Like summer ants in the kitchen, financial advice is profuse and unrelenting. If you’ve got little time and less patience, what are the fewest bits of advice you need to keep yourself financially safe?
Effectively Evaluate Information
Using accurate, relevant and timely financial information is crucial. We’re subjected to a barrage of info every waking moment of every day. Trying to sift through what is completely or partially true, what’s unhelpful, and what’s completely wrong is a never-ending task. (For more from this author, see: 4 Must-Do’s for Basic Financial Safety.)
One of the concepts I teach in my freshman English composition classes is how to evaluate sources to use in a research paper. As a financial consumer, you want to ask the same questions of your sources that college students are taught to ask of their sources: timeliness of the information; relevance of the information to your needs; authority of authors or speakers and their qualifications on the topic; accuracy of the info including its reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content; biases of the author or publisher; and the reason why the information is out there – to teach? sell? entertain? persuade? To be truly safe, you need to rely on valid information and using these techniques can bring more confidence in the data you’re using.
Set Yourself Up to Make Good Decisions
A big part of financial safety revolves around making good decisions. You can help yourself achieve this step by setting the stage for success. Psychologists tell you not to undertake emotional activities when you are hungry, tired, angry or sad. That advice applies to making financial decisions as well. Avoid making big financial decisions when you are overly upset or after a major event like a death in the family. Even little financial decisions like what to buy at the grocery store can cost you extra if you shop hungry. Try to put yourself in reasonable and unrushed circumstances when you are deciding on financial actions. If a financial opportunity requires you to hurry in deciding, to keep the deal secret, or seems too good to be true, it’s probably one that’s no good.
Take Prudent Risks
To earn a good return, you need to take calculated risks. You know the adage “Some is good; more is better.” With financial risk (as with hairspray, round-up, and beer) some is good, but too much can be bad. You want your money to make money for you but you don’t want to lose all or most of it. Unlike the 1970s when your risk-free T-bill could earn you a 14% return (I had one), you’re barely making 0.14% today in risk-free investments. So you need to take some risk if you want to grow your money. And that goes back to points one and two - finding info you can trust and using it to evaluate the likely return you’ll get for the risk you’re going to take. If you understand how much you can lose in an investment, you’ll be safer in your choices.
Live Below Your Means
Must I really trot this old chestnut out? Sorry! But whether you make a million a year or $20,000 if you spend more than you make, you are not financially safe. It’s so hard to achieve this goal, and I’m not unsympathetic to the siren call of spending. However, it’s really the golden rule of financial safety.
Kathryn Hauer is the author of “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America,” a CFP®, and financial literacy educator. She speaks at high schools, libraries, career fairs, churches, businesses and community groups - anywhere she can get a platform! - to raise awareness about financial knowledge and safety. Kathy’s been published and quoted on many national sites including CNBC; NASDAQ; BBC; USA Today; Investopedia, CSMonitor; Nerdwallet; and many others.