Friday, June 8, 2007

Rule #1: Spend Less than You Make

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Before builders break ground on a new home, what do they do? They study the blueprints and make a plan for how to move forward. They don't just start building walls wherever seems like a good place! The same applies to our finances. Before you can start getting out of debt, saving, investing, and preparing for your future, you have to have a blueprint -- a plan of how you are going to get where you want to go. At the heart of this plan, there is one simple, but critical thing that must happen. It is so simple that a 3rd graders understand it, yet adults of all ages seem to forget. That rule is this:

Spend less than you make.

It is that simple. Spend less than you make.

Now I know you may think that advice is ridiculously simple and far below your intellectual level. But consider this…the average American has $9,000 of credit card debt, and that number gets higher every year. How does that happen? It happens by them spending more than they make. In other words, they have more money going out than they have coming in. Those may have been big purchases, or they may have just been lots of little ones, but it adds up just the same.

It is often so easy to forget how fast small purchases can add up. A cup of coffee, a dinner out, a trip to the movies -- none of these by themselves are big expenses. But put them together and they add up quickly. I'm sure any of us who use a credit card have experienced the feeling of looking a string of small charges and thinking "Those charges can't possibly add up to this balance!" Even I have been guilty of breaking out a calculator (ok, I admit it is more likely a spreadsheet) and double checking the figures. Over a month, small charges can add up to one giant number!

So how can we handle this situation? We have to make a plan, and we have to stick to it. Then at the end of the week or month, we can compare how our spending compares to our plan, and make adjustments as necessary.

Before you can take control of your financial life, you first need to know where you are. Think of this as a doctor examining the patient before prescribing a method of treatment. So before we can get started with a plan, we first need to do an examination.
We will start our examination with three basic questions. They are:
1. How much money do you have coming in?
2. How much money do you have going out?
3. Where is that money going?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dan's Bio

Dan's Bio
Dan holds an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Bachelor's in Computer Information Systems. Professionally, Dan is a Product Marketing Manager for a Fortune 100 company.

Don't Be Afraid....You Can Do This

Not too long ago I had a conversation with a friend in her mid-20s about her finances. Like a lot of people, she knew that she was not making the best financial choices. She knew that she was in debt and had no plan for how to get out. Why? Because she was afraid. I don't say that as an insult, I say it because I think a lot of you reading this can relate. She was afraid -- just like someone who would rather suffer in sickness than go to the doctor.

I understand why she, and perhaps you, are afraid of your finances. To take responsibility for your financial life takes courage. And the deeper you are in debt, the more courage it is going to take. But if you make the decision that you are going to take control, then you will. Imagine if you had a close friend who was 100 pounds overweight. It is likely that from your perspective the solution to their problem would be simple. If you could write them out a plan, it would likely say something like "eat less and exercise more." But to that person who is so overweight, the solution is not nearly as simple. To them, the problem seems insurmountable. They may outwardly say their weight doesn't bother them, but inside, they feel trapped. And sometimes their coping mechanism is to eat more. They know they should do something about their weight, but instead, they put it out of their mind, deciding it is just not something they can deal with. A few years down the road, it is likely that the friend will have gained even more weight, because ignoring the problem only allowed that problem to consume them further.

Maybe you are in debt. Maybe you are just lost in all of the financial lingo flying around, or maybe the whole thing just seems like a burden you would rather not deal with. Unfortunately, just like that obese person, putting the issue out of your mind does not make it go away. In fact, in many cases, ignoring the problem allows it to grow and grow -- until one day you are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, or in your 40s, 50s, or 60s without a penny to your name.

Just like you could have helped the severely overweight friend by encouraging him or her to exercise more and eat healthily, I'm here to tell you that taking control of your finances can be just as simple. But like the overweight friend, you have to decide that today is the day. Today is the day that you take control of your finances, instead of letting your money control you. Today is the day that you decide to be courageous, decide that you are smart enough, and decide take back control. Just like losing weight, the road to taking control of your finances will not be easy. There will be times you have to delay buying that thing you really want. You may have to make some significant changes that affect how much money you have coming in and going out. But you can do it. Make that decision right now. You can do it.