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money“Rules. A life without rules is exhausting and emotionally fraught.”

That’s how Jean Chatzky opened her hour long session on financial security and retirement at Life@50+ today. She admitted that rules don’t seem fun – and the audience agreed. But soon she brought the crowd around to the virtues of boundaries, planning and delayed gratification.

“Once you start planning, and get the numbers down on the page, things may not be as bad as you think they are,” said Chatzky, giving a packed room some hope. “And know that you can recover from any financial mistake by simply saving more.”

She makes it sound so easy, doesn’t she!? Chatzky admits that when it comes to money, there’s not much fun in planning, saving and investing, but she laid out some rules that might make it less intimidating:

Personal finance is more personal than it is finance. You have to make decisions that are good for you and your family, nobody else. It might mean swimming against the tide – leaving more money in the bank so you can sleep at night, or renting instead of buying.

Money is simple…people make it complicated. Sometimes the person who’s telling you you’re doing it all wrong is someone who’s very close to you. Also, the  more money that’s on the line, the likelier it is that irrationality comes into play. The reason? We treat it different than any other commodity.

Financial plans don’t fail people. People fail to plan. More baby boomers are more afraid of outliving their money than they are of dying, one study showed. And most Americans have never even tried to figure out how much money they need in retirement. That’s dangerous, very dangerous.

Hope is not an investment strategy. You have to plan, and the first step is answering some difficult questions. How long will you live? Nowadays, with healthy behaviors and great health care, you have to plan for 95 or 100! Planning is all about outlining your hopes and dreams and fears and needs.

Count dollars like calories. While most of you reading this can probably name the calories in a Big Mac, you probably can’t say how much money is in your retirement account. It’s time to start taking action – run a retirement calculator and see how much you have versus how much you need.

If you can’t see it and you can’t touch it, you won’t spend it. This is one of the reasons 401(k) plans work so well. IRAs, CDs, Health Savings Accounts – the idea that you have money sheltered away for something specific — they all work surprisingly well!

Just because someone will lend it to you doesn’t mean you should borrow it. This is the time of life when we should be thinking about paying it down, not acquiring more debt. Keep your spending in check – ask why you are buying something? Do you need it? Or are you doing it for more emotional reasons.

Don’t shop angry. Anger makes us more optimistic, oddly enough. You’re more likely take a risk, make a jump and say “what the hell” and buy something.

Don’t shop sad. Sadness will make you more eager to buy just about anything.

Don’t shop hungry. It might sound cliché or obvious, but it’s true. All those free samples are meant to manipulate you into getting excited about all the other things you don’t need.

Diversify. Nobody knows where the markets are going, and that means being an investor is frightening. But certain areas of the markets like bonds, swim against the tide and can be safer at times. Stocks and bonds are not enough though – there are so many ways to diversify, and it’s more important than ever before to do so.

It’s not about having it all. It’s about having what you value the most. You have to give yourself a break. You could look at a friend or loved one and think they have it all, but you never see the challenges they faced to get there. You have to know what you want most so that you can plan ahead for it.

Photo credit: 401(k) 2012 via Flickr.