NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Let's face it — the world can be a scary place with threats lurking all around us.
"Crimes happen more frequently than a lot of people think and regardless of socioeconomic background," says self-defense and fitness expert Jarrett Arthur, who is one of the highest-ranking female Krav Maga black belts in the U.S. "When it does happen and you're not prepared, the helplessness and fear can take over."
Many financial dangers can also catch you off guard — from crimes like theft and fraud to pitfalls like racking up too much debt and failing to save enough for retirement. Thankfully, you can help reduce your chances of experiencing both physical and financial harm by arming yourself with valuable skills and knowledge.
With that in mind, we've decided to share five of Arthur's top self-defense moves as well as tips from money experts on how to safeguard your financial future. Read on for the details ... and discover your inner fighter.
Self Defense Proactive Tip #1
Arthur says that the best way to stay safe from harm is to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
"Be aware of your surroundings, stick to well-populated, well-lit areas, and don't be afraid to ask someone you know to accompany you," Arthur explains.
If you do encounter conflict, you can avoid a physical confrontation by simply walking away or, if necessary, running to a safe, populated area.
Just like you shouldn't walk in isolated areas, you also shouldn't use your credit card on insecure sites. If you're purchasing something online, always make sure the web address begins with "https://" on the checkout pages, says Matthew Goldman, CEO of Wallaby Financial, which offers a variety of products to help consumers get the most out of their credit cards.
Goldman also suggests checking for a green address bar, which indicates that a website has been issued an Extended Validation certificate.
"Extended Validation is an extra measure of security ensuring that the company that acquired the certificate for 'https' is indeed the company you think it is," Goldman explains. "It can be easy for anyone to buy a regular certificate, but with Extended Validation, the certificate authority follows a special set of guidelines, such as reviewing certificates of incorporation and verifying business phone and address."
Self Defense Proactive Tip #2
If you're faced with a situation in which you may have to engage in a physical fight, Arthur says that you should get into a basic fighting stance. Position your dominant leg in the back (right leg if you're a righty, left leg if you're a lefty), and put your less dominant leg in front, with all toes pointing forward. Keep your legs nice and wide, your knees bent and your back heel lifted off the ground. You should also keep your hands up in front of your face, your chin tucked and your shoulders up.
"This fighting stance will keep you balanced, connected to the ground and able to generate bigger striking power," Arthur explains.
There are several ways to get into a "fighting stance" when it comes to protecting your finances.
"Your first priority should be to build up an emergency savings account with three to six months of your normal monthly expenses," says certified financial planner Christopher K. Winn, president of Interactive Wealth Advisors in Portland, Ore. "Don't worry about the low-to-no interest rate you're getting today — its purpose is to have liquid cash when small financial disasters hit your wallet."
Although it may sound grim, an up-to-date estate plan will also help your family prepare for the unexpected.
"Having proper documents and a will that specifies guardians and trustees is really important," says certified financial planner Michael F. Kay, president of Financial Focus in Livingston, N.J.
And don't forget to set up a retirement fund — even if retirement seems a long way off. "Regardless of how much or little one makes, you should make every effort to put something away for a rainy day," says Bennie D. Waller, professor of finance and real estate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. "Take advantage of any retirement account matching opportunities offered by your employer and as your earnings increase, consider adding more to your retirement or savings."
Self Defense Proactive Tip #3
After you get into a basic fighting stance, Arthur suggests hitting your attacker with a palm heel strike. To do this, take the heel of your palm (the hard part of your hand at the bottom by your wrist) and strike the middle of your attacker's face as hard as you can, then do the same with your other hand in a quick one-two motion.
"By hitting the nose, it will cause their eyes to tear and affect their breathing," says Arthur. "If that does the trick and you have the opportunity to do so, run away quickly. But you may have to continue to fight."
If debt is beating you down, you can strike back with some simple but effective strategies.
"The best way to pay off debt is to attack the highest interest rate first," says certified financial planner Debra L. Morrison, president of Empowered Retirement, Inc. in Lincoln Park, N.J. "Take at least 15% of your current wages, salary and tips to pay down the highest interest rate debt, each and every pay period or month."
If you're swimming in debt but still can't seem to control your spending, consider creating multiple accounts at your bank, such as an account for paying off bills, a vacation fund, and a fund for "extras" such as new clothes and meals out.
"You'll have to budget the amount that can go into these accounts each month so that there's money left to pay off the debt," says certified financial planner Adam D. Koos, founder and president of Libertas Wealth Management Group in Dublin, Ohio.
Self Defense Proactive Tip #4
Another highly effective self-defense technique is the knee strike. This is a close-range strike, meaning that you have to be close to your attacker in order to send it. Position yourself in a basic fighting stance, then bend your back leg completely and drive your knee up and forward, striking the assailant's groin.
Another major threat to your financial well-being is "money suckers" – or items and services you don't really need that are emptying your wallet. Although it might take some discipline, knocking these money suckers out of your life can help you save big.
"Sometimes it's the small purchases that you make over and over daily that may have the biggest financial impact over time," says Michael J. Hardy, a certified financial planner and partner of Mollot & Hardy, Inc. in Amherst, N.Y. "I have a client who smokes two packs of cigarettes and buys three to four cups of Starbucks coffee a day, which costs him $9,500 per year."
Other common money suckers include cable movie packages, bottled water and dining out. Not sure what your biggest "money suckers" are?
"Track all of your expenses for 30 consecutive days on Post-it notes or on your smartphone, and then really analyze that data," says Morrison. "Cut where you know you should cut, then immediately do something with those savings, like contribute to your 401(k) plan."
Self Defense Proactive Tip #5
You can also fight off your assailant with kicks, but instead of using your feet to inflict the blow, Arthur says that you should hit with your shin, which is a much stronger striking surface and not likely to get injured. Drive your knee up then whip your foot out, making contact with your shin, and up through the centerline of your assailant aiming for his groin. While you kick, keep your hands up in front of your face for protection.
Making an on-time credit card payment is a solid way to give credit score dings a kick in the pants.
"Making credit card payments, as well as all debt payments, on time is a very important factor in a credit score," says Waller. "Late payments on debts such as credit cards, car payments and mortgages can quickly drop one's credit score by 100 points or more, which could impact the ability to borrow or increase the rate at which lenders are willing to lend by a significant amount."
Another way to improve your credit score is to keep your debt-to-equity ratio low.
"That means that if you have $10,000 of credit available to you, don't carry $10,000 of debt," Hardy explains. "Carry $0 debt and your debt-to-equity will look good and that will be points for you."
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet