You may think you know who you are, but do you really understand your financial personality? n When it comes to the way you look at money and investing, you may be the sort who constantly checks on your investments, or the type who promises to start saving tomorrow, or even the kind of person who crosses his fingers and hopes for the best. n Every financial personality profile has good traits and not-so-good ones. Shaking those bad habits can be challenging, but the first step is recognizing your style. Where do you fit in?
Haven't thought about retirement? Don't have a will or a savings account? Are you counting on winning the lottery?
The kind of check that will do clueless types the most good right now is a reality check.
"These types of people are a loose cannon," said Helen Salazar-Realini, president of EBIS Inc., an estate and business insurance firm in Miami. "They don't really know what's going on. Everything's in their head."
Clueless folks are the hardest to help because they're often too embarrassed to reveal their ignorance.
"Some people are just afraid to admit what they don't know," said Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University professor who studies behavioral economics. "Just as they have a fear of embarrassment of going to a doctor, they have a fear of getting investment advice."
To break out of this behavior, seek help from a financial adviser and do some research to increase your knowledge about your options.
Ask specific questions to help establish financial goals. Don't just say you want to save for retirement -- think about how much money you may need to support the life you want to lead when you retire. How would you handle your financial obligations if you lost your job a few months before your child headed to college and you had not set aside any money to pay for tuition?
Do you fantasize about retirement and your kid's college education but have no idea how to start saving for either? Wishing for a moment of investment brilliance won't help you sock away money.
Daydreamers know it will take more than wishful thinking to become financially secure, but they're overwhelmed by their choices.
"In the financial markets today, there are so many options out there it can be intimidating," Gilovich said. "It's just too much for some people."
When American Express surveyed more than 1,000 adults, half of them said they felt they were going nowhere in their financial planning, and 25 percent felt completely lost.
Don't let what Gilovich calls "decision paralysis" trip you up. The way to break out is to first establish simple goals and tackle your list one at a time.
For instance, the simplest way to save for retirement is to contribute to your company's 401(k) plan. Once you've got that started, you can start building on other investments.
Do you barely get your bills paid on time? Do you constantly promise yourself that you'll start contributing more to savings -- with next week's check? Can't follow through with any long-term plan?
"Most people don't have an investment problem, they have a savings problem," said Mo Barakat, senior financial adviser for American Express Financial Advisors in Los Angeles. "You don't need to know the intricacies of the stock market" to begin a savings program.
You can't expect to shake this habit overnight, and you'll need a healthy dose of discipline if you want to overcome it. You'll need to create a budget and financial plan, and you'll have to see it through.
Start by looking for easy ways to save money. Instead of getting that $4 Starbucks coffee every day, get one every other day and stash away the savings. Don't spend the money on something else.
If you put away $10 a week for the next 15 years, that pot will swell to more than $11,600, assuming a 5 percent rate of return.
In 30 years, you'll have $36,192. Not bad for skipping a few lattes. And have money taken out of your paycheck and put into any kind of investment, such as a certificate of deposit, mutual fund or credit union account, so that saving becomes automatic.
Do you regularly contribute to a savings plan for future needs? Do you already have a will, life insurance and investments? You're ahead of the game.
But while you might know what you want to accomplish financially and have taken steps to reach those goals, your job is not done.
Make sure that you don't drop the ball and forget to keep tabs on your savings or make adjustments as your life changes.
Review your goals and investments annually to ensure they still jibe.
It also wouldn't hurt to get a second opinion on your financial well-being from an independent adviser.
Lorene Yue is a staff writer for Your Money.