There are few relationships more complicated than the one we have with money.
Some of us are intimate with our finances, endlessly doing research and keeping track of every penny. Others are more distant; they have a general idea of where their money is going, but aren’t sure if it’s the right move or if it’s enough. Then there are the emotional ones, those who cling to money at the wrong times and make impulsive decisions.
So, what kind of investor and saver are you?
Not sure? Ask yourself these questions: Do I consistently keep track of my spending? And do I do so weekly, monthly or annually? Do I feel that I’m OK financially as long as my checks don’t bounce? Do I plan and save for big purchases or do I buy on a whim?
There also are online quizzes, such as J.P. Morgan Chase’s “Financial Styles” found at ChaseFinancialStyle.com, that can help you determine your investing and saving profile.
Once you determine your style, you can use certain strategies and tools to reinforce the positive aspects of your approach — and contain the negative ones.
Understanding your financial approach can help you figure out where your “strategy is most vulnerable to pitfalls or problems,” says Hersh Shefrin, a professor of behavioral finance at Santa Clara University who helped J.P. Morgan Chase develop its quiz.
The analytical investor
You’re a stickler for details and data. And while it’s good to be thorough with your research, if taken to an extreme people can forget to take their personal situation and goals into account when making financial and investment decisions.
This type of investor can get hit with what some advisers call “analysis paralysis,” where they have trouble making decisions because they can’t help thinking there is always more research to be done.
“They’re what I call ‘see mores’ — they always want to see more,” says Bryan Place, founder of Place Financial Advisors, a financial-planning firm in Manlius, N.Y. “Rather than overwhelming themselves and spending too much time digging through content,” they should limit themselves to three or four reliable sources, he says.
If you have a tendency to delay acting on your financial goals, Mr. Place says, make a list of the pros and cons and give yourself a deadline to decide — and stick to it.
While you may be great at budgeting, you might benefit from online expense-tracking tools offered by Mint.com or financial-planning software from Quicken (quicken.intuit.com) that can help you distance yourself from your day-to-day transactions to recognize spending and saving trends over time.
At Mint.com, you can build graphs that show how your spending, income, debt or net worth has changed over a specific period. You also can see changes in spending in certain categories, such as groceries.
The big-picture investor
You know your bottom line, but you don’t keep track of every transaction or plan every action or expense. While this approach can be less stressful if you’re able to consistently save and meet your financial goals, it can leave you unsure about exactly where your money is going and where you can cut back.
To avoid falling into a set-it-and-forget-it routine and ending up with outdated and unsuccessful strategies for investing and saving, review your strategies at least once a year. For instance, the retirement-savings plan you started five years ago might not be on pace to fund the lifestyle you live today given the recession, so re-evaluate allocations at least once a year, says Carlo Panaccione, a financial planner in Redwood Shores, Calif.
Break down your expenses into two categories: “necessities,” which would include mortgage payments, utility bills and food; and “lifestyle,” optional costs such as cable television and gym memberships, says Larry Rosenthal, a financial planner near Washington, D.C. Tools at Mint.com and Quicken’s software allow you keep track of spending in each category.
To monitor your spending, use a debit card or credit card instead of cash, says Mr. Place, and look at your accounts online at least once or twice a week. But make sure to pay off the credit-card balance each month.
Meanwhile, online calculators such as the one offered by Discover Financial Services
, can help you devise a monthly plan for reaching a long-term savings goal.
The emotional investor
Emotional investors are reactionary, often making financial decisions based on what’s happening at the moment and ignoring long-term needs and goals.
“They might look at it as ‘Gee, my kid’s education is really coming up soon, I have to focus on that and kind of put their retirement on the back burner,” says Mr. Panaccione.
For such investors, he suggests creating two lists: one with short-term goals, such as a vacation or car purchase, and one with long-term goals, such as saving for retirement.
Then, set up savings or investing accounts for each goal — one account for, say, the purchase of a house, one for retirement and another for college tuition. To ensure that each portion is funded consistently, set up automatic deposits to each account, says Mr. Rosenthal.
Matt Havens, partner at Global Vision Advisors, a financial-services firm in Hingham, Mass., suggests forcing yourself to plan for emergencies by building a cash reserve to cover at least six months of expenses. Having that safety net will help you avoid an impulsive move.
And when it comes to investing, don’t make drastic changes to your asset allocation. “A main weakness of this group is that they tend to buy high and sell low because of emotion and fear,” says Bryan Hopkins, a financial planner in Anaheim Hills, Calif. It might help to sit down with a planner to create a long-term investment plan.
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