My mother recently learned how to play Solitaire, the one-person card game, and often plays online for extended periods. But every so often she gets stumped and will call me with a question; she now refers to me as her solitaire coach.
When it comes to managing our money, we often can’t find a coach, especially one that doesn’t charge a hefty fee. But going it alone financially isn’t a good strategy. Many people struggle in silence because of a lack of knowledge or fear of the unknown, but all of us need to find ways to learn and broaden our knowledge of personal finance.
If you need help, but can’t afford a personal financial planner, here are a few tips on how to improve your financial situation:
Read more personal finance books. Books by experts, such as Clark Howard, are available online for just a few dollars. These books will provide a person with the equivalent of a 101 level of personal finance knowledge with easy-to-understand advice on savings, investing and money management.
Follow current events. Local and federal government officials often change our taxes and interest rates, and make decisions on other important financial issues that affect our personal finances. Reading newspapers free online and watching business news programs will inform you about the state of the economy and how it affects you.
Seek free advice from a nonprofit. Credit counseling agencies will provide anyone with a free, one-hour session to review your budget and make recommendations on how to reduce spending and save more money. These agencies also provide low-cost assistance for a wide range of other services, from how to buy a home to whether you should speak with an attorney about filing for bankruptcy. Organizations such as United Way can provide anyone with a list of low-cost resources for child care and other everyday needs.
Take advantage of employer resources. Even small companies now offer benefits programs that include an outside company to manage the company-sponsored 401(k) program and offer investment guidance. These companies also provide many online tools, such as calculators, that enable anyone to learn how their money can grow. If you don’t know where to start, speak to your Human Resources department about how to learn more about these benefits.
Explore government agencies that can help. MyMoney.gov is the U.S. government’s website dedicated to teaching Americans the basics about financial education. Whether you are buying a home, balancing a checkbook or investing in your 401(k), MyMoney.gov can help. For people in financial distress, a number of agencies can assist you. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency can provide answers to a variety of questions at www.cfpb.gov. And, for people concerned about losing their home to foreclosure, the Treasury Department has information on the Making Home Affordable program. If you meet the program’s requirements, you may be able to modify or refinance your home mortgage loan.
When it comes to your finances, don’t play the equivalent of Solitaire. There are plenty of organizations that provide free or low-cost services, For the most part, these organizations exist to help the people who need it, so take advantage of them.