WEEK 1: STOP THE BLEEDING
"It seems like an obvious thing to figure out, but many men don't know how much they make and spend each month," says John Osorio, a Manhattan financial planner. Income is easy. Expenses are trickier. Keep a journal of everything--student loans, dry cleaning, morning lattes. For expenses that vary widely, such as your heating bill, use a monthly average. And don't forget occasional expenses: Divide your annual car-insurance payment by 12, for example. As for credit cards, tally up the average amount of new charges you've been accruing for the past 6 months. Are you running a deficit? Find ways to balance your budget now.
WEEK 2: SURVEY THE DAMAGE
As long as you have credit card debt, you'll be poor. It's a simple truth. Accept it, then do something about it. The problem is not the amount you owe, but what it's standing in the way of: a down payment on a house, a rainy-day savings account, your ability to contribute more to your 401(k), a higher credit rating. Don't just transfer your debt from one low-rate card to the next, either--eliminate it. One great strategy: Refinance your balance through a credit union, says Susan McGinnis, Men's Health's in-house money manager. Your interest rate will be half of what most credit cards charge.
WEEK 3: SELL YOUR STOCKS
Uncovering the next Microsoft takes hard work and dumb luck. By this we mean, buying individual stocks is at worst a waste of money, and at best not necessary. Instead, max out your retirement plan at work, advises Gary Schatsky, a New York financial planner. If you can't afford the max--$14,000 for your 401(k) this year--at least contribute up to the company match. Consider: Sock away just $5,000 a year in a 401(k) starting at age 22 and, assuming a conservative 8 percent return, it'll grow to $1.6 million by age 65.
WEEK 4: BADGER YOUR BOSS
Okay, so now that you're losing less, it's time to bring in more. Here's what not to do: March into your boss's office and declare, "If you won't pay me what I'm worth, I'll find a company that will." Instead, lay the groundwork now for a big raise next year, says Deborah Kolb, author of Everyday Negotiation and a professor at the Simmons School of Management.
Start by periodically reminding your boss how much you do--just drop it in conversation. Next, schedule a series of quick meetings to update him on the projects you're working on. Finally, 6 months before the next round of raises, meet with him formally. Tell him exactly what you believe you're worth, Kolb says. Then ask him for a 6-month plan, with specific goals, to take you there.
WEEK 5: READ THE REAL-ESTATE SECTION
It's no secret that real estate has made a lot of people rich over the past decade. It's also no secret the bubble could pop like Ashlee Simpson's career any minute now. None of this matters. It's still a smart investment for two reasons: First, every payment you make builds equity in the property--it's just like putting money in a savings account. And second, the interest you pay is tax deductible. Combine these two factors and the "real" monthly cost is half of what it seems. If the house rises in value as well--real estate has gone up 4 percent a year historically--that's gravy. Caveat: Don't buy unless you'll stay for a while, notes Schatsky, lest closing costs and Realtor fees eat up your gains.
WEEK 6: REAP THE REWARDS
Do everything right and money eventually won't be a barrier to (a) early retirement or (b) a career change. Always wanted to, say, start a business? Plan for that day now by taking night classes to earn your MBA --your current company will likely pick up some of the cost, and the rest will be tax deductible. "Besides," says Kolb, "it'll enhance your value at the office as well."
Photographs by: Josef Astor, By: Brian P. Murphy
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