Put Yourself to the Test: Are You Fiscally Fit?
Banks must endure fiscal fitness tests these days, with the results not always pretty or predictable.
This concept isn't such a bad idea for average citizens either.
The darkest stories of recession involve lost jobs, lost homes and lost hope. It is not uncommon for others, those who avoid dire straits and experience some sense of relief, to overlook their financial responsibilities.
According to financial advisors, Americans too often are unaware of what they spend; most of their savings earn no interest; they pay too many bank fees; they carry too much credit card debt; they don't invest for retirement; and they have no emergency fund set aside.
Remember: Just because you're receiving a regular paycheck and no one's knocking on the door to repossess your car, doesn't mean that you and your family are fiscally fit.
"If you exercise a lot but eat horribly and are always stressed, you're not going to be physically fit because a lot of things must work together," said
Give yourself a test: Track your spending and income over a three-month period. Write down all money spent, including cash, using a small notepad or electronic device. Calculate your cash flow, listing all income sources in a basic budget. Don't include anything as incoming until you are sure of it.
Record all expenses, and not simply obvious mortgage or car payments but also those you track through receipts and credit-account payments. Important additional expenses are food, transportation, medical costs and clothing.
Totaling your incoming and outgoing expenses produces a cash-flow statement. If you had an operating surplus of several thousand dollars, your net worth should have increased by at least as much. A negative income statement isn't good. There should also be room for conscientious saving and investing.
"People treat ATMs like candy machines and keep going back again as the handful of money disappears," observed
You may think you are richer than you are.
"It's not really helpful to make
There are "new kinds" of bills that consumers must cope with, such as for cellphones and cable television, McGrigg noted. Shop for the best deals and carefully go over the breakdown on your statements to see whether you need everything for which you're being billed. If you receive a cable package in which you don't watch most channels, weed out what you don't want and trim that bill, she advised.
"I have clients who simply don't open their mail every day, just thumb through to see if any envelopes look interesting or important," said Steinmetz. "They may wait a week or more to open many of them, but you should open them right away because it is all about taking responsibility for your financial life."
The most common financial mistake is spending beyond one's means, and in second place is not saving to build up a nest egg, according to Evensky. Don't focus on the total number of dollars needed at retirement when figuring how much you should save, but simply get started right away even if it is just
"An emergency fund is important, but remember that there is no magic answer," said Evensky. "If you have a very secure job, maybe two to three months in emergency funds that could cover staying in your house and paying necessary bills is OK."
Having adequate life, liability, house, auto and health insurance is also crucial, he said. Even though no one ever wants to think about it, such protection can make a big difference to your family.
Pay yourself before paying your bills, counseled McGrigg. The easiest way to build up an emergency fund, for example, is to deduct money every time you get paid and put it away before you have a chance to spend it. Most banks can do this automatically for you so that you never even get your hands on the money, she said.
"Another mistake is opening lots of new credit card accounts, especially store accounts just to save 10 to 15 percent on that first purchase," McGrigg concluded. "Taking out credit on a whim or while standing in line is not a good idea, especially if you have larger financial goals."
Because goals are what being fiscally fit is all about.
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Personal Finance - Put Yourself to the Test: Are You Fiscally Fit?
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