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Financial

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"Life comes at you fast," Nationwide insurance company reminds us with their television commercials. In the blink of an eye, we can move from fiscal fitness to fight-or-flight finances.

Whether your financial situation is interrupted by loss of a job, divorce, illness or other unforeseen circumstance, the most important element to financial survival in a crisis is cash-flow preservation. Here are some tips to help stretch your dollars while enduring a financial hiccup.


It almost goes without saying that you must cut out unnecessary expenses, but think beyond weaning yourself off your daily latte to include "fixed" household bills and personal care. Can you: Cut back on your cable package for a few months? Wait a couple more weeks before having your hair cut and colored? Freeze your gym membership and exercise at home for a little while? Remember that generally this is only a temporary situation, so it’s not like you’re giving yourself a permanent lifestyle makeover. Evaluate each expense to see if you can survive without it for a while.

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While you should try to eat at home as much as possible, you may be unable to avoid dining out under certain circumstances. If you must go to a restaurant for a meal, pay attention to the prices on the menu and consider ordering off the appetizer menu and trading your soda for water. You will be surprised at how much restaurants charge for a fountain drink!


Take a hiatus from aggressively paying down any debts, and just pay the minimum balance due to save cash. Make sure that you continue to pay on time, though, as even one late payment can compromise your credit score for years to come, which can have long-lasting consequences. Remember that as soon as you get back on your feet, you should resume where you left off with decreasing your debt.


If you or your spouse is contributing to a retirement savings plan through work, consider reducing the contributions temporarily to add to current cash flow. Just make sure that when you exit financial-survival mode, you return to the previous savings level as soon as possible.


Reduce utility bills by setting your thermostat a few degrees warmer in summer and cooler in the winter, and make sure you turn off lights when you’re not in a room. Also save water by turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth and try to take shorter showers. Look for other ways to reduce consumption as well.


Clip coupons, but make sure that you’re only clipping for products you already buy. A 50 cent coupon for a high-end item may seem enticing until you compare prices and see that it will still cost more than a similar product with a different label. Read the "per unit" labels at the grocery — this is the best way to compare prices as products come in different sizes.


Above all, remember that this too shall pass, and concentrate on the big picture. Try not to spend money on anything unnecessary in order to set yourself up for the quickest recovery possible once things turn around. You even may find that shifting gears toward financial survival leads to thriving over the long term. My personal experience actually has been that a financial crisis always has led to a better life situation on the other side!

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Even though statistics show that 90 percent of women will be financially independent at some point in their adult lives, the issue of ensuring long-term financial security often takes a backseat to other priorities. As women, we all know that we SHOULD know more about the stock market, investing, banking and other financial terms, but we are too busy with our families, careers, friends and staying healthy to take the time to learn. Plus, many of us find the subject matter boring and overly technical.


With more women becoming financially independent because of careers, divorce, widowhood or the single life, it has become increasingly important that women not only find a trustworthy financial advisor or coach, but also develop a baseline of knowledge to aid them in ensuring that the advice they’re given is most appropriate for them. Just how do you find that person who will help you gain that knowledge? Below are a few of the criteria and some tips on making your choice.


The No. 1 non-negotiable factor in choosing a financial coach is trust. Referrals from close friends and family can aid in this factor, but it is important that you feel right about the choice too. This person has the potential to make or break your long-term financial success. If you don’t feel 100 percent comfortable that you can trust her, don’t hire her.


Communication is a close second when selecting your coach. Your coach should speak to you in terms that you understand, and you must feel comfortable asking questions when you are confused. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your money. Your advisor should not make you feel embarrassed or uneducated when you ask questions, no matter how basic. It is to her advantage that you are knowledgeable about money, as you will be better equipped to communicate your goals and concerns to her through the years.


Another factor that is of particular importance, especially to women, is a personal connection. A great advisor will take time to get to know you beyond your financial status. In order to offer personal and appropriate advice, she should have a fair idea of your values, goals and preferences. If you spend each Saturday seeking bargains on fabulous shoes, she should not be suggesting that you stop buying shoes cold turkey. A better approach would be to assist you with trimming your expenses in other areas that are less important to you so that you can continue to do what you love. Just like dieting, saving money long-term does not work when we completely cut out things that bring us pleasure and satisfaction.


Finally, it is important to determine how your prospective advisor is paid. Financial advisors that work for insurance companies, brokerage houses, asset advisory firms and banks typically require that you open an account with them in order to work with you, and their fee is tied to the amount of money you invest with them. Financial coaches, planners and certified public accountants (CPA’s) employed by accounting firms or other planning firms are more likely to charge by the hour and won’t take custody of your investments. You may also find a coach that offers a package for a flat fee. Each method has pros and cons, so how you pay your coach depends mostly on the type of service you are seeking.


Above all, if you find a coach that you think understands your goals and dreams and has your best interests in mind no matter what, then you’ve found your perfect match. Happy saving!

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After last year’s market meltdown, we’ve all redefined our perception of and tolerance for risk when it comes to money. As this is a financial column, the easy topic to cover would be risk as it relates to investing in the stock market. But that seems to have been adequately covered by other experts, so let’s address the role that money has in our decision-making process when it comes to taking risks in life.

 

Personally, I recently took a huge risk by quitting my job and starting my own financial coaching business. Don’t think that money wasn’t a primary consideration when weighing this decision! By implementing a tried-and-true decision-making process and despite the risk to my financial situation, I took the leap. All things considered, the risk was worth it to me.

 

Life presents us all with crossroads at various points and having a process to decide which path to take can make those crossroads less intimidating and more of an adventure. Try the following soul-searching steps the next time you are faced with a risky decision, and see if it doesn’t help you live a deeper, more fulfilling life.

 

First, take time to review wisdom from others who have taken risks. This includes books, articles, speeches and personal conversations. My favorite inspirations include George Clooney, who said, "My father gave me the best advice of my life. He said, "Whatever you do, don’t wake up at 65 years old and think about what you should have done with your life."

 

Another piece of advice comes from a birthday card I sent my younger brother that read, "20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. DISCOVER."

 

Next consider the following questions: What’s the worst that could happen? Does this risk have the possibility to render me homeless? What is my greatest fear? How might my life look in 10 years if I do this? If I don’t do it?

 

More often than not, we already know the final answer in our hearts. Usually we just have to face our fear and work out the details. Too often we use money as an excuse or a crutch to keep us from taking a risk to fulfill a dream. Fiscal responsibility remains important but so does remembering that money is just one tool in life.

 

Of course there is always the chance that you take your risk and fail, but I prefer to look at failure, not as the end of the journey, but as the lesson learned to start the next trip. Life is too short to stand on the sidelines just because we don’t want to risk losing money!

 

Perhaps you’re considering taking some type of risk that could affect your financial situation but can’t quite stomach the chance that you may end up broke or owing more than you can pay. It could be buying that first home, going back to school to pursue your passion, or having your teeth fixed so that you can smile with confidence. Or maybe you’ve been struggling with the idea of ending an unhealthy relationship that would mean risking financial security. These are all situations I’ve faced in my life — some I’ve pursued, others I’ve forgone.

 

Money plays a big role in all of those situations, whether you don’t have any to risk or just aren’t sure that you want to risk the money you already have. Only you truly know whether it is worth it.