If you ran an Internet search on "the importance of planning" in January 2010, you would have come up with about 38 million hits. And while money might not buy happiness, it sure does buy lots of other things. In fact, it's one of those components of life that's pretty important to plan for. But too many people only consider money in the short term, living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, without considering their long-term financial future.

It's all well and good to manage your bills each month, but unless you're keen on working to the grave or spending your retirement skating along the poverty line, you'll want to stretch your dollars a little further as you get on in years. Plus, unfortunate occurrences like a lost job or a house fire could put a serious crimp in your pay-as-you-go practice.

Setting aside a safety net might seem like a daunting task. After all, major monthly bill-paying sessions can drain anyone's checkbook. But spare cash is like those last couple of french fries on the plate: If you can just manage to withstand the compulsion to plop them in some ketchup en route to your mouth, you won't have so many regrets when you look at the scale later. For budgeters beginning cold turkey, look over the article How Personal Budgets Work.

Once you've freed up a few extra dollars, it's time to decide what to do with them -- and more importantly, if they'll be enough to, say, buy you a spot on the beach when you retire. Tossing your daily collection of spare change in a jar might help pay for a vacation or perhaps fund some roof repairs, but unless you carry coins around in a bucket, chances are good that jar won't put you through grad school, buy you a new car or cover your cost of living for 20 years or more. This is where serious financial planning comes in.

Of course, nothing in this world is 100 percent certain (barring our old friends death and taxes). Likewise, preparing a solid financial scheme isn't a guarantee you'll pass your whole life in tight fiscal security, but it can vastly improve your odds. On the next page, we delve into some common examples of financial planning software to see what they can do for you.