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What Is Financial Planning

At a Glance

In this post, we'll define what exactly financial planning is and cover the basics.

Financial planning has a lot of different definitions, and hopefully this post can help you find what you need and move on!

Financial planning covers a variety of activities - note that they are not all required - pick what you need and start working towards your goals!

In a nutshell, financial planning is about finding funding for your or your family member’s needs today while planning for the future. 


Once we get past that initial framing there remains the complexities of planning for your own unique situation, but the goal should be to keep things as simple as possible for you and your autistic family member. 


In that spirit, we are examining a fairly standard financial planning framework from Charles Schwab, with some small liberties taken in recognition of the fact that the financial planning we are discussing is primarily meant to benefit someone other than the planner. We are adapting this framework to consider the most common needs of autism families.


You may not find every part of this framework to be helpful, and it is OK to focus on the ideas most relevant to you.


A great place to start is with a reminder that financial planning is just another tool in your belt that may be helpful in some situations and less so in others. It is a helpful tool to have access to even when you are lacking in adequate resources, but it is not a replacement for adequate resources. Sometimes your personal situation may not be compatible with every piece of sound financial advice.

List your financial goals

The Charles Schwab guide recommends splitting them into short term (the next 5 years), medium (5-10 years) and long term (10 or more years) away.


If possible, try to establish approximate dollar figures and target dates for each of your goals so you can monitor your progress toward them more easily.

Establish your net worth statement

Net worth is the value of all of your assets (including bank accounts, real estate, and any valuable possessions) minus the value of all of your liabilities (including any form of debt such as credit cards or student loans). It’s not uncommon for a person’s liabilities to outweigh their assets, especially early on. The most important thing is to establish an accurate baseline!

Plan your budget relative to your cash flow

Here is where we can begin to prioritize our short term spending goals versus our long term planning goals. The Charles Schwab guide provides a handy budget calculator that lets you categorize your spending into some common expenses.


Depending on your income, you may need to prioritize some of your financial goals over others.

Create a debt management plan

Here Charles Schwab offers very common advice, which is to focus on paying off high interest debt like credit cards first.


*While you can certainly use Charles Schwab’s financial tools to try to plan for added expenses related to supporting the autistic person in your life, it’s not a financial situation they directly address.

Create a retirement plan

A retirement plan is a great thing to include in your financial planning if you are able, and there is an additional calculator tool that can help.


If you are currently planning your retirement, you may need to consider continued support costs as part of your retirement expenses.

Build up emergency funds

In this case Charles Schwab advises when possible to build up a small emergency fund, which can help you avoid debt in the face of unplanned expenses.

Get insurance coverage

Our example financial guide describes insurance as a way of protecting your financial downside, which is technically true even when it comes to expected spending.


For some autism families, however, insurance either through work or through a government program can represent access to forms of support and care that might otherwise be unaffordable.

Establish an estate plan

Charles Schwab recommends “at a minimum” having a will which states your final wishes with regard to how your estate will be administered.


A strong analogous situation that Charles Schwab does not focus on is how the autistic person in your life will continue to receive support when you are incapacitated. We will go into more depth on this topic later in the toolkit.

What is an estate?

For our purposes, your estate is essentially a representation of your assets after your pass away, and your will helps determine how your estate is distributed.

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