I started my career as a financial consultant with PwC, one of the Big 4 accounting firms. While my career ultimately took me down a different path, I have nothing but fond memories of my time there.
At any of the Big 4 firms, you work hard. Providing excellent service to your clients comes with long hours, sometimes for weeks and months at a time. And for those in the accounting and tax side of the business, “Busy Season” – the time of year leading up to audit and tax filing deadlines – are exponentially more grueling. During Busy Season, a 70 hour work week might be considered relatively light for the time of year.
Working long hours over six or seven days of the week isn’t unique to the Big 4 firms, of course. But, given that we are heading into the Big 4 busy season, I wanted to take a look at strategies for keeping your finances on track when barely have any time to do anything other than work. And to that point- I’ll try to keep this article as succinct as possible. After all, if this is in any way relevant to you, you’ve probably got to get back to work!
Set Goals Ahead of Time
If you’ve ever had a few weeks or months when work has been all-consuming, you know how easy it is to not make time to think about your finances. By the time the dust has settled and you check your bank accounts for the first time in a few months, you realize that you haven’t made any progress toward your goals.
There are ways to avoid this. And it begins by setting goals for yourself before busy season starts. Ask yourself, “What’s something that I could achieve with relatively little time involved that would make me feel great about the state of my finances three months from now?”. For example, “I want to save an extra $50/week in the next two months because my firm is paying for dinner every day”.
Setting these goals up front is the best way to make sure you actually make progress.
Let’s take a look at some tips for how to manage these goals around certain financial topics:
Cash Flow and Budgeting
- Set calendar alarms on relevant dates as reminders to pay the bills and credit cards every month. When you’re swamped with work, it can be easy to miss a rent or credit card payment. Set up alarms for yourself in advance to make sure you don’t forget!
- Utilize software and apps to their fullest potential. Whether it’s free app like Mint or a more comprehensive solution provided by your financial planner, set up a system to automatically track your spending and provide alerts to notify you if you’re spending more than you planned in a particular category. Plus, having an easy way to view all of the pieces of your financial picture on your phone can’t be beat when you’re busy.
- Know your budget. As annoying or boring as it may be, you have to know your numbers. Know how much you can afford to eat out every month. Know how much transportation will cost you. I’m not one of these people who tells you that you need to give up your $4 cup of coffee a few times a week or you’ll never be able to retire. Get real. Focus on the large categories in your budget (rent, transportation, and food), but monitor for irregular expenses and big chunks of your budget going to small purchases (the ones that really add up each month).
- Automate, automate, automate. In this day and age, there’s no reason for your saving habits to rely on you remembering to manually transfer money from your checking to your savings accounts each month. Based on your budget, take 10 minutes to set up your direct deposit to put a set amount per paycheck directly into your savings account. Or, set your savings account to automatically debit your checking account each month. In addition to saving time, it’s a great way to increase your chance of actually hitting your savings goals.
- Multiple savings accounts are your friend. I encourage all of my clients to have multiple savings accounts for each of their goals. It’s easier to track your progress toward building an emergency fund, saving for a vacation, money for a down payment on a home, etc. if you have a dedicated account for each of them!
- Block off ten minutes each month to do a quick check in on your goals. And yes, I literally mean that you should send a meeting invite to yourself and have the time blocked off on your calendar. Have you ever noticed that even when we have more important things to get done on any given day, we still tend to show up for any meetings that are on our calendar, even if they’re about a low priority task? Why is that? Because we tend to prioritize things that are set in stone in our calendar. Do the same for your finances, a little at a time every month, to review your progress. It doesn’t have to take long, but blocking off ten minutes to review your budget and savings progress can work wonders.
- Review and rebalance before busy season begins. I know better than to try to schedule meetings with my clients who work for Big 4 firms from mid January to April. So, we sit down in December instead and make any adjustments to their investments at that time. You can do the same thing on your own, particularly if you are a proponent of passive investing. Rebalance your accounts before busy season starts, and when it ends. If you have a well diversified portfolio of low cost ETFs or index funds, you (usually) can get away with not checking your accounts regularly when things are busy if you take care of them before and after.
- Consider stop loss orders… at your own risk. If you are the type who can’t bear a drop in your investments and are particularly nervous about monitoring them less frequently than usual when you’re busy, stop loss orders may be a potential solution for you.
For those unfamiliar- stop loss orders essentially allow you to automatically sell your investments once they fall below a certain price. If the stock in question never falls to that price point, you keep your investments. As such, they can be a good way to limit your losses if the market plunges.
However, be warned- this is not generally a strategy I recommend for busy people. While stop loss order can be effective in selling your investments before the market plunges, if you aren’t paying attention to when to buy back into the stock, you can end up losing – big. For example, say that from January to May of this year, the S&P 500 Index falls 15% from January to February, and then rises 20% from February to May. If you have a stop loss order to sell your S&P 500 ETF if it falls 5%, you would automatically sell the S&P fund once it drops 5%. This essentially saves yourself 10%… at the time. But, if you don’t check your account until May, you wouldn’t buy back in when the market is low, and you would lose out on the 20% growth.
So, stop loss orders could be an option for you- but be careful with them.
Managing all of these things on your own is doable, but it is still hard work. There’s nothing wrong with delegating some of these tasks to a professional if you don’t have time to do them!
Anything from a traditional asset manager to a robo-advisor (or both!) can handle your investments for you when you’re busy. That’s right, you just read a financial planner recommending you to use a robo-advisor. I do things a little differently than most planners in the industry.
A financial planner can also help you monitor your spending and budget, progress against your goals, and keep you up to date on market conditions. If you think that would be helpful to help keep yourself on track, we should talk.
Post Busy Season
After busy season settles down, block off a full hour to take stock of where you’re at. Review your progress against the goals you set for yourself before busy season. Correct any issues you’ve identified. And consider how you might approach next year’s busy season similarly, or what changes you will make.