'Do your job!'
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To quote Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots: "Do your job!"
"This coach's mantra presumes you know your job, that you know the questions to ask and that you have a commitment to get better at it," says Wayne Bogosian, Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AFI) and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to 401(k) Plans."
And the same lessons hold true for your finances, he says.
"First ask: 'Am I going to do it myself, or will I hire someone to do it for me?'" Bogosian says.
"The 'do-it-myself' road requires regular involvement and a deliberate process to making money decisions, gathering facts, knowing the right questions to ask, seeking out expert opinions, making objective, unemotional decisions, and most importantly, implementing and monitoring your decisions," Bogosian says.
"If you prefer the 'do-it-for-me' approach -- in other words, hiring a financial expert to guide your money decisions -- the same questions must be asked and answered," he says. "Because you pay a fee for the advice, you must also monitor the quality and outcome of the advice given."
Start with a strong defense
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"You win the game with defense first," says Jonathan Fox, professor of human development and family studies and director of the Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic.
Build a strong defense against the things most likely to cost you the game. The money lesson is to have an emergency fund and some good, solid affordable basic insurance like catastrophic health insurance, Fox says.
"Make sure a low-probability, high-impact event isn't going to ruin your future," he says. "That's building a defense."
"With money decisions, you cannot sit back and wait for events to define the actions you should take," he says. "Buying insurance (like medical, life, disability or long-term care) after the fact is both not helpful and more expensive."
With your investments, "when the stock market falls, while others are getting out, the smart investor is getting in," Bogosian says.
"By taking the initiative, you control your own destiny," he says. "If you don't, life events will control it for you."
Bring a quarterback who can score
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You need a quarterback, but you don't have to spend a bundle to get the job done, Fox says.
"Look for someone who doesn't cost you too much," he says. "That should be someone with a low fee who uses strategies like a solid ETF (exchange-traded fund) representing the entire market," he says.
"You don't need the hotshot known for big flashy plays," Fox says. Instead, look for a "high-quality, no-mistakes quarterback known for the effectiveness of moving forward."
Always have a game plan
As the game heats up, the action gets intense. If you're behind, you might be tempted to make a desperation play, says John E. Sestina, CFP professional, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), head of John E. Sestina and Co. and founder of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. That's not a good move on or off the field.
Winning teams always have a plan, even if they adjust it as the game progresses.
Those "Hail Marys" rarely work out in the financial arena, Sestina says. If you have a financial plan that's been working, stick with it.
If your circumstances have changed significantly, call a timeout and make adjustments.
Indeed, smart athletes have a plan for their money, on and off the field.
Whether you want to reach the goal line or your financial goals, it's smart to stick with the financial decisions that you made when you weren't in the heat of the game.
Smart athletes learn the important money lessons so they are steering their cash in the right direction. And if they get some financial coaching, they can have plenty of investments and savings set aside for their own postseason, or retirement, Sestina says.
Smart athletes also recognize that the gridiron is their first career, not their last.
Take advantage of the 1st and 2nd quarters
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"In the 1st quarter, you know nothing about finances," Sestina says. "You're trying to figure out who the opponents are and how to play the game."
If you make early financial mistakes, you still have time to make up for them. "Finances are stressful but more forgiving if you're a new player," Sestina says.
"In the 2nd quarter, now you're starting to get your legs and beginning to realize this is a real game." Sestina says. You're also beginning to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, "and you might have been dinged a little bit by this time."
Don't give up at halftime
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How many Super Bowls look like a rout at halftime, only to turn into a completely different game in the 2nd half?
Bottom line: In your own financial life, it's never too late to pull out a win, says Barbara Stanny, author of "Overcoming Underearning."
So whether you're paying down debt or saving for a goal, don't let that clock or calendar scare you, she says.
While they're still working, smart athletes plan that next career, whether it's in coaching, broadcasting or business, Sestina says.
Beware of the 3rd and 4th quarters
"By the 3rd quarter, you begin to see the end of the game," Sestina says. In the case of your finances, that's retirement. You have a plan, and "you go back into the game with new vigor."
You also can work to overcome the bad strategy you used in the 1st half. In one instance, that might be beefing up your 401(k) and getting out of debt, he says. "You're beginning to plan, 'How am I going to win this game?'"
The 4th quarter "is the most dangerous quarter," Sestina says. The game strategy -- and one of football's money lessons -- is if you let desperation drive you to take chances, you can drift from your financial plan. If you've done well up to this point, stick with your plan. You'll likely win.
Recognize advertisers are selling a product
Watch the big game, and you'll see dozens of ads for everything from beer and chips to financial investment products, Iowa State professor Fox says.
You already know that buying the right brand of beer won't turn your house into party central. Be just as skeptical when it comes to sites that are promising returns on your money, whether they're financial investment products or gaming sites, he says.
Gaming sites highlight the against-the-odds winner instead of the many more players who lost money, Fox says.
"The finance industry will highlight great performance one year," he says. But that doesn't mean the same fund will perform well the next year.
"So you're chasing last year's returns," he says.
Fox's financial takeaway: Enjoy the ads, but use solid research and common sense to steer your money. And if promises sound too good to be true, they probably are.