Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement: Now's the time to tackle that financial homework

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Many resources available to help untangle money matters, whether it's clearing debt or sorting out investments.

Annual Money Week, which starts today, is an ideal opportunity to spring clean your finances. Photo / Thinkstock
Annual Money Week, which starts today, is an ideal opportunity to spring clean your finances. Photo / Thinkstock

If ever there was a time to do all those financial tasks you've been putting off, it's this week.

That's because Money Week starts today. The annual event - in its second year - coincides with spring and what's better than a spring clean of your finances.

This time last year I listed some of the many organisations that can help people to start sorting out their finances. That article is still online and can be found here: tinyurl.com/HeraldMoneyWeek.

This year I thought I'd look at some of the resources available to Kiwis to sort out their personal finances. Whether it's clearing debt at one end of the scale, or sorting out your dog's breakfast of investments at the other, there is a resource for everyone.

Here are some of my favourites:

Events

Personal finance workshops and events can be tracked down at any time of year. But it's easiest this week, if you can find time, and a range of organisations are running them.

Some are hosted by companies such as AMP Capital Investors, ASB Bank, New Zealand Home Loans and Telecom. Others are offered by community organisations such as Waitakere Library, the YWCA and the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income.

They courses and sessions start with basic budgeting and concepts such as making your supermarket shop go further. Not all are designed for people in debt. Craigs Investment Partners has workshops on the basics of investing for people who have their debt under control and have savings to invest.

Some are aimed at younger people, such as the Chilled Out Facts Session, being run by the YWCA for those aged 19 to 25. New Zealand Home Loans will run sessions daily this coming week for children aged 8 to 12 discussing basic financial concepts. Maori are targeted in a series of workshops entitled Devil in the Detail of Debt. A full list of events can be found at MoneyWeek.org.nz.

Workbooks

I'm a technophile. Yet I sometimes think that to make real changes people need to use good old pen and paper. There's something about writing money issues down that brings concepts to life.

Checklists, questionnaires and workbooks or sheets requiring answers to be jotted down are likely to elicit a high level of honesty. Faced with the unpleasant truth people are more likely to be motivated to change.

The internet is awash with printable worksheets and workbooks for personal finance. Some are also available in hard copy. Sorted.org.nz has useful booklets, which can be downloaded and printed from its website or ordered by mail.

Westpac has a student workbook available through its branches. It's useful for any young person who plans to leave home in the near future, and has information about most of the financial basics that elude school leavers. That includes the pros and cons of credit cards, debit cards, automatic payments and overdrafts.

The workbook also has a basic budget template for students to fill in.

Finance author Lisa Dudson prepared some useful personal finance worksheets for her book, Get Your Head Out of the $and!, which is a worthwhile read for anyone. They are available through Dudson's website, Moneyclub.co.nz, to anyone who joins the free Money Club.

Worthwhile books in print include Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover Workbook, Suze Orman's Financial Guidebook and the Personal Finance Workbook For Dummies. Each has self-tests, checklists, questionnaires, work sheets and other practical exercises designed to change behaviour.

I found one particularly useful workbook online for people nearing retirement who want to work out their living costs, not just at retirement, but 10 years after retirement as well. It can be found at tinyurl.com/purdueworksheet.

Courses

We aren't well served with personal finance courses for individuals. I've collated information about many in the past that can be found on tinyurl.com/PersonalFinanceEducation.

Several new courses are not mentioned in that article. Massey University's Fin-Ed Centre offers courses through a mixture of face-to-face teaching (in Auckland and Wellington) and online learning. Westpac runs Managing Money courses when sufficient people sign up through its Westpacmanagingyourmoney.co.nz website. The course comes with a useful participants' workbook.

More recently, ANZ has launched Money Minded courses - which at the moment are mainly available to unemployed people, migrants and other disadvantaged groups. Details can be found at Solomongroup.co.nz.

Sorted subcontracts to facilitators that offer workshops around the country. Details can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/SortedSeminars

Online resources

There are hundreds of local and international websites with personal finance resources ranging from lessons and games for children through to complex retirement planning and stock market investing tools for very sophisticated investors.

Personal finance tools have been developed here by Sorted and other organisations. Thousands of Kiwis have found the Federation of Family Budgeting's Excel-based debt schedule and cashflow forecast useful and still more use local personal finance software such as Heaps.co.nz.

Don't limit yourself to homegrown applications. Our small population means the money isn't always available to develop complex tools. Providing the tools are flexible enough to juggle figures such as tax rates and retirement contributions then the answer is just as relevant here as in its country of origin.

There is nothing better for crunching numbers than a computer and the internet is home to many excellent number-crunching calculators, found at websites such as Calcxml.com/english.htm and Dinkytown.net/. Like the workbooks, if used correctly these calculators can provide answers that help people change their lives.

The internet has many online personal finance courses, such as a seven-week one offered by Dudson's Money Club. Google "online personal finance course" and you'll find overseas offerings that are often very good. I've yet to find a decent smartphone app to do this. I'm a great fan of the Duolingo app, which makes language learning easy. It would be great to have similar five-minute-a-day personal finance courses. But almost all the phone apps are for budgeting, share investing, home-loan crunching and expense tracking, not learning.

Financial personal trainers

Some people don't find the courses or resources mentioned above cut the mustard for them. Like dieters, says Rob Collins, general manager at NZCU credit union, people need one-on-one help to keep them on the financial straight and narrow.

This might mean attending regular budget counselling at a budget service or credit union. Some, such as the Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust and the Vaiola P I Budgeting Services, cater for Maori and Pasifika people.

Financial advisers are also a resource. Their role really is to advise and sell products as opposed to train people, but they will often give general personal finance advice as well as share their product knowledge.

Another option is to pay for money coaching from individuals and organisations that offer one-on-one mentoring services such as Dudson, Martin Hawes and Anton Nadilo.

The idea is that you meet your coach/mentor weekly or monthly, fess up to your financial misdemeanours in the previous period, learn by reflecting on your mistakes and have new tasks set for the upcoming week. Over time you change your ways.

Mentoring isn't cheap but if it works for you then it may be a good investment. But beware of services that charge you for budgeting or organising your bank accounts.

A local budget advice service (0508 BUDGET) or even sometimes your bank can do this for you without having to cough up hundreds of dollars.

Another way to do this is to get a buddy and coach each other. Get hold of books from the authors mentioned above, discuss the concepts and complete the workbooks together.

- NZ Herald

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