By Shane Ostrom

In my days as a financial adviser and now as an educator at MOAA, I have witnessed financial behaviors that span the spectrum. Good or bad behavior, there is something to be learned that can help you on your financial journey.

1) Most of us are not investing enough for our futures. A Government Accountability Office survey indicates that people between ages 55 and 64 have accumulated on average $104,000 for retirement. That’s in the ballpark of my experience. This is not good. Perhaps these people have other income sources. I certainly hope so. This is why there is a discussion on the Hill about whether the government should take over our retirement savings programs. I shudder at the thought but understand where they are coming from. It is feared that people with insignificant assets will become a financial burden on the country. Perhaps the discussion point should be whether the country owes citizens a certain level of financial comfort in retirement. The discussion on this issue is sure to stir some emotions.

2) Too many of us allow news and sales pitches to influence our financial decisions. For the most part, publications and news stories do not help us become successful investors even though that’s their assertion. Offers for free reports about the coming collapse of the economy are sales pitches to be ignored. Learn to distinguish a salesperson from a real financial adviser

3) The successful ones follow an effective plan and are financially disciplined. The number of millionaires in America is growing—10 million households not counting home equity; 14 mil with home equity (per Credit Suisse and Spectrem Group). More than twice the number since 1996 even with the negative stock market performance between 1999 and 2009. Millionaires are people you know but you don’t know they are millionaires. This isn’t the rich getting richer as is commonly reported. These are average people getting richer. As Drs. Stanley and Danko research reported, 80% of millionaires are ordinary people who diligently accumulated wealth over their career lifetimes.

4) Fear of the stock market and potential loss of account value causes overly conservative money management. Add the fact that we are not saving enough and the combination is creating the inability to sustain a retirement that will last for 40 years. There are methods for dealing with risks in the stock market and when properly implemented, wealth can be created with manageable market volatility and reduced concern for account values. Psychologically, our fear of a loss is many times greater than our joy of a gain. So we default to the conservative side of savings. Per Warren Buffett, it is our lack of knowledge that creates the greatest risk in our management of money. If you understand the strategies and concepts behind investment management, there is nothing to fear as risk can be managed and wealth can be created. Learn more on the financial pages of this site to gain your confidence.

5) Life distracts us from planning our financial futures. Younger adults are busy establishing their careers and families. Many start a career with significant college debt. Whatever your situation, a financial plan to manage today and envision your future is essential. Having a plan provides an element of control and can assure success over time. Plus following a plan can be calming.

Success is attainable. It does not have to be complicated. Develop your plan.