Getting fit financially

Cindy Morus totes the $2.74 solution

Cindy Morus tells people from the get-go what she’s not. She’s not an accountant. She’s not a debt consolidator. She’s not a lawyer or a tax preparer. She’s not a financial planner and she definitely can’t make them more money.

What Cindy Morus is is a financial recovery counselor. She can’t make people more money, but she can help them manage the money they have better. Call her a personal trainer for finances, helping people get financially fit.

“Money touches everything,” Morus said. “No matter what you do, money is in the background someplace.” Morus spent 10 years as a computer consultant, teaching people — including many in the Hood River County School District — how to use computers. Then a few years ago, she discovered just how many things money touches when she went through a divorce. With two children, she and her ex-husband had to “figure out how to manage two households on the same pot of money.”

With a background in business and first-hand knowledge of personal finances — as well as a desire to teach her own children how to be financially fit — Morus went back to school and became a certified financial recovery counselor.

She meets with clients at her office on Oak Street, a comfortable place with a couch and a chair set around a coffee table, and a neatly filled bookshelf. It’s designed to make her clients feel at ease.

“I do more counseling than anything,” Morus said. “Money is scary. People want to feel comfortable before they start spilling their guts about it.” Most of her clients fall into one of a few categories: they have too much debt and don’t know how to start chipping away at it; they have a lack of savings; they’re hitting middle age and realize they haven’t started planning for retirement; they’re trying to figure out how to pay for their kids’ college; or they’re having what she calls “marital money chaos.”

“I do a lot of educating in terms of strategies and what all this stuff means,” Morus said. “The financial world has done a good job of mystifying money matters. It’s not rocket science, but people have been conditioned to think it is.”

Another problem surrounding money matters, according to Morus, is the social taboo the topic has garnered.

“Our society won’t let us talk about money,” she said. “As children we’re told not to ask questions about money.” As adults, “people will tell you about their sex lives before they’ll talk about how much money they have.” Morus finds that many of her clients don’t know how much money they’re spending in relation to how much they’re earning — or even how much debt they have. Some don’t even know how much income their spouse or partner earns, making it impossible to establish a household budget.

Morus starts people on the road to financial fitness by doing a thorough “financial fitness checkup” with them. This exercise forces people to examine everything from their income and spending to debt issues to whether they have insurance. Morus also asks clients to keep detailed records of spending, and discusses their personal values in terms of spending. Twice-monthly meetings allow Morus and her clients to dissect an entire month in terms of income and spending, then come up with financial goals.

Once clients get a handle on where their money is going each month, Morus coaches them on developing a financial plan. Along with establishing a rainy day fund to prepare for disability or unemployment, Morus is adamant about people having an “anti-emergency” fund for unexpected but inevitable expenses like car repairs and medical bills.

“If you’re spending everything you make, something like a car repair becomes a big deal,” Morus said. Having a fund established for such expenses eliminates stress and anxiety, she adds.

After people get their monthly financial affairs under control, it’s easier to focus on saving money, according to Morus.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Save early and often,’” Morus said. She illustrates it by pointing out that if someone saved $2.74 each day — about the cost of that morning latté — they’d have $1,000 in a year. Most people can afford to do that, she adds.

“It’s about values and making choices,” she said. It’s Morus’s job to help people figure out what those are, then help them create and achieve a successful personal financial plan. Her clients run the gamut of financial circumstances — from those struggling to pay the bills to professionals who “feel that they make enough money but don’t have much to show for it.”

“People leave here with hope,” she said. “They realize their situation isn’t as bad as they feared, or at least they have a handle on it. It’s that vagueness that produces so much anxiety.”

Cindy Morus offers free financial fitness checkups. She can be reached at her business, Phelps Creek Financial Counseling, at 387-2995 or by e-mail at cmorus@phelps-creek.com.

Morus offers a variety of counseling methods, from one-on-one coaching to phone counseling and teleclasses. She also teaches Community Education workshops on a variety of personal financial topics.

For more financial tips and information, log on to Morus’s Web site at www.phelps-creek.com.

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