Keeping finances in balance crucial to avoiding surprises

MARIETTA – With a tough economy and a poor job market it’s crucial for people to test what kind of financial shape they’re in.

There are plenty of ways to do that with or without visiting a bank or financial planner.

Simple ideas such as simulating a job loss or testing how long your savings will support you will allow people to test their finances without seeking professional help.

“Most people wait until something bad does happen, such as losing a job or having an accident before they worry about their finances,” said Steve Hall, senior vice president of Settlers Bank in Marietta.

Hall said he believes that simulating a job loss is a wonderful way to test your emergency income.

“It would cause you to look at your emergency savings and compare them to your monthly utilities, food costs and other living expenses,” Hall said. “By doing this you could find out just how many months you would be able to survive if something did happen.”

Experts on recommend if doing this test, that people truly commit and find out if the emergency cuts they put on paper are really doable in real life, should they need to be made.

That could include canceling or downgrading a cable plan, going to a lower-cost phone plan, driving less frequently and cooking more low-cost options.

Another way to measure and test your income is to record all your spending over a period of time.

“When people trace where their money is actually being spent they are amazed what they find out,”said Bob Fennell, senior vice president and financial advisor for Hazlett, Burt and Watson in Vienna, W.Va.

“A great thing to do is to take the time to write down when and what you spend money on for a month,” Fennell said. “People never realize how much they spend, especially on restaurants.”

Keeping track of spending is something that Diane Offenberger, 51, of Marietta uses to test her financial health.

“With the way things have been economically lately I’ve been on a pretty strict budget,” she said. “I document anytime I spend money or pay bills in a spiral notebook.”

Recording spending over a period of time makes it easy to identify what is necessary and what can be cut out to save money.

Financial advisors and banks are also being joined by other ways to calculate and manage one’s finances.

The Internet has made it faster and easier than ever to find information on sites that provide financial assistance with just a few clicks.

Websites such as allow users to tie all of their financial data together on the site. The site uses this information to track a user’s financial footprint and show up-to-date information on spending and savings.