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What Your ‘Back to the Future’ Self Would Say About Your Finances

Oct. 21, 2015
Personal Finance
What Your 'Back to the Future' Self Would Say About Your Finances
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By Sam Farrington

Learn more about Sam on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

In the sequel to “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly and “Doc” Emmett Brown traveled 30 years into the future to Oct. 21, 2015. Now that we’re here, in a world without the self-tying shoes and flying cars the moviemakers imagined, it’s easy to see that what you think the future holds often differs from what reality turns out to be.

The same might be true for your financial outlook. If you could talk to your future self, you might want to take steps now to avoid trouble later.

Do some time traveling of your own

Take a moment to picture yourself 20 or 30 years from now. Where will you live? Where will you work? Will you have a family?

Now consider your financial future. Did you save enough throughout your working years to fund the lifestyle you desire? Has the government figured out how to keep Social Security solvent? If not, did you save enough to make up the difference? What kind of car are you flying — er, driving — in your golden years?

Looking at your future self, do you like the track you’re on?

Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll need 20 to 30 years down the road. There are way too many unknowns, and your goals probably will change. But these are not good reasons to forgo thinking about what it might take to get you and your family where you need to be.

Plan now for what’s ahead

Creating a plan now can give you clarity, give your money a purpose, and help you determine whether you need to change your financial course.

Start by thinking about the advice your future self would give you:

  • Eliminate debt. Do you still have debt 30 years from now? Are you seriously still paying for the hover board you bought in 2025? Pick up that can you’re kicking down the road and address any overspending before it’s too late.
  • Save for your better future. What do your savings look like when it’s time to retire? Are you counting on the government too much? If you haven’t started investing on your own, start. It’s your responsibility to take care of your family, not the government’s. The earlier you start, the more compound growth you’ll see in what you save.
  • Evaluate your risk. If you’re already investing, take the time to assess all of your holdings to “diversify,” or make sure you don’t have too much in a single basket. It’s risky to keep a large portion of savings in any one stock or one investment. In “Back to the Future,” Biff may have known the results of all the sporting events and profited from that knowledge, but we’re not lucky enough to know which investment will be the home run.
  • Save for college. Will your kids get out of college with floating carloads of student loan debt? If you are already on track with your own savings, it might be time to start saving a little bit each month to help your kids graduate without the burden of loan payments.
  • Diversify your income. Will your future self get laid off at some point along the way and wish you had another source of income? It might be time to start that new side business or freelance gig so you still have an income if your career derails.
  • Make a game plan. If your future self is working for a boss like Biff, in a job you hate going to every day, then start making your one-year, five-year, and 10-year game plans to get your career on track, then follow through. The same goes with saving for retirement.
  • Make it automatic. Automate saving every month in a 401(k) and a Roth IRA. It only takes saving about $105 each week to put $5,500 per year into a Roth IRA. Make it happen automatically or you might forget to do it.

The bottom line

So many of us go through life paying attention to the now. That’s important. But it’s also wise to plan for what’s to come.

Marty McFly had the advantage of seeing the future and changing his story; you have the opportunity to change yours as well. If you have to start small, start small. The important thing is that you start.

Image via iStock.