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Why you need a long-term money plan

Developing a strategic plan for major expenditures is about as unconventional as driving a stick shift -- and it's an equally valuable skill to have.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 1, 2013 1:00PM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Len Penzo dot Com logoMy son, Matthew, is quickly approaching his 16th birthday and I've been giving him a few driving tutorials.


Image: Car interior © Westend61, Getty ImagesI haven't let him get behind the wheel just yet -- that’s on next month's agenda -- but it's gotten to the point now where every time Matthew and I are in the car together, I take a few moments to pass along a tip or two regarding the rules of the road or the fine art of driving a stick shift.


My 1997 Honda Civic is a stick shift, as was the first car I ever owned, an old 1971 Datsun 510 that I got from my cousin Kevin.


Personally, I think everybody should learn how to operate a car with a manual transmission before they get their driver's license. I really do. Why should folks be excused from knowing how to drive a stick just because 95% of all cars sold today in the U.S. have automatic transmissions?


After all, one day you may take a European vacation and discover the only rental cars on the lot have manual transmissions. Or maybe a time will come in the not-so-distant future when you'll need to drive someone to the hospital in a life-or-death emergency, and the only car available will be one with a stick shift.


Hey, you never know.


Besides, unless you're stuck on the hilly streets of San Francisco during rush hour, driving a stick shift is a lot of fun -- so much fun that I'm sure the auto industry would be selling a lot more cars with manual trannies if the general populace ever caught on.


The thing is, stick shifts are simply too unconventional for most folks, so they never bother to learn about them. And that's a shame, really.

The same thing is true when it comes to budgeting our household finances. Many folks who are serious about keeping their finances under control rely on budgets that focus on their short-term living expenses. That makes a lot of sense for those who are struggling to make ends meet and find themselves living from paycheck to paycheck.


Now, unlike short-term budgets, long-term budgets are unconventional. It's the reason why most people's eyes glaze over when you ask them if they have a strategic household plan. A strategic household plan isn't so much a budget as it is a financial road map that helps the household CEO run his household like a business and anticipate big-ticket purchases that will require future savings.


Thankfully, the process for building a strategic long-term plan is essentially no different than conventional budgeting:

  • Identify your future big-ticket expenses. Big-ticket items aren't limited to just houses, automobiles and vacations. They also include expenses such as college tuition and fees, outstanding credit card debt, home renovations, weddings, elder care and even rainy-day and emergency funds.
  • Poll your family members for their long-term needs. Trust me, folks. This is a good idea if only because you probably won't be able to think of everything.
  • Project when you'll need to pay for everything. Remember, unlike a conventional short-term budget, the strategic plan timeline is spread out over a period of many years. Projecting your annual savings requirements as accurately as possible will give you a good feel for whether your long-term goals are realistic. If not, refine your strategic plan as necessary. For very expensive items, you may need to spread your savings plan out over multiple years.

When you're all done, your strategic plan might look like this:


Len Penzo chart

In the old days, people typically created their strategic plan with a pencil and paper. Nowadays, I prefer to use spreadsheet software.


Oh, and by the way, if you're one of those folks who still hasn't figured out how to use a spreadsheet, you might want to learn. After all, there could come a day when the world finally runs out of trees and they have to stop making pencils and paper.


Hey, you never know.


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