How to Improve Your Financial Situation for Free

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

haz-mat-suit-to-use-flkrDoes your financial situation resemble a toxic dump site? There is a great deal of discussion about “toxic assets” and how they have dragged our nation into its current financial dilemma. But in my opinion, the “toxic assets” are only a symptom of the root problem — the mindset of the people who made terrible decisions. Those horrible decisions resulted in the mess that you and I are now tasked to clean up.

We can’t do much about that. What’s done is done. And we can’t really do much about other people either. We can wring our hands all day long, but other people are simply beyond our control for the most part. We can do very little to control them.

What we can control, however, is ourselves and the decisions we make about our life and finances. I bring this up because I think we have an unbelievable opportunity to improve our financial lives right now.

Do you have any financial behaviors that need to be cleaned up? If so, now’s the time to do it. Really…take a minute to think about it.

Is your spending out of control?

Do you have a financial plan? If so, are you sticking to it? If not, when are you going to start creating a financial plan?

Do you track your average monthly spending?

Do you let your emotions impact your investment decisions?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, don’t gloat when you read about the trouble that AIG and other financial firms face. You’ve got some “toxic assets” to clean up too. But unlike these sloppy giants, you don’t need a government bailout. There are simple steps you can take to detoxify your financial situation.

1. Identify any trouble spots. Take soil samples.

Review the questions above. Is the issue that you spend too much? Has your income dropped because of the economy? Do you invest emotionally? Are you and your spouse or partner on the same page when it comes to money, or do you constantly bicker about bucks? Do you have a financial plan that you stick to? Do you know where you are going financially and how you’re going to get there?

Which exactly is the problem? Even if your answer is, “ALL OF THE ABOVE,” write down exactly what the problems are.

2. Assemble the equipment and tools to fix the problem.

Assume for a moment that your income has been slashed because of the economy. As a result, you are burning through your savings and your financial plan went up in smoke. You’ll need a few different tools. First, you need to know how much you spend each month on average. I wrote a nice little piece about that at Frugal Dad. I also have a pretty helpful You Need A Budget Review that might help you get your spending under control.

Next you need to know how much savings you have and what your income is. This way, you can easily compute how long your money is going to last. For example, let’s say you spend $5,000 a month after taxes. You have $25,000 saved and even though you lost your job, your spouse still brings home $2,500 each month. That means that you can draw $2,500 each month from your savings. Add that to the $2,500 your spouse brings home, and you’ll have enough money to last for 10 months.

3. Send in the clean-up crew.

Make a plan and execute it. You have 10 months to find a good job, so get going. Take on part-time work or work during the weekend if you can, but make sure to leave time for your job search.

You do need to have a “plan B” in case things don’t turn around in 10 months. That may include taking more drastic action like taking on renters or moving back in with family. They may be hard steps to take, but remember it’s not the end of the world and it’s not forever. Tomorrow is another day. But don’t wait for 10 months before you create your “plan B.”

Problems are solved by brave people and Wealth Pilgrims are among the bravest. What toxic spills are you going to clean up now? Do you have the tools you need? What other resources do you need? What questions puzzle you right now?



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Neal March 29, 2009 at 8:09 AM

I completely agree Keith. Thanks!


Frugal Dad March 27, 2009 at 6:22 AM

Neal, I really enjoy your style of writing, and am moved by your story. You’ve got a new fan (and subscriber) over here! Thanks for sharing such an outstanding post at my site (and mentioning to your readers here as well).


Neal March 27, 2009 at 6:52 AM


Coming from you, that’s huge. Thanks


Nate @ Debt-free Scholar March 27, 2009 at 5:21 AM

If you do take on renters, you must be very careful. Make sure that they are honest and have a clean background. Always perform background checks on all renters. Hire a lawyer to write the contract.



Neal March 27, 2009 at 6:51 AM

Certainly, these are words to the wise. Thanks Nate!


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