IT WAS ABOUT A YEAR AGO THAT LEO Clark decided he finally had enough. The Los Angeles-based actor woke up, looked at his sleeping wife, Mary Anne, and then at his son, L.J., who was 6 months old. Facing mounting debt, he decided to change his financial life then and there.
"I said, 'The buck stops here,'" says Clark, who was a professional basketball player in Europe before turning to modeling and acting. "I didn't want my son to face the same financial struggles I did growing up. So I began to set goals, I got aggressive about knocking out debt, I read book after book on money management. I was fed up."
It's only been a year since that moment, but score one for Clark and his wife. The couple has erased $32,000 in debt, slashed their spending by $1,500 a month, and cut up some of their credit cards. Now with the end of debt in sight, they're planning to sit down with their financial planner and begin investing for the long term, with retirement funds and a college savings plan for L.J. All because Clark swore that morning to change his financial habits forever.
Clark's story is far from unique. In an age of outsourcing, stagnating wages, and debt-loving consumers, many Americans are seeing the prospect of true financial security recede into the distance. In 2006, the national savings rate was in negative territory for the second year in a row, and people have been living large off their home equity just as the housing market is starting to crater. It's a recipe for financial disaster.
"As a culture, we've lost touch with financial reality," says Glinda Bridgforth, a Detroit-based money coach and founder of consulting firm Bridgforth Financial. "We live beyond our means, we try to keep up with the Joneses, and we just don't think about the reality check of the long term."
That's why we've assembled 10 ways to get your financial house in order, right here and right now. They range from common-sense moves like starting to save early and decreasing your spending, to investing strategies like diversifying and reducing your fees, to proactive steps such as improving your health and boosting your insurance coverage.
These are critical steps because money isn't just a number on a bank statement, it represents larger issues of security and quality of life for you and your family, as Clark discovered. Coupled with your own determination, these 10 pointers will put you on the proper path to true financial security.
ATTACK YOUR SPENDING
When it comes to saving, Michelle Cover and her husband, Champana Bernard, are very serious. The two employees of Virginia's Fairfax County--she's an adoption social worker, he's a quality assurance consultant--have two children, ages 7 and 2, and wanted to set the table for a more prosperous future. So when they sat down with their financial planner, Rita Cheng of Ameriprise Financial Services in Bethesda, Maryland, and got serious about saving, they decided to focus mercilessly on their spending habits. "We cut back on eating out and we didn't go on extra trips anymore," says Cover. "Just being mindful of how we spend our money has saved us up to $1,000 a month."