By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/19/2006 11:36:36 AM ET 2006-10-19T15:36:36

If just minutes a day can result in buns of steel or six-pack abs then surely achieving fiscal fitness in six days should be a piece of low-calorie cake.  That, anyway, is the schedule Robert Pagliarini sets with his new book, "The Six-Day Financial Makeover."

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Is it doable?

Even Pagliarini admits the time-challenged should not take the "six days" literally, thinking of them instead as "six steps" to be completed as time allows.  But for the motivated, the six-day schedule is realistic.  And regardless of how long it takes, the steps promise far more than a cosmetic makeover. They will lead to actual results.

“This is not some theory,” says the certified financial planner and president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors in Newport Beach, Calif. “It is a plan I have successfully implemented for my own clients over the years. The quizzes, worksheets and checklists are designed [to mimic] sitting down with a professional while working through the financial planning process,” he explains.

Though much attention is being focused on improving Americans’ financial literacy — there is even a congressional committee devoted to it — those involved in advising individuals about their finances do not necessarily see literacy lacking as much as their clients’ ability to find the time for attending to their finances.

“Time is an issue, especially if you have kids,” says Patrick Morehead, an adviser with KRW Insurance Agency in Crystal Lake, Ill. “Unless something has happened to motivate people into action, getting them to address their finances can drag on indefinitely."

That is where Pagliarini stakes his ground.  “Certainly there is no scarcity of financial information out there.  What I want to do is strip away the excess and give people a process that sorts through it all and gets them up and organized quickly,” he says.

With his book and interactive Web site, not to mention the title, he seems determined to make people aware that gaining control over their financial lives is not the black hole of scheduling they think it will be, but doable in less time than it takes to see results from a low-carb diet.

Whether completed in six consecutive days or in six weekends, Pagliarini’s plan is aimed at achieving fiscal fitness. It is not revolutionary, as it just focuses on guiding readers and users of his free Web site through the basics of getting one’s financial life in order.

His six "steps," each of which can be done in a day or less, are similar to those one would take when working with any financial adviser, and are also easily implemented on a do-it-yourself basis. They include: 

Take your financial pulse
Like visiting a doctor before starting a new exercise program or diet, Pagliarini advises taking some time — and certainly this will not require a day — for a self-examination of attitudes toward money, expectations of what it can accomplish and the role it plays in the household.  Then get real about it.

Set goals
This step, which can and should be revisited at least annually, involves mapping out realistic goals the way one maps out destinations for a trip. That could mean having the money for annual vacations and home improvements, and later college expenses and retirement. In any case it involves figuring out how much money it will take to realize each goal and the time remaining until that money is needed. Again, this is not a terribly time intensive process.  Online calculators such as those available at ChoosetoSave.org can help with any calculations.

Take a financial inventory
Though this will not take as long as many people think, it will take some work. It involves adding up personal assets and liabilities to better understand what the household’s net worth is.  Far from an indictment on past spending, this establishes the baseline for planning the future. Then all sources of income are identified along with expenses. This determines what is available for realizing the goals from Step Two—and if there is no excess cash flow, it helps spot those areas where adjustments in spending are in order.

Create a saving and investment plan
By allocating excess cash flow to savings "buckets" and investing each to reach the underlying goal, money will be available when needed. Pagliarini suggests saving time by using simple, automatic, self-sustaining methods for getting and staying invested.  This would include participating in employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts and setting up automatic withdrawals so that savings and retirement contributions are skimmed off the top of paychecks before they can be spent. As to investment choices he is a proponent of investing in life-cycle mutual funds. His rationale: These funds are managed for specified target dates, making them easy to align with goals — whether near-term one like a family trip to Disney World or long-term objective like retirement. Setting up accounts and making investment choices will probably stretch over multiple days, but getting the ball rolling should not.

Ensure proper protection against risks
This step involves determining what a household’s insurance needs are and obtaining the correct amount of coverage for autos, homes, health, disability and life.  To accomplish this in the most time-effective way, most people are going to need to talk to an insurance agent.

Protect assets with liability insurance
Though set up as a separate step, this is more like part two of the insuring against life’s risks.  Pagliarini offers a lot of explanations to help people interpret the choices that their insurance agents are asking them to choose among. More information can also be found on Web sites like Insure.com.

Following these six steps will not result in net worth suddenly rivaling Warren Buffet’s any more than one’s abs will resemble a Navy Seal’s after a few weeks of sit-ups.  But it will improve the likelihood of having balances where there were none previously, along with confidence that goals are defined, finances organized, and a plan for a financially fit life is in motion.  As it is with physical fitness, by just getting off the couch and taking some action, even a little activity goes a long way. 

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