One of the buzzwords of the 1980s was "OPM" -- other people's money. The phrase was nothing more than a cute way of referring to credit, but it was popular because it made borrowing sound clever.
Real estate developers, corporate raiders, the government and a great many individual Americans all partied through the 1980s on OPM. Home prices rose, Wall Street soared.
But if the Eighties were the party, the Nineties are the hangover. Developers are going broke, raiders are frantically trying to be managers, the government is wrestling with the budget -- and individuals are confronting the cold reality that they have to pay off their credit card bills and meet their mortgage payments and still put something aside for the future.
The 1990s aren't going to be easy.
"It's tough these days," said Mary Malgoire of Malgoire Drucker Inc., a financial planning firm in Bethesda. "All over we are seeing people trying to find money where money doesn't exist because it's all been borrowed."
In recognition of these changing times, The Washington Post's annual Financial Planning guide is taking a different approach this year. Instead of offering discussions of savings and investments and strategies for making your money grow, we are suggesting that you take this time -- the end of 1990 -- to take stock of your situation.
Are you in fact living within your means? Have you accumulated a nest egg that gives you a reasonable chance of retiring in comfort or sending your child to the college he or she wants to attend?
To address those questions, we offer a series of work sheets of the sort that financial planners use to assess a new client's situation, look at the goals they have in mind and put some numbers on the savings and investment that will be required to reach those goals.
The work sheets are not meant to take the place of a real financial plan. Nor are the answers they provide likely to be exact. Instead, they are meant to give you an early warning of what you need to do.
And if you take the time to fill them out carefully, the general picture they provide should be reliable.
This financial planning section concerns two basic measures of financial health -- cash flow and net worth. These two require some thought, and the cash flow sheet may require you to keep other records for a while to see what you really are spending.
Washington is a very expensive place to live. It costs money to drive, to park, to "grab a sandwich" for lunch, to rent a movie for the videocassette recorder. And it doesn't take long for these little incidental items to add up to a major cash drain.
Add that to an expensive home mortgage, piano lessons for the children and all those other "musts" of today's living and an income your parents only dreamed of can be disappearing with nothing left over.
If you think you have an income that should be adequate but somehow isn't, pay especially close attention to the cash flow work sheet. If you already realize that money is getting away in ways you can't identify, don't try to fill it out right away. Instead carry a pencil and pad with you for several days or even several weeks and jot down every penny you spend. Try to get other family members to do the same.
Calculating totals for these seemingly small costs -- totals that show how large they really are -- will make it easier to explain to yourself and to your family why the expenses have to be controlled. The discovery, for example, that you, your spouse and children are spending $75 a week on lunches at school and work may make it easier to persuade everyone to brown bag it.
The balance sheet will show you if you are getting anywhere financially. The goal of the cash flow work sheet is to show you where your money goes and suggest ways to boost saving. The goal of the net worth sheet is to show you whether you are really building a nest egg.
Try holding on to the finished work sheet. Work through it again in a quarter of a year using the same categories and another sheet of paper. Start a file and do that every quarter -- you'll find if your assets are growing and if they are whether they are keeping up with inflation.
Another package gives you a look at a couple of important goals -- college planning and retirement. The work sheets allow you to work out how much you will need to save each month or each year to get where you want to go, allowing for inflation.
You probably won't be thrilled. In fact, an increasing number of people find that they could save enough for retirement, or they could save enough for their children's college, but they can't do both.
If the work sheets tell you that you are in that situation, it's time to look for help. Start with you company benefits office to see if, though tax-deferred spending accounts or other programs, there is any way to stretch you paycheck. Call the aid offices of nearby colleges. These people are expert at what is needed to attend their schools and can help you assess what sort of aid is available, what loans can be had and possibly how to reduce costs.
It doesn't matter that your child is just 5 years old. In fact, the younger he or she is, the better chance you have of being able to save enough to manage the costs.
Inflation also makes retirement a moving target. The retirement sheet has inflation factors built into it to give you results in today's dollars. But don't simply look at what you've got now and think that will be enough.
What inflation does to the cost of maintaining a lifestyle "is pretty disgusting," Malgoire said. A comfortable life that costs $60,000 today could easily cost $175,000 a year when you retire, she said, pointing out that "if you take a $30,000 lifestyle back to 1950, it's a $5,100 lifestyle."
The section also includes a chart that shows what you need to save to reach short-term goals.
The remaining work sheet has to do with what you have -- and passing it on. It's a quick look at what estate taxes you -- or your heirs -- may face.
If there is a single theme that emerges from doing these work sheets using different assumptions, it is that the younger you are when you start saving the better your chances of reaching your goals. But even if the numbers you come up with are very discouraging, don't say the heck with it and go skiing. Take them as a goad to cut your unnecessary spending and try to begin saving. It's really worthwhile. It's just as you mother always said: You'll understand when your older.