Financial March Madness

March is a big part of a financial time of the year.

For those sports fans, especially of college basketball, the all-important "bracket" is the subject of many studies, guessing and possible financial "investing". It can be an exciting or agonizing time as favorite teams are defeated, and a "Cinderella" team takes the bracket.

It can also be a time when lots of discretionary money is spent on friendly wagers, eating out and hosting parties to watch games.

It seems like everyone wants our money. The sad realization is many people do not think much beyond the here and now about their financial needs and wants. For many, it is overwhelming trying to wade through all the financial topics we should be concerned about let alone narrow it down to work on a few.

I came across a fun tool that can help with all these decisions. Fashioned after the college basketball bracket chart, it features four financial areas; Growing Your Money, Learning and Talking About Your Money, Spending Wisely, and Protecting What You Own. Within each zone, there are topics that you choose. For example, in Growing Your Money, choose between Build Emergency fund or Calculate Retirement Needs, or Start Saving Early and Assess Investment Risk. Just like the Basketball brackets, once you choose between the first pairings, the "winners" square off against each other. This continues until you are down to the final four financial tasks you deem priority work. Then you have to narrow it down to one financial issue that wins the crown "at the dance". Voila! That is the number one financial priority you should be working on this year. When March Madness comes around next year, then you can do it again and pick a new area to improve.

The Financial Four is a product of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA), a professional organization. You can find the bracket here. Make your choices online, and then you can print out the entire bracket if you want or see how your financial priorities rate with others who have taken the poll.

This is also a great tool for couples to work on and see if their financial goals match. If not it should spark some interesting conversation.

We are fast approaching the end of tax season (deadline 11:59pm April 15, 2015!). People all over are analyzing and reassessing their financial positions and spending hoping at the least not to owe any money and for many wishing for a large refund to fund some fun or to help pay off debt.

Finally, for much of the nation, March represents a time when we are hoping to put winter behind us. Many vacation somewhere warm for spring break or are looking at all the summer clothing that has arrived in stores. It truly is time to "Spring Ahead" with spending decisions.

What is important is that you have these financial conversations with your partners and family members and then take regular steps towards meeting these financial responsibilities so you can stay "in the dance" throughout your lifetime.