Originally published in Military Spouse Magazine
I don’t look forward to April 1. Maybe I’m just too trusting or maybe my morning caffeine takes too long to work its magic, but I often find myself on the receiving end of several pranks. Typically, the day arrives and I’m blissfully unaware that it’s April Fools’ Day until I’m bamboozled by that first zinger. After that, I’m usually well prepared for the rest of the day and may even take a shot (usually unsuccessfully) at catching someone else off guard.
While this might be the source of some good chuckles between family and friends, the last thing you want with your finances is to be found the fool. As a defensive tactic, I’ve compiled five signs that you could be headed for a not-so-funny financial joke.
You regularly find yourself on the wrong end of double-digit interest rates. Last year, the U.S. stock market was up about 30 percent. Earning double-digit rates is a good thing. However, paying double-digit interest rates on credit cards or other debts is not a good thing — at least not for you. If you’ve got that kind of debt, make a plan to get rid of it. Seek out on-installation counseling, spend some time with a counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org), or maybe just employ some old-fashioned self-discipline.
You’ve got more month than money. This is no laughing matter. Rather than continuing to stress about money, create a situation where you’re spending less than you earn and saving money consistently. That’ll put a smile on your face. How do you get started? List your earnings and expenses. Then look for ways to increase the former and decrease the latter.
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You’re banking on Uncle Sugar to bail you out. Politics aside, it’s a fact that Social Security is being squeezed by the demographics of our country. Military retirement is under attack, and corporate pensions are disappearing. If you want financial security in your golden years, you’re going to have to build it yourself. Start contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan or 401(k), and set up IRAs for you and your spouse. If you’ve got extra dough when (or if) all those other forms of potential retirement income roll in, you can laugh all the way to the bank.
You’re paying sales charges when you invest and getting nothing in return. Contrary to what you might have read, I don’t think sales charges are evil. Granted, they’re not necessary and there’s no proof that paying a sales charge on your investments results in better performance. However, if you are paying a sales charge, you’d better be getting solid, ongoing guidance as you work toward your goals. If not, you’re being taken for a ride.
You’re waiting for the right time to _____. I didn’t finish that sentence, but I’m sure you can. Maybe it’s time to start putting money in a savings account for your emergency fund. Perhaps you need to sit down and actually map out a financial game plan. Or start contributing to the TSP or your employer's retirement plan. Fill in the blank with your situation. Whatever you wish you were doing, start doing it. Procrastination is a dream killer and certainly a foolish approach to your finances.
Let this April be the month in which you turn the tables on the things that keep you and your family from achieving your goals. Financial security — now that’s no joke.
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