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Last Updated March 15, 2010


Often in life we fail to acknowledge our ability to make choices and steer our own ship: be it at work, in personal and family endeavours and managing our finances. It's easier to give power to outside sources--blaming the markets and pace and nature of our world for our affairs--than to actually stop and consider what influence we exert over these things.

Taking the path of least resistance is easy, but far less fulfilling than designing your own destiny. So this spring, carve out some time and consider whether you are on a chosen course or simply drifting with the tides. Achieving personal and financial freedom is all about setting goals and finding the resources within yourself to realize them. Here are some principles to consider on your quest:

1. Pay yourself first
Do you truly believe in the principle of paying yourself first?
Are you showing savings to yourself as an expense?
Do you justify wants as needs?
Can you give more to yourself--if so, what are you willing to give up?

2. Cash/debt management
Can you be honest with yourself about what you are spending?
Are you realistic about what's coming in and going out?
Do you truly want to reduce your debt load--if so, what is your plan to do so?
What are you willing to give up to increase your savings/cash flow?

3. Asset allocation
How much of your money goes into your home--are you comfortable with this?
Do you consider your house/apartment/condo a home, investment or perhaps a little of both?
Do you have the time and/or desire to divide up your holdings (business, cottage, rental property)?
What kind of a role do you want to play in managing your assets? Be honest: do you like handing over your money to a bank or putting it into an RRSP and not thinking about it? Do you want to leave decisions up to a financial advisor, or would you prefer to play a more active role?
Are you realistic about the pros and cons of these approaches?
How much investment education can you cope with?
How do you assess what professionals can do for you?
What is your objective for investing in these services?
Do these individuals have your best interests at heart?

4. Investment strategies
Do you have sufficient investment education to get the most out of your income and assets?
Can professionals help you?
How active a role do you want to play in managing your money?
Are you honest with yourself about what level of risk you are comfortable with?
Do you feel the need to revisit your investment plan when the markets change?

5. Managing for the years ahead
How much longer do you want to continuing working at your current pace?
Do you have a realistic plan for modifying the intensity or hours that you commit to your profession?
What do you really want to do with your time in the future?
Will your savings plan support these goals--or is your current spending disproportionately to your income?
Have you thought about the health issues that you could face in the years ahead?
How can you change your lifestyle to optimize your health? Consider nutrition and other habits as well as exercise and lifestyle changes.
How would the unexpected--death of a partner or health crisis--impact your goals?
Are you willing to be flexible with your activity and income plans?

6. Tax & estate planning
Is it time to revisit your estate plan?
Do you believe you are truly in charge of what happens to your assets?
Have you thought about who you really want to leave them to?
If it is a favourite cause, do you want to know how your contribution will be spent?
Can your estate goals minimize your tax contributions?
What is your approach to managing taxes? Do you simply fill out the necessary forms once a year and forget about the issue until next year?
Could you adopt a different tactic that would be more beneficial?
Do you think about charitable contributions, medical expenses, financial advisors and the cost and tax implications of these services?
Are your tax return expectations reasonable?

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