Real simple financial solutions

The best solution is often the easiest one, so Tess asks Lesley Alderman of Real Simple magazine for some simple fixes for common financial problems.

Tess Vigeland: So much basic personal finance advice bears repeating and that's what we do on this show: max out your retirement, pay down credit card debt, save money.

Well, like so many things in life, it pays to keep your financial plan simple.

For some helpful tips, we turn to Lesley Alderman of Real Simple magazine.

Vigeland: Lesley, the problem seems to start with us spending too much money. The simple solution?

Lesley Alderman: Stop spending so much money. No, right? Easier said than done. What we did write about just to make people feel better is that they're not crazy and it's that, you know, shopping, especially for things that are fun, like things for your home or clothes or even delicious food really makes you feel good. There's a chemical that gets released in your brain -- dopamine -- so there's kind of a rush. So, in some ways, we were born to shop. It just feels good. What you have to do is just sort of ratchet it back and one thing that's very helpful is just to give yourself a budget on things where you feel a little bit out of control and say "I'm only going to spend $200 a month on clothes."

Vigeland: Alright, and worry number two, and I think this is common for both your readers and our listeners: we save too little money. What's the best piece of advice there?

Alderman: I think what's most helpful if you feel like you're saving too little is to focus on why you want to save more and make this something very realistic, because if you have this amorphous thing -- I should be saving for retirement, I should be saving for an emergency fund -- it feels kind of vague and abstract and things in the present are much more tantalizing like, you know, a new coat. You're saving for a concrete goal...

Vigeland: And get really specific about it, it sounds like?

Alderman: Get really specific and maybe you're goal is "I don't want to have those creditors calling me all the time;" your goal is to relieve the stress of credit card debt. You have to be practical too and one of the best things is to just set up automatic savings accounts where you can't withdraw money that's not there in your account. You know, sort of out of sight is out of mind and that is probably the hands down easiest way to get yourself to save more money.

Vigeland: We've seen oil go over $100 a barrel and that inevitably will filter down into our gas tanks. What are some of the suggestions you have for at least trying to tamp down on that particular expense?

Alderman: One of the things that we tell readers to do is go to this great Web site called GasBuddy.com and enter your ZIP code and look for the stations that are in your area and you will find this wide range of prices, and so make it a habit of going and filling up at the station with the cheapest prices. Another thing that we said is don't park in the hot sun, because guess what? Gas will evaporate, so park in the shade when possible.

Vigeland: Of course, all of this comes down to the question of whether you really have a financial plan for your life and a lot of people don't. How do they go about starting one?

Alderman: A financial plan can be as simple as sitting down by yourself or with your partner or spouse and saying "this is what I want to do with my hard earned money." It's setting some kind of priorities and then backing up from there and saying "is the way that I'm spending my money in alignment with those goals?" Barring that, you really can't underestimate the value of an outsider, aka a financial planner, in really helping you go through your goals and making sure that the way you're spending your money and using your money really in alignment with what you want to get out of life.

Vigeland: Alright. We've been talking about the article, titled "Your Biggest Money Worries, Solved" and you can find it in the March issue of Real Simple magazine and we've been talking with Lesley Alderman who's the deputy editor there. Thanks so much for coming in.

Alderman: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.