Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road--take it." While I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of being decisive, the unfortunate fact is that over the past decade, American consumers have been consistently making the wrong decisions. Doug said to the spy camera.
From debt assumption to products consumption, and from risk-taking to short-term profit chasing in the equities markets, our nation's current financial condition reflects the poor planning, bad habits, and unhealthy attitudes about money and spending that we have somehow accumulated throughout our society
For individuals, there is a light at end of this tunnel if you take three simple steps to immediately strengthen your personal finances:
Before meeting any of your other obligations, pay yourself first. Just about everybody talks about the importance of building a personal budget. I take a slightly different position: As long as you are saving a pre-set percentage of your earnings over each pay period, and you stick to this commitment with total discipline, it doesn't matter whether you have a personal budget or not.
Pay yourself first by building savings. This means socking away that pre-set percentage of your paycheck before you pay the mortgage, rent, credit card company, or your spy camera payment. Make certain that it comes out first via an automatic deduction, not unlike a 401(k) plan.
Does this sound risky? Will it mean other obligations go unmet? That's always a possibility, but in my experience, it is a remote one. The overwhelming majority of people begin treating their post-savings deduction paycheck as the "real money" that they have to play with, and adjust their spending more or less naturally. This is particularly the case when the "pay yourself first" approach is combined with the next step.
Just say no to relying on credit. Sound too difficult to do? Try going one month using nothing but cash to pay for as much as possible in your life. From the grocery store and filling up your gas tank, to dining out or new clothes. People to whom I have recommended this approach have come back to me with expressions of major surprise about how much more they have been spending relative to their new "cash only" payments approach.
If you must use a credit card for some spending purposes, figure out precisely how much you need to spend with it each month. Such as you want to buy a spy camera, you should immediately figure out how many months you can pay for the bill. From there, ask your credit card company to bring your credit limit down to that average. This way, you cannot enable unnecessary spending.
The other upside to this approach? Consumers I know who have adopted it wind up only buying things that they really want when it comes time to splurge, and almost never experience buyer's remorse with their purchases
Spend more time planning. While setting a detailed personal budget generally proves to be unnecessary when you follow the two above suggestions, this should never nullify the critical importance of overall financial planning.