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Nip and Tuck Your Buck
Have you ever wondered if your finances look as good as they should? Do you have a nagging sense of uneasiness that things aren’t as firm as they could be? Have you recently overindulged and are trying to work off some extra weight? If so, it’s time to stop, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and decide to make the most of your God given financial resources. Don’t beat yourself up. Making positive changes can be as simple and enjoyable as watching your favorite TV show.
Hope and Faith
Significant declines in the stock market have left some wondering if there is still hope for their future and others praying for an investment miracle. With the dust of corporate collapse and fraud still lingering in the air, the challenge is to know who to trust and where to place your faith. Over 400,000 people in the United States call themselves financial advisors of some sort. There is no shortage of bad apples offering up pies of bad advice. Investing can be a complex activity and a daunting task if left on your own. Turning to an advisor for advice and guidance can be a great idea, but don’t let your faith be blind. Does your advisor only call you when she wants to sell you something? Did all of your eggs get dropped in a basket of aggressive technology stock? Are all of your investments in products that put your advisor’s commission schedule ahead of your best interest? Do you find your instincts telling you to that there must be a better plan? If you hear the word “Yes!” resounding in your head as you read these questions, it may be time to get dressed up, call a boardroom meeting, do your best Donald Trump impression and tell your advisor “You’re fired!” Make sure you have an advisor who uses a process and compensation structure which allows for your best interests to be served. Look for professional designations and experience. Find out how she can serve your unique needs. Find out how he has helped others like you. Ask if she is paid by fees or commissions. Make sure your risk tolerance and financial goals are understood. Have a written plan of action that coordinates your overall financial situation. Go to a specialist, not a generalist. Take the necessary steps to make sure your money is in good hands.
“Tom took care of everything. I don’t know what to do now that he’s gone.” I could see fear in Marsha’s eyes when I met her for the first time. Her husband had recently passed away and she was feeling overwhelmed with having to deal with a long list of issues that she had not had to face before. A flurry of paperwork from attorneys, accountants, and financial institutions was making her head spin. Trusting a spouse or a friend to take care of the finances can bring a sense of relief. But if you are not up to speed with the basics of your financial affairs, you can be left in a lurch at a crucial juncture. Death, divorce and emergencies often bring a need for sudden financial introspection. You don’t have to get a degree in finance, but make the time to educate yourself about household assets and liabilities. Know where copies of important documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney and insurance policies are located. Identify key contact information for tax preparers, financial advisors, attorneys and employer benefit departments. Know where your financial documents are kept and review them at least annually. Taking a crash course in financial management during a stressful situation is not a great time to learn about the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA. Simple steps taken now can save you heartache in the future and help you make clearer decisions in difficult times.
Have you looked in your checkbook at the end of the month and wondered where the missing digits went? Have you opened your credit card bill and found out? There is never a shortage of ways or reasons to spend money. Family needs can be pressing, household appliances inconveniently break and your outdated outfit doesn’t fit like it should. But before going on a spending frenzy take a moment to look before you leap. Itemize your household expenses. Ask yourself if what you are about to purchase is a need or a want. Simply use a budget to gain control of the direction of your cash flow before it walks out the door. Pay yourself first with systematic savings into personal or retirement accounts. Create a reward system to pamper yourself when you have stuck to your plan. Making a budget is not sexy, but it will have a dramatic, empowering effect on your life.
Extreme Makeover: Home Finance Edition
Many people have a filing cabinet that is overstuffed, financial documents in disarray and a desk drawer full of bills waiting to be paid. All of this clutter can lead you to spend time fantasizing about next year’s root canal to avoid facing the business files. Knowing why you need to keep financial documents will go a long way in knowing what to keep. Tax returns provide a good financial history but they also carry with them a supporting cast of paper trails. You can discard tax related documents after 7 years since the IRS has three years to challenge the information on your return and 6 years to audit if you’ve underreported income. However, if you’ve committed fraud, keep the filing cabinet stuffed-the IRS can challenge your return anytime. If you receive an annual statement from your investment firm that summarizes the previous year’s activity, feel free to throw out monthly/quarterly statements. Keep the trade confirmations for seven years after reporting the sale of a security on your tax return. Keep bank and credit card statements that may be needed to back up your tax return. Hold onto statements for large purchases such as jewelry or major appliances in case of an insurance or warranty claim. Purchase a scanner to scan important financial documents. Make multiple backup copies of your electronic records and keep them in a safe, easily accessible location. Streamlining your financial records will provide a sense of inner serenity and a true makeover in your home.
One Life to Live
Not everyone has the same amount of money to invest, but we’re all given the same 24 hours each day. How we invest this valuable asset will have a significant impact on our lives, our future and those we love. Use time to your advantage. Start to save early and often. Benefit from the power of compound interest. Take time to teach your children core values about money-no matter what their age. Set aside time weekly, monthly and yearly to track expenses, organize finances and evaluate your progress. Finally, don’t let the pursuit of wealth detract you from investing in valuable relationships with people that matter most to you. You have one life to live-spend it wisely.