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Ten Ways to Simplify Your Financial Life
by Gerri Detweiler

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of your financial life, it's no wonder. There are 20,000 different credit cards, some 6,400 mutual funds, and thousands of other financial products to choose from -- and of course there are all those bills every month, and taxes to pay.

Want to make your financial life a little less complicated? Here are a few places to start:

1. Stop paying the bills. Why write out a check and pay postage each month, when you can have the money for your bills taken directly from your bank account? Virtually every bill can be paid this way, and if you ever decide to cancel the direct payments, you need only notify the company at least three business days in advance of the next due date. Save time and almost $4 a year in postage per bill. I not only have our mortgage payment taken directly from our bank account, but a small pre-payment is also deducted at the same time. Simple savings.

Watch out though. You won't save a penny unless you actually have the money in your account. In fact, if a bunch of electronic transfers end up on your overdraft protection, you'll pay a pretty penny for this convenience.

2. Pare the plastic. The average person carries 8 to 10 pieces of plastic, but two major credit cards are enough. Keep one low interest card for any purchases that you'll have to pay off over time, and keep another for purchases you'll pay in full every month. Your second card could be a rebate, frequent flier, or no annual fee card.

If you carry balances on more than one card, ask the issuer of your lowest interest card how to transfer balances from your others. Most will be happy to help! Be sure to ask them to waive any transfer or cash advance fees, and demand a competitive interest rate for any transfers -- even if you have to speak to a supervisor or two to pull it off.

3. Know where it goes. Keeping track of every penny you spend may not seem simple (it's not!), but do it for a month, and you'll have a much clearer picture of your income vs. outgo. That'll help you fine-tune family finances, and find money to pay off your debts more quickly.

4. One at a time. As regular readers of this newsletter know, getting out of debt is the best financial investment you can make for your family's future. After all, where else can you earn so much?

Start with your highest interest debt, probably a credit card. Pay the minimums on all your other cards, and put every penny you can toward that pricey piece of plastic, until it's been paid off. Then go to the next one and so on.

You'll save the most by pre-paying on the card with the highest interest rate first, but if paying off a small balance will help motivate you, start with the card that has the lowest balance. Either way, focus on them one by one.

5. Get good help. If taxes make your eyes cross, and investment jargon goes over your head, keep in mind that you don't have to go it alone. A good accountant, insurance broker, or financial planner can help make your life much simpler and richer (and probably save you some money as well). Interview three professionals before deciding which one to work with, and always check out their background before handing over your money.

To check out securities brokers, investment advisors, financial planners, real estate brokers, and mortgage lenders' disciplinary records, contact the National Fraud Exchange at 800-822-0416, ext. 34. (The fee is $39 for the first search, and $20 for additional searches ordered at the same time.)

6. Pay yourself first. Tried and true. Have a fixed amount, even if it's small, deducted from your paycheck or checking account for savings or mutual funds. Then rest assured. At least you're doing something!

7. Get the basics out of the way. If the fact that you don't have a will or adequate insurance is hanging over your head, set a date on your calendar and resolve to get it taken care of by then. Now all you'll have to do, is DO IT!!!

8. Cut the junk. Take your name off mailing lists and cut down on the number of temptations in your mailbox. Stop Junk Mail Forever, an excellent booklet, will show you how. It's great on those dreaded telemarketing calls, and spam, too (see page #7).

9. Who are you? Some people relish risk and love the wild ups and downs -- not only on roller coasters but in the market as well. Others like to know their capital is safe and secure ... even if its earnings will never blast off.

Before choosing investments decide if you're a risk taker, a comfort seeker, or something in between. You can also hedge your bets by putting a little (or a lot) in high risk opportunities (please, not those offered by telemarketers!), a little (or a lot) in low risk securities, and the rest somewhere in between.

10. What's the hurry? When your broker, your cousin, a telemarketer, or a neighbor in the supermarket tells you about a once in a lifetime opportunity, forget it. There may still be some free lunches, but there are very few legitimate you-must-act-immediately, once in a lifetime offers!

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

As of Issue #35 (Fall, 2003), The Pocket Change Investor, our quarterly newsletter on how to save money, get out of debt, and live better on less, will be available online, only -- for free! To get future issues right into your inbox, send your email address to us at newsletter@goodadvicepress.com, putting the word "subscribe" on the subject line.

The Pocket Change Windfall: Each of our 34 back issues offers painless ways to get out of debt and save on the many expenses that confront us all -- taxes, credit card bills, mortgages, insurance, food, you name it. You can get all 34 for just $29.95 -- that's less than $1 each. To order, you can use our secure server, call 800-255-0899, or write to us at:

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor© 1998, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

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