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The Bumpy Road to Fiscal Fitness


Step one is preparation.

Editor's Note: Minyanville welcomes back Jessie Smith, who is sharing her journey from financial fiasco to fiscal fitness every Tuesday and Thursday in Going for Broke ... and Back.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

-- Lao-Tsu

A journey consists of traveling from Point A to Point B. Sounds simple, right? Anyone who's ever loaded up the family truckster and hit the open road knows that preparation is the key to any successful trip. There are the road-warrior rituals, which must be observed prior to ever starting the engine. Proper packing procedures must be adhered to and maintained for quality assurance. For this, there are two phases: packing for the destination, and packing for the journey.

Anyone who has kids has intimate knowledge of the latter. This requires the right combination of snacks, entertainment, activities, and of course, audio-visual equipment.

For the adults, there are also some preparations that must be considered. First, clarity is required about where we're going. We have to know our starting point and where our destination is. Once that's established, we can decide upon the best route for our trip. Do we want to take the scenic roads, or is it the Interstate all the way?

Also to be determined is whether or not stops will be necessary along the way, and if so, where? Is this a routine potty break? Or, are we checking into the Holiday Inn for the night? Do we get off at this exit for gas? And, should we stop and get the kids some dinner? When are we scheduled to arrive at our destination, and what are the repercussions if we're late?

By now you're getting my point that some considerable thought must be put into this process, or you may end up starving at some God-forsaken truck stop on a desolate highway with your legs crossed and an empty gas tank.

Going on a financial expedition isn't much different. First, we must establish where we are (Point A), and then we must decide where we're going (Point B). This translates into setting specific goals. Don't expect things will just "work out" if you favor working harder or longer in lieu of this step. They won't.

As Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else." Since this can be a somewhat difficult endeavor (especially if you have never endeavored it before), think of it as deciding upon a luxury resort destination and then put yourself in the picture.

Second, we must decide how we're going to get there. In order to do that, we must have a firm grasp on the current financial state we're in as our starting point.

Taking stock of your current economic situation might sound like as much fun as putting a letter opener in your eye, but once it's done, you can eat chocolate to ease your pain. Trust me, you'll be glad you did the work. I'll happily tell you what I did to accomplish this in a not-too-distant future post.

Third, you have to pack. This means deciding what you'll take with you and what you'll leave behind. Let's start with our beliefs about money. I suggest taking the ones that empower you, and leaving the ones that keep you feeling like a money failure by the curb for the trash guys to pick up on Tuesday. (Don't worry -- after a while, you won't even miss them.)

Next, we must pack up our vehicle. Do you have: your checkbook (with checks intact), your balance sheet, your income and expense statement, your current credit report, your money mastery materials (both practical and empowering), and your financial advisors? ("Huh? Did she just say financial advisors? We're inviting them?")

I heard that. Yes, we're inviting them. The first step of knowing we have a problem is admitting we cannot go it alone. We need help. I'll be sharing with you how I used my advisors' help -- and when, where, and for what jobs. We have to do this work ourselves, but we can't do it by ourselves.

Okay. Destination set? Check. GPS programmed? Check. Car loaded up? Check. Kiddos in the car strapped in and ready to go? Check. Engine running with a full tank of gas? Check.

As Bette Davis said, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!"

(Who is Jessie Smith and why is she taking us on her journey?)

Have a question or some feedback for Jessie? Post a comment below.
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