Personal finance experts talk budgeting, goals, debt repayment and savings during free webinar

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NJ.com hosted a webinar on personal finance this week where experts shared tips and information about implementing a financial strategy for 2022 and beyond.

As part of NJ.com’s new EmpowerU free virtual event series, the “New Year’s Money Moves” webinar focused on four finance categories — goal setting, budgeting, debt repayment and savings.

Certified financial planners explained the need to set realistic goals for the short and long term, and discussed the difference between fixed, variable, discretionary and non-discretionary expenses.

NJ.com’s Karin Price Mueller moderated the webinar, which featured a panel discussion and live Q&A.

The panelists were Deva Panambur, CFA, CFP and owner of Sarsi, LLC, as well as Stephanie Spies, CFP and financial advisor at Modera Wealth Management.

Here are some of the highlights:

On goal setting:

“Start with understanding yourself first,” said Panambur. “You know, mountain climbers say this all the time, ‘It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.’ And so financial planning is a lot about managing your own emotions, your own weaknesses, and playing to your strengths.

“I always say, start with understanding yourselves. Start with understanding your values, what is it that’s important to you, and then create a plan that matches your values, because that’s when you have the highest possibility of success over time.”

On budgeting tools:

“Budgeting is something that’s unique and highly personal to everybody,” Spies said. “There’s different apps and different things that you can do. There are some apps out there that you pay for like Mint, Tiller Money, You Need a Budget, and there’s free resources that are out there. Some people still like to do it the old-fashioned way with a spreadsheet.

“Also, don’t be afraid to look at information that you might just be able to get from your credit card company. I know a lot of them send out an annual breakdown in terms of what you’ve spent, and sometimes that too can give you a really good jumpstart.”

On strategies for paying off debt while saving:

“For those of us in finance, we often talk about how compounding is the seventh wonder of the world, and it can either really help you or hurt you,” Spies said. “In terms of debt, compounding is your biggest enemy. We often focus on encouraging our clients to pay down that higher interest rate debt first to mitigate and control some of that compounding over time, which will allow you to pay off debt sooner and work towards your other goals.”

Panambur said paying off high-interest rate debt is one strategy you can use to address debt and achieve goals, but there are others that work as well.

“Make sure you pay all the minimums on your debt,” he said. “Second, start building an emergency fund. Third, take advantage of any of the 401k matches that you have and then you can start attacking your debt more consciously.

“You have two strategies, you can either pay off the high-cost debt first or you can start paying off the smaller balances. There are pros and cons to both, and you must choose the one that you think you can stick to. But the whole idea is to pay off all your debt, especially your bad debt as soon as possible.”

On savings plan options:

While discussing saving for retirement and college, Spies explained how 529 plans work.

“529 plans are a tax efficient way to be able to save for college, but they work like retirement accounts in that the funds grow in a tax efficient manner,” she said. “For 529, you put contributions, and (depending on where you live and what your income is) they may be tax deductible.

The intention is that those funds grow over time for college, and as long as they’re used for what’s called qualified education expenses, things like tuition and books, those funds can be withdrawn to pay those expenses without any tax implications.”

How to watch a free recording

Panambur and Spies answered questions from attendees about mutual funds versus index funds, emergency funds, prioritizing retirement, advantages of retirement plans such as 401K accounts, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and more.

To watch the full program on-demand, view the recording here or at the top of this article. To receive updates about upcoming events and webinars, sign up here.

About NJ.com’s EmpowerU virtual event series

EmpowerU is a virtual event series helping New Jersey learn, plan, save and grow. Powered by NJ.com, EmpowerU events bring our trusted journalism to life to educate, strengthen and empower attendees on the topics most important to them.

NJ.com and The Star-Ledger reporters host interactive panel discussions featuring industry experts, public figures, mentors and trailblazers. Featured event categories for 2022 are finance, healthcare, parenting, careers and education.

Sign up here for news and updates about future EmpowerU free virtual events.