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Hardy2
December 06, 2006

$ & Sense


Personal Finance, Common Sense

The old-fashioned common sense of our grandparents still stands as a reliable guide to money. Whether you are digging out of debt or managing substantial assets, the principles are similar.

Don't Keep Up with the Joneses

Comparing and competing with others can lead to financial overextension in which all our income disappears every month to support too much house, multiple vehicles and premium coffee. Many things that you see others enjoying are not paid for — they may be up to their ears in debt.

The advertising-driven consumerism of American society has lured millions of us into confusing our needs with our wants. Consider that most new purchases trade potentially income-producing assets (money you can invest) for income-draining liabilities (new car, vacation home).

Resist the temptation of false necessities and cultivate the freedom of contentment. Enough really is enough. Possessions do not bring peace or financial independence. Pare down and clarify what you really value. If your spending expands as your income expands, you can miss a great opportunity to build wealth.

Get Out of and Stay Out of Debt

Ben Franklin said that "he who has four but spends five has no need of a purse." No matter how much money you make, if you are spending more, you are living in debt rather than building wealth.

Imagine pouring water into a bucket with so many holes that it runs out faster than you can put it in. Plug the holes. Analyze your spending — are the culprits new clothes or dinners out? Do whatever it takes to control them — stay out of stores, eat at home, etc. Shred the credit card offers, choose one card to use carefully, cut up the others, and pay them off, the one with smallest balance first, until you are debt-free. Then pay your credit card bill in full every month — no excuses.

Live Below Your Means

Spend less than you make: Live not just within the edge of your means, but well below your means. Otherwise you will not have surplus to save and invest wisely.

Everyone has enough to save. If your income were cut by 10 percent you would find a way to adjust. So pay yourself 10-to-20 percent every month, preferably by direct deposit into an investment account, so that it is automatic and doesn't require making a choice or remembering. The investment vehicle could be your company's 401(k) or an account with a brokerage firm. For example: you could split your automatic investments between two accounts.

Don't Put all Your Eggs in One Basket

Diversification is the key to preserving your invested assets. A table with four legs will stand, but a table with fewer may not. Picking one or two stocks or funds is risky.

Diversification does not mean parking money in multiple accounts at multiple firms. That leads to an uncoordinated strategy and a lack of oversight. If your investments are the players on a team and you are the owner, you still need a coach. Find a good financial advisor — most do not charge to consult with you.

Take Care of Yourself

Your goal is your own eventual financial independence. This means not being dependent on a job, a spouse, an inheritance, a company retirement plan or your children for financial sustenance. Financial independence occurs when your investment income meets or exceeds your monthly expenses. Achieving this takes time, but leads to psychological freedom.

It's a slow, gradual process built on the cumulative effects of your determined long-term choices. Forget shortcuts and trying to get rich quickly — be content to become wealthy over time. Disciplined patience and a fine-tuned will are the tools of wealth-building.

Be a Good Steward

With wealth comes great responsibility. It must be managed well and that requires education, attention, time and effort. Even a fortune can be lost with poor management and foolish lack of attention. And with wealth comes great opportunity. It is a delightful experience to have sufficient surplus to give charitably, to provide for others — whether family members or the poor. We have all learned from Mr. Scrooge the misery of hoarding and the joy of giving.

Money is a powerful tool that can be frittered away, wasted on temporary satisfactions, or used wisely for a long-lasting legacy. Cultivate uncommon common sense in matters of finance to set your course on the ultimately more satisfying path.

If you'd like to learn more, please call: Michael Pellman, Retirement Planning Specialist, Morgan Stanley, 284-5213, michael.pellman@morganstanley.com.

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