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The right information can make you an expert

In this day and age, can you tell me the item of most interest (on a daily basis) for most people? Yes, we know money is probably the first on the list — but besides that? The answer of course is information.

This is the ‘Information Age’ where immediate access to information is extremely important to most individuals.

It does not matter whether the information is social, financial, emotional, legal or any related topics, we have learned to expect to see the information instantly and make a decision accordingly. What is not always confirmed with information delivered at such nano speeds is whether it is accurate, verifiable, and current to your personal financial situation. Finding and using the right information for you can be incredibly motivating.

If friends’ and neighbours’ discussions are accurate, it appears that the biggest holiday gift this year was an iPad. This wonderful tablet designed to delight and astonish ages from two — 99. It is a fantastic search engine and for many, particularly seniors, their first magnificent window into the world of cyberspace.

Smart phones, iPads and other tablet devices were used relentlessly by retailers during Christmas insanity retail pricing wars, and that is just the beginning of the show.

Computers and phones of all genres have become tools for meeting New Year’s financial goals, due to the millions of applications, e-Books, webinars, blogs, and websites generating important information. Just making the decision to focus your search on a personal financial plan — starting with a search for a budget template can generate millions and millions of related websites.

Here are a few starter resources. See if they can help you jump-start and continue implementing your New Year’s resolution.

Cash and consumption

From the ‘Go-Go’ (young careerists), ‘Slow-Go’ (middle age professionals), and ‘No-Go’ (individuals entering the age of enlightenment), charting your personal spending is so important. This website may work for you for you. www.squawkfox.com/2010/04/26/budget-spreadsheet/

What are you spending month by month and year by year? Your income must be equal to or exceed expenses. Is there an easy way to do this by tracking expenses?

Never mind the website title, it was voted Canada’s number one money blogger by a major Canadian newspaper. Don’t like the author’s blogging style, then use your search power and find a similar budget website; there are millions to choose from as well as possible applications produced specifically for the iPad, for instance.

Try the following Free Budget Spreadsheet and website. Descriptions can be changed and items added, but if you really want to feel comfortable with the results, use the template as it is. Do not be intimidated by the spreadsheet either — just fill in the numbers and save the file to your desktop. Note that the site contains an abundance of help and motivational commentary, particularly for families.


Learning about investments. You want to use a website that contains independent unbiased information and advice. Always keep in mind that any investment advisor, or website that sells a product or service has a bias toward the sale. Yes, this is often denied — but you cannot ever claim to be independent if your livelihood depends upon signing up prospects for investment accounts, financial planning services or other investment related services.

An easy website can also a very comprehensive one. I like Education Begin Investing located at finance.yahoo.com/education/begin_investing

This interactive site contains clear, short articles and examples to get you through the basic concepts. Sections like learning the basics, types of investments, risk and return along with a section on Personal Finance 101 are interesting and exciting new ways to learn about one of the most important pieces of your net worth. Your pension — yes, it is invested, and you should have, at least, a basic knowledge of how your personal pension allocations are structured.

A more advanced investment website is investopedia.com, which is incredibly comprehensive due to the contributions of leading investment managers in various securities specialisations.

This site is probably my absolute favourite and I’ve used it for many years, almost since it was launched. The site contains a Stock Simulator Fantasy stock market game that simulates real trading in capital markets. It also features videos on financial concepts with animation and clarity. There is an extensive list of tutorials for all securities and related areas, such as currency trading, options, futures, credit swaps as well as a large section on personal finance. Think of Investopedia as the site you graduate to, once you master the basics.

The trust factor and choosing a competent licensed financial advisor If you decide you just cannot cope with any of these finance initiatives, including a budget, then you may be inclined to seek professional help.

The following site regarding the alphabet soup of financial certifications (advisor initials) article can help you figure out who to choose to assist you: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/01/101001.asp#axzz2IwHwvbXb.

There is a plethora of advisory initials out there, with new ones being added every day it seems. Some are real, backed by significant qualifications, organisational oversight, mandated fiduciary responsibility, punitive actions including loss of license and public censure for breach of professional trust, continuing educational requirements. Other initials can stand what you want to read into them. How can you possibly know how competent the person is that you choose for valuable investment advice?

Be extremely cautious when even thinking about working with an advisor over the internet, not ever physically present with you in a professional environment. Investments with an internet person (who could be anyone, anywhere) have a tendency to vanish into vapour.

Part II on more finance category favourite financial websites and internet help next week, including basic questions to ask a financial salesperson or advisor regarding their background, experience, credentials, and investing knowledge.

Martha Harris Myron CPA PFS CFP (USA) TEP is an international financial columnist, cross-border financial planning specialist and a professional member of the American Citizens Abroad Professional Tax Advisory Council. www.americansabroad.org


This article is not intended as tax, investment, or retirement advice, and cannot be relied upon for any personal financial planning purpose. Individuals should seek the services of a qualified financial planning professional.

Personal finance: What tools are out there to help you achieve your financial goals?

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Published January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2013 at 6:07 pm)

The right information can make you an expert

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