your entire sum is blocked as all of them have been invested in products which have a lock-in period.
Let me take one more example. Say your child's admission to higher education is just a year away. You are planning to invest money to meet this requirement. Carried away with the stock market boom you invest all your money in the market. Just a few days before paying the fees the stock market crashes and your capital is reduced to half.
Remember that stock market is a good avenue to invest but only if you are a long term investor and your goal is at least 8 to 10 years away and not when it just a year away. You need the capacity to hold and stay invested. Also, to enter the stock market with the intention to be a trader and not an investor is a risky affair and such foolishness is better avoided.
However, it is not necessary to fix an exact time frame. A rough estimate of when you will need money can also give you a picture as to how to plan your financial goals. However, if you do not give a set time to achieve your goals then you may not only digress from the right path of planning but also end up depleting your hard earned money.
After you have done the above two exercises you need to put a financial figure as to how much money you will require when you reach that stage. That is, you must know the future value of your requirements in today's cost. For instance, a two year MBA today may cost you say Rs 4 lakhs but eight years down the line you will surely need a higher amount for the same course.
To overcome this, the best way is to prepare a chart as given below:
Time left to achieve your goal
Today's financial cost
Child's higher education
Rs 4 lakhs
Buying a house
Rs 15 lakhs
Rs 7 lakhs
(The above table is hypothetical)
You need to factor in the inflation cost and find out what will be the future value of financial goals. This can be calculated using a simple formula:
FV = Present Value * (1+ Inflation rate) ^ number of years left to achieve your goal
FV = 4,00,000 * (1+6%) ^ 8
FV = Rs. 6.37 lakhs (approximately). So this is the figure for which you need to plan for.
I hope the above will help you lay a path for your investment planning. Planning varies depending upon your needs but the factors that help lay a path to your plan remain same for everyone. The above process gives you a clear picture as to the path you need to follow to achieve your goals. It also helps you to decide on the most suitable investment that will help you and not your friend or neighbour.
The author is a financial consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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