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By Dan Serra

RISMEDIA, September 13, 2008-(MCT)-Walk into a bookstore and take a glance at the shelves of personal finance books and anyone can be easily overwhelmed. Rows and rows of “the experts” claiming to have the best solution to your financial problems or how to make the right investments. What successful financial management really comes down to is controlling our emotions more than our portfolios. Here are five influences in our life that pretty much determine any financial success.

1. Parenting. It’s true that we become our parents. How our parents bring us up is often how we bring up our own children. How our parents act is how we act. Ever see a 3-year-old want to eat the same thing her daddy eats or write with the pen her mommy uses? If we are around parents who are responsible with their money, we will be responsible. Too many times, however, parents do not include children in practicing responsible money management. So when the children get older often they are not aware of what it takes to handle money. Recognizing that disconnect as an adult is the first step to making changes and learning on your own.

2. Unclear goals. If we don’t have a purpose for our money, it flutters around with no clear destination for its use. Money management begins with writing down goals, budgeting and determining future needs so we can direct how our money is saved and spent.

3. Weak willpower. Those unclear goals are often from a lack of self- discipline with our money. Without it, money controls us. Developing a system for how bills are paid, how savings are managed and how debt is reduced and sticking to it is a sure way to succeed in reaching goals. But it all takes an effort to start. Also practice willpower when shopping to get a handle on impulse spending.

4. Greed. Given the choice of making a quick buck or working hard to make money, most of us would go for the fast money. But if money is too easy it’s a sign that you have a weakness and lack control over the first three items listed here. Greed gives us stock market bubbles and crashes, defaults with mortgages and short-term pleasure. Get rid of greed and chances for failure diminish.

5. Lack of education. The more we educate ourselves about money, the more we are able to make smart decisions. You don’t need to be a college or even high school graduate to be smart with money. Plenty of educational books are available. And if you don’t have the time to educate yourself, there are plenty of financial planners available to offer guidance. Look for an adviser who is fee-only and gives unbiased advice. Control the five areas above and spare yourself the time in reading all those books on the shelves. The books about cooking are more fun.

Dan Serra is a financial writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.