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Prioritizing your Final Four financial goals for the year

A financial association decided to play off the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament and create a financial planning bracket.

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A financial association decided to play off the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament and create a financial planning bracket.

Part of the thrill of the NCAA college basketball tournament is filling out the brackets.

During March Madness, 64 teams vie for the championship. There are several rounds during which the brackets get down to 32 teams, the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, and then the Final Four.

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Playing off the excitement of the tournaments, the National Endowment for Financial Education and the Financial Planning Association have created an interactive bracket of 32 financial goals that people can use to narrow down the most important money issues they want to address. To complete the bracket online, visit www.financialfour.org.

Just as with the NCAA tournament, there are four major divisions in this ­financial game:

  Saving and investing.

  Values, communication, and advice.

  Protection and security.

The association has created an interactive bracket of 32 financial goals that people can use to narrow down the most important money issues to them.

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  Spending.

“Identifying and managing priorities is the key to keeping your financial life in order,” said Ted Beck, chief executive of the association.

Beck says that using the brackets takes “the madness out of ranking your fiscal responsibilities.”

I like the concept and the game. One of the things people often ask me when it comes to organizing their financial life is: “Where do I start?” There is so much to managing your money, it is hard to figure out what you need to concentrate on.

“Americans are increasingly responsible for an overwhelming amount of financial choices,” said Lauren M. Schadle, chief executive of the Financial Planning Association. “Our goal is to provide insight on what they should be thinking about when developing their financial plans.”

Let me walk you through the categories in this March Madness game. Under the saving and investing division are: “emergency savings,” “use variety of tools,” “pay yourself first,” “save 10 percent,” “time value of money,” “differentiate goals,” “calculate retirement,” and “use employer savings.” You’ll find an explanation when you click on each concept.

Under the values division are: “tackle debt,” “experience change,” “financial terminology,” “keep up maintenance,” “family communication,” “identify personalities,” “tax time planning,” and “financial check-up.”

In the protection and security bracket, you’ll find: “adequate insurance,” “emergency kit,” “workplace benefits,” “protect documents,” “create a will,” “ensure job security,” “life insurance,” and “pull credit report.”

Finally, in the spending division are: “live within means,” “manage food costs,” “responsible credit,” “housing costs,” “understand income,” “track spending,” “service providers,” and “spend wisely.”

As part of the fun, about 300 financial experts ranked their top financial priorities for Americans to focus on in 2013. Based on their picks, the Financial Planning Association came up with a Final Four. The winners?

  Live within your means. I agree that this should make it to the Final Four. Actually, I would retitle this “live below your means.” You only have a limited amount of money. To meet your goals, you have to reduce your expenses so that you get to keep some of what you make for savings.

  Protect yourself with adequate insurance. Thirty-nine percent of US adults do not have life insurance, according to a survey released last year by InsuranceQuotes.com. If you put this in your winning bracket, don’t just focus on life insurance. Determine what other insurance you might need. For instance, if you rent, do you have renter’s insurance? Only 34 percent of renters have renter’s insurance, ­InsuranceQuotes found in another survey.

  Tackle debt. Stop promising yourself to get out of debt and, instead, do it. I suggest you list your debts starting with the lowest balance and knock that debt off first. Often getting rid of some debt quickly motivates people to continue on their quest to be debt-free.

  Build an emergency savings account. If you live below your means, you’ll likely have the money to start an emergency fund. You tax refund is a great emergency starter amount. So far this year, the average refund is about $2,900.

My Final Four were “manage food costs” (our eating out has gotten crazy), “pull credit reports” (haven’t done that yet this year), “track spending,” and “calculate retirement” (I’ve done this before but I need to update some numbers based on the recent uptick in the stock market).

So what would your Sweet 16 be? What about your Elite Eight financial goals or your Final Four picks?

Once you finish the bracket, you can go to www.smartaboutmoney.org, which is a program of the National Endowment for Financial Education. On the site you can look for more information to meet your goals.

While you’re watching the basketball games or during breaks, fill out this bracket. You can’t lose.

Michelle Singletary writes for the Washington Post. She can be reached at singletarym@washpost.com.
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