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Ask the Expert: Bob Gavlak on getting a grip on your finances

Let’s face it: personal finance is confusing. With so many rules and approaches to optimizing taxes, investments, mortgages, credit cards, and so on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We invited our expert Bob Gavlak to answer our users’ questions and help clarify things. Bob is a Certified Financial Planner professional and Wealth Advisor at Strategic Wealth Partners. He employs a holistic approach when working with his clients, ensuring that all aspects of an individual’s financial needs are taken care of. He specializes in working with young professionals and pre-retirees through personal interaction, helping to build the ideal plan for navigating a broad range of financial situations.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Bob Gavlak. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous.

Saving up for big purchases

QUESTION — “I currently do not track my expenses and often live paycheck to paycheck. I would like to hopefully buy a house in the near future and need to start saving for a deposit. Can you give advice on the first steps of coming to grips with my expenses, and how I can find places where I could possibly save money?”

Bob Gavlak — “Living expense tracking is tough for just about everyone! But one of my favorite exercises to help develop control is the following:

  • Figure out how much you bring in from your paycheck – this can be monthly, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.
  • Understand how much goes out automatically for essentials – mortgages, rent, cell phone, etc.
  • Take the remainder, and that’s what you spend on things like food, entertainment, clothes, etc.
  • Instead of just putting this on a card, take this amount out of the bank in CASH at the start of each week. So if you figure you spend $1,000 a month, but want to make it $800, only take out $200 in cash each week.
  • Then live ONLY on that cash. If you want a sandwich, pay cash. If you want to go to a concert, better save that cash. Only have $20 left on Friday? Looks like you’re staying in this weekend.

This process will help you SEE the money going and develop habits to not overspend. I know the above is simplified, but it can be a great way to see how your money is being spent. Too often the biggest struggle is that it’s SO EASY to swipe our card or order from online shopping sites, that we don’t realize where the money goes. Good luck!”

Balancing multiple financial priorities

QUESTION — “Thoughts on how to pay down a mortgage, save for retirement, put a kid through college, stay out of debt, afford everyday life? How do you do it all when everything is a priority?”

Bob Gavlak — “Yes, it can be a bit overwhelming, that’s for sure. Everything IS a priority; it’s just figuring out which ones are the most important or have the biggest financial impact to you, your family, and your goals. When I work with clients, I don’t even talk about money, investments, or strategy until I talk with them about their goals. I want to hear what they want out of life. I want to understand what is important to them and dig for their values. By doing this, I can work with them to put together a plan that really prioritizes everything in the best way possible, and then begin working through it.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need an advisor, but what it means is that you really need to step back and take an inventory on your life, resources, goals, and dreams, and start to build out a plan. It’s much harder to take action if you generally say, ‘I want to be in a better financial position’ as opposed to saying, ‘I’m going to put an extra $200 toward this debt for 12 months to pay it down so that I knock that out so I can afford to put $400/month towards college funding.’ That’s overly simplified, but the idea is that a structured plan, with specific actions, can make a daunting financial situation workable and help you achieve financial independence — whatever that may mean to you.”

Finding the right investment platform

QUESTION — “I am new to investing. What is the better route? I am currently investing through my bank, is there a better option?”

Bob Gavlak — “The first two places that most people start investing are their employer (if you have an employer-sponsored plan) or your bank. Banks are a great place to start to learn because you already have a relationship with them, you know the systems, and they have a vested interest in helping you. However, there are lots of different options out there, depending on what you want to do. If you want to invest on your own, there are brokerage companies that you can set up accounts through, connect to your bank accounts, and make trades. These options often have different interfaces, research, and benefits for you based on needs.

If you want a financial professional to help you, your bank may have advisors, or you can look for independent advisors that aren’t tied to a bank. The nice thing about independent advisors is they don’t have as many restrictions on their recommendations to clients, so it can give more flexibility. It all depends on what you want to do with investing, but it’s always great to get started somewhere!”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Bob Gavlak, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in October 8 at 12PM EST to chat with Dr. Susan Orsillo, who will be answering your questions about managing difficult emotions with self-compassion. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.