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Do this one thing now to feel more confident about your financial future

Key Points
  • If your financial dreams mean you occasionally think about how nice it would be to have certain things, you are missing out.
  • Here is one easy way to meet your goals: have a financial plan, whether formal or informal.
Paul Bradbury | Caiaimage | Getty Images

Everyone has things they'd like, but one thing separates those who get them from those who don't: a financial plan.

PNC Investments surveyed its customers to see if they wanted to create a financial plan, says Rich Ramassini, a certified financial planner and senior vice president at PNC Investments.

The ones who did had two caveats.

They didn't want to it to take a lot of time. And, they didn't want to have to share a lot of personal information.

It's the actual planning that brings clarity and understanding, not the 60-page document that is immediately obsolete.
Rich Ramassini
senior vice president, PNC Investments

If these are your sticking points, you can relax. It doesn't have to take weeks of your life. And it doesn't have to be that complicated. In fact, Ramassini says, it's possible the real benefit comes from actually sitting down and doing it.

You can have a conversation with a professional or just sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. It's the actual planning that brings clarity and understanding, "not the 60-page document that is immediately obsolete," Ramassini said.

It's similar to a budget. You can be as formal and complicated as you like. Pay someone to go over your income and expenses with you, and have that person create a detailed budget. Or just use a little notebook to track spending and meet your monthly costs.

The secret to budgeting with student loans: Spreadsheets
The secret to budgeting with student loans: Spreadsheets

You know how to do this

"Nearly everyone has engaged in some kind of financial planning, whether they know it or not," Ramassini said.

Wedding planning is a good example. "If you want to have a reception, different elements go into that," he said, and it all goes toward the prime goal of getting married. "As everyone starts coming together, there are competing priorities."

For some people, flowers are extremely important. For someone else, it might be having a specific DJ or a particular venue.

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"You have to prioritize, you have to make decisions," Ramassini said. "The vast majority don't have the money to say 'yes' to everything on their list.'

Next, you look at the money you have and decide how to allocate. You may choose less-expensive flowers so you can afford the lakefront hotel.

That's how financial planning is personalized. "It's what is most important to you," Ramassini said. "Laying out your goals and objectives to get some estimate as to what things will cost, and looking at the resources to see how you'll pay."

DIY or use a pro

You can do it yourself, armed with all the facts about your finances. The internet offers plenty of free calculators and articles to help you create a financial plan.

"But don't have a false sense of security because you moved some sliders around on an online calculator," Ramassini said. A website can't give you accountability or insight into your specific situation.

"Many firms and banks offer financial planning without a charge if you're a client or customer," he said. "Planning is not always costly."

You can go to a professional who charges by the hour or the plan. "What you save or gain could far outweigh what you spend," Ramassini said. "Decide whether it's an expense or an investment – it depends on what you do with the information you learn."

Gauging your risk assessment
Gauging your risk assessment

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.