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This is a sponsored column provided by Thomas C. Block a financial representative with Asset Management Group, Inc. courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). Please submit your questions to him via email. 

When thinking about how to protect your livelihood or build the financial resources you will need to live life as desired, it often starts with clarifying what you want to achieve, what you value and how uncertainties can affect plans and aspirations.

To get you on the road to financial security, here are questions 1 through 5 you’ll want to ask first.

  1. What is important to me?

Clarify what’s truly important to you – the people you care about, the aspirations you have, the things you want to protect, and the support you’d like to give to others. Whether you reflect on this question by yourself, with family members, or alongside a financial professional – answer this first, as it will create the framework around which your financial strategy can be built.

  1. Who depends on me today and who might depend on me tomorrow?

This question should be at the core of your decision making process and should be answered well before you consider what you may need. Spouses, partners and children are often thought of as the most obvious dependents; however, there can be others – for example, parents, in-laws or siblings who, due to age, disability, or other circumstances, may be unable to care for themselves. Even individuals without a family have dependents – namely, themselves – since their well-being depends on their own ability to earn an income. With your list of current and potential dependents in hand, you will be better prepared to plot your course toward greater financial security.

  1. Who is providing for my dependents now?

Does someone in your family provide valuable non-financial support to those you care about? Think of the stay-at-home parent – they may not support their family with earned income, but the support they do provide is just as valuable as any paycheck. If a stay-at-home parent were unable to provide that support, it would surely be expensive to replace. Account for all who provide essential financial or non-financial support to your dependents.

  1. What risks have I overlooked or not fully considered?

People may concentrate on the risk of premature or accidental death and overlook other risks to their well-being and livelihood (for example, a breadwinner unable to work due to illness, an aging parent unable to care for themselves, a retiree dealing with rising healthcare costs, a business owner faced with a succession problem). As you work to construct your strategy, be sure to think broadly about the financial risks you face today, or may face in the future.

  1. Are my plans flexible enough?

There are ways that financial product solutions can be structured to provide future flexibility and adjust with your evolving needs. When speaking with your financial professional, ask about flexible solutions that can be upgraded (or downsized) as events in your life unfold.

Make sure you come back to my column on April 27th 2016 to read part 2.

Provided by Thomas C. Block a financial representative with Asset Management Group, Inc. courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). Thomas Block AAMS, AWMA, CRPC is a registered representative of and offers securities and investment advisory services through MML Investors Services, LLC, Member SIPC, 3975 Fair Ridge Drive, Suite 315N, Fairfax, VA 22033, Tel: (703) 218-6765 . Local sales agencies are not subsidiaries of MassMutual or its affiliated companies.

© 2016 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, MA 01111-0001. All rights reserved.

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Around the Financial Block banner

This is a sponsored column provided by Thomas C. Block a financial representative with Asset Management Group, Inc. courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). Please submit your questions to him via email.

If you are like many Americans, the current economic environment continues to make it difficult for your family to make ends meet. Many of us have readjusted our spending habits to such an extent that there is now a new normal. For example, we may no longer shop as much as or where they used to; we may settle for a staycation, rather than a true getaway; and items that were previously considered to be necessities have been relegated to the “can’t afford” or “not needed” category.

If you think these are temporary changes, think again. Many economic analysts feel that these new attitudes are here to stay.

Tips to help improve your economic future

Here are some tips to help you take stock of your overall economic picture, with actionable steps designed to help improve your long-term financial security.

Tip #1: Determine what is really important.

Take stock of what is really important to you and your family–is the newest electronic game system or cell phone more important than creating a secure financial future?

Start by developing your family’s mission statement. This is easier than it sounds: Simply write out what is important to you as a group. Be sure to include what your long- and short-term goals are, and what you are willing to give up in order to make these goals a reality. Don’t forget that along the way, you may still want to decide what little luxuries your entire family can enjoy (like a get-away) that you want to keep in your budget – since these can help you feel less deprived and even save you money (by keeping you from going out to first-run movies, for example).

Tip #2: Cut back, even if it hurts (a little).

Figuring out what is most important to your family from a financial perspective is a smart move -and a good decision for your long-term financial security. Making even small sacrifices in your spending can help you meet your goals. Look carefully at how you and your family members spend your money so you can identify where you can make small changes to cut back on non-essential expenditures. And don’t overlook the bigger-ticket items you pay for every month, such as your cable TV/Internet subscriptions and car insurance. Making minor adjustments to these items can free up more dollars than you might imagine, and play a significant role in helping you fund your family’s long-term financial goals.

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The average American family spends over $8,500 per year on food.

Over 40 percent of that amount is for food eaten away from home.[1] That’s about $160 per week, $65 of which is eaten in restaurants. But are we getting good value for our money? The quality of the food we eat directly affects our health and well-being. Why not take the month of March — which is National Nutrition Month® — to examine your family’s spending patterns for food? To get the maximum amount of cooperation from your children, involve them directly in the process. They may end up teaching you a thing or two!

In the early days of our country, most people grew their own food. In the 1700s, farmers represented the overwhelming majority of the labor force and today farmers seem to be few and far between. Today, most people are cut off from the sources of their food supply. When children helped their parents to hoe, plant, weed, prune and harvest, as well as peel, chop, pickle, boil and bake, it’s a safe bet they didn’t waste their meals. They knew firsthand exactly how much effort went into every bite! On the other hand, if they grow up thinking milk comes from the grocery store, and lettuce is the green stuff sticking out from under the hamburger, they’re less likely to appreciate what’s put in front of them.

To help your child learn about the real cost of food and how to get good value for dollars spent, try one or more of these activities:

  • For one week, keep track of all your food expenditures. Include grocery shopping, convenience store purchases, school lunches and snacks, and restaurant meals. Add them all up to see what your family spends per week on food. Multiply that weekly total by 52 to get an estimate of what your yearly food budget might be. Then divide the weekly total by 21 to see what the cost of each meal was for that week.
  • Do a blind taste test. Compare a store brand product, such as peanut butter, with a higher-priced name brand. Or compare a homemade product with an already-prepared version. With eyes closed, can you tell the difference? Which is better?
  • Point out the ways in which advertisers try to get people, especially children, to buy their products. Bright colors, fun shapes, cartoon characters, and small toys are some of the gimmicks used. Explain that these foods may be overpriced or unhealthful despite their appeal. Make a game of trying to be the first to spot such gimmicks on television, in ads, on menus, and on product packaging.
  • Read labels. Grab a bag or box from your refrigerator, your cabinets, or the grocery store shelf and read the ingredients. By law, ingredients must be listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first. Some ingredients will be easy to identify, like flour or sugar. But do you know what casein is? Lactic acid? Polysorbate 80? Point out to kids that ingredient names can be confusing or even misleading. Fructose, glucose, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, and agave nectar are all different kinds of sugar, for example.
  • Try a new food. Take kids to a farmer’s market, the produce aisle of a grocery store, or wherever plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Choose one unfamiliar item to prepare at home. Use recipes found in cookbooks or online. Salespeople at farmer’s markets are usually a great source of information about the foods they sell. You could also research a new item first, one that sounds delicious or intriguing. Have you ever tried star fruit? Ugli fruit? Blood oranges? Fresh artichokes? Find a simple recipe for preparing your new food. Then go to the store and look for the item, as well as any other ingredients you need for your recipe. Take it home, prepare it, and then discuss what you’ve made. Is this a food you’d like to try again?

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