By Sheryl Smolkin
In his new book “Stop Over-thinking Your Money,” Globe and Mail personal finance columnist and television personality Preet Banerjee says personal finance is a lot like physical fitness. In order to be in better shape, everyone knows they have to work out and eat well. A personal trainer delivers results, not by showing clients a new way to perform sit-ups, but rather by simply making sure the sit-ups get done.
Similarly, in this book Banerjee discusses in five simple rules how to think about money and focus on the 20% of what you really need to know in order to be in top financial shape.
Rule 1: Disaster- proof your life
Investing is only one of many factors that affect your personal finances. If you are going to retire well at age 65 you have to put away money for a long time. But if you die, lose your job or become disabled before then, your long-term plans could go up in smoke. That’s why he says disability insurance, life insurance and an emergency fund should be the foundation of your financial plan. Wills and powers of attorney must also be taken care of early on.
Rule 2: Spend less than you earn
Spending less than you earn is the cornerstone of financial stability. It allows you to eliminate money stress and begin creating wealth. Here’s where you learn how to budget. Banerjee highly recommends Kerry K. Taylor’s electronic spreadsheets on Squawkfox.com. By starting with your old or current budget, the many undesirable things you spend money on like take-out coffee, fast food breakfasts and debt repayments will jump out at you. Then you can create a new budget and start tracking your spending more diligently. Surplus can be allocated to savings.
Rule 3: Aggressively pay down high interest debt
Thou shalt not carry credit card balances! When you have high interest debt, the amount of cash flow it ties up on a monthly basis is painful to calculate. Banerjee shows how you can transfer high-interest balances to low interest balances using a line of credit. Then he recommends developing a plan of attack for paying down your debt. While he acknowledges that changing spending patterns to alleviate debt is easier said than done, he says the only way to keep your finances on an even keel is to save more before you spend.
Rule 4: Read the fine print
From today forward, he instructs readers to read every word on any document they put their signature on. Gym memberships, cellphone contracts, loan documents. You name it. He gives the example of a friend whose wife could not collect on his mortgage insurance because the policy was underwritten at the time of death. The policy said it was invalid if he had any alcohol in his bloodstream while operating a motorized vehicle (a snowmobile in this case) when he died. In contrast, a life insurance policy underwritten at the time of purchase paid out within two weeks.
Rule 5: Delay consumption
The fifth rule is simply an extension of the first. Stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. As you earn more money or get a bonus don’t get caught up in lifestyle inflation. And avoid the monthly payment trap. Think seriously about whether house renovation is actually an investment and if the personal gain from expensive hobbies is really worth the cost.
Throughout the book Banerjee keeps returning to the message that if you wait to make a perfect plan you may never start. And in the beginning, building up lots of money depends more on putting money away than making money grow because of smart investment decisions. You can control how much you save but you have almost no control over market performance, he says.
This book is an accessible, quick read but like any guide, it is up to you to buy into Banerjee’s five financial rules and implement them. He calls them the roadmap to an easy “A” in personal finance.
But when you are ready for a more sophisticated “A+” strategy he would be happy to provide additional guidance along the way. Who knows? That could be his next book, But until then, you can find him on twitter @preetbanerjee. He is looking forward to hearing from you!