Operating at our best financially

Finance experts suggest that understanding the time value of money may be the most important step in financial management. As such, let's become skilled at the concepts of financial responsibility, and then apply that same model to safety. (©RF/NOVA)

Taking the time to identify your financial goals and make improvements keeps you operating at your best.

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Operating at our best," is a broad expression, and an inherent expectation in the military. We are taught that in order to do your job effectively, you must first take care of yourself. I have noticed that successful leaders often have a common thread.  Their spiritual, physical and financial houses are in order.

Finances play a particularly critical role in overall success.  With the lack of grade-school classes on money management and the relentless onslaught of advertisements of a consumer driven society, the odds may seem stacked against us from the start. 

The first step to reaching a goal is to have one. Although many people take the opportunity at the turn of a new year to reflect, it's never too late to evaluate your performance.  As Edmund Burke, Irish author and politician, said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." Give yourself an honest assessment, and then find ways to improve.

Here are some steps you can take to help reach your financial goals:
· Pay yourself first. Put your family ahead of any other demands on your money. Yes, even before your bills! Your long-term goals, like retirement, should be more important than the latest gadget or cable TV package. Put away funds for those aspirations before they are consumed on the expenses of today.

· Adjust your priorities. It can be something simple like drinking one less soft drink at work every day.  Even .50 cents a day can create $10-20 in savings for the month.  Take an honest look at your habits.  Most of us are spending money on things we don't really need. Find a way to put your priorities first and live within your means even if the extras must be cut for a while.

· Set your savings on autopilot.  Develop an emergency fund, short-term and long-term savings plans.  Once you find an amount you can comfortably commit to saving every month setup a direct deposit.  Having the funds automatically transferred takes away the challenge of willpower and discipline.  Let's face it, once the money is in your pocket, it can be hard not to spend it.

· Finally, avoid the "I can do it myself" plan.  Enlist the help of professionals, mentors, coaches, etc.  With their sage guidance you can accelerate your progress and dodge the pitfalls. 

It's important to realize that strengthening your financial picture is not something that happens overnight...it develops from a series of choices. Take the time to identify your priorities and make improvements where you can. Each step you take helps to keep you operating at your best.