One more question not included in the "Assess Your Savings Knowledge" tool is this:  When was the last time you assessed your monthly bills?  Maybe some of them can be cut.  Take a look at your cable or satellite TV package.  Call the provider.  Is there a cheaper package available?  Could you "live" without access to the channels you would use.  Are you spending much more time watching NetFliX (NFLX)NFLX than you are spending watching content provided by cable or satellite?  Food for thought, and possible money in your pocket.  Or in your savings account.


What are you financial goals? Do you think you can never "get ahead" enough to plan your financial future?

"You have to be a saver." This is what a former manager of mine said to me during a discussion on personal finance long ago. He was right. It doesn't matter how much you earn. You simply must put away a certain amount of cash every time you are paid or you will never be able to plan ahead. Try it. It will reduce your stress.

"Phil, why are you driving a minivan, when you don't even have any kids?" An employee of mine said this to me long ago. This employee was driving a very nice SUV, with a total cost exceeding the employee's annual wages. The employee just couldn't understand why I would want to be seen driving a minivan. My answer was that my wife and I were saving money to buy a home and weren't going to let anything stand in our way, including the expense of buying less nerdy vehicles.

I ran into many customers when working at a community bank who were spending considerably more on two car loans each month, than they were on their mortgage payments or rent.

This is something to consider carefully. How often do you buy a new car? Why? They no longer fall apart in three years as they did back in the '70s and '80s. You might have a car that's seven years old and hasn't ever had any major repairs. Or maybe it is time for the first major repair. Is this a reason to buy a new one now?

Are you buying a new car because you want to be seen in a lovely new vehicle? This makes sense if you are in sales, and have to impress clients all the time. But if you don't need the new car for that reason, consider how the new purchase affects your family. Does your need to "be cool" absorb money that might be better spent on funding your child's education?

Getting back to goals -- many people who are retired rely in part on pension income. That's going away, for the most part, for succeeding generations. You had better fund a retirement account over time, or you will face a major decline in your standard of living later on.

What's a good retirement goal? Many articles on retirement planning focus on "not outliving your money," and suggest that when you reach retirement age you can spend a certain percentage of your savings each year. But that's a rather dicey approach. Maybe a better goal is to put together a sufficient retirement nest egg that you can live off the income generated by the nest egg.

This way, your savings won't run out.

Speaking with a certified financial planner might be very helpful, because the planner can help you to factor in every part of your financial life, in order to come up with reasonable goals and methods for attaining them.

But the only way to even think of making use of the available tools to reach your goals is to save money on a regular basis, by putting it into a savings account, making regular contributions to a retirement account at work, or, even better, both.

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

>Contact by Email.

Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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