Posted August 8th, 2014 by Matt Cullen
You know that your credit score affects your car insurance rates, your ability to get a loan, and, most likely, your level of financial stress. If you’ve stuck with good budgeting and saving habits all the way to a good credit score, congrats.
If not, turn your financial situation around with a revised strategy. Studies show that when you have a detailed plan, you’re more likely to succeed. Take action with some of these easy improvements to get to your personal finance happy place.
1. Know Where You Stand
Knowing where you stand financially is essential to budgeting and to determining your financial priorities.
First, get an idea of your overall net worth by adding up your assets and liabilities. Assets are everything that you own, including your home (if you own versus rent), savings, investments, collectibles, and other property. Liabilities include all the money that you owe, like your mortgage balance, credit card debt, personal loans, and student loans.
Once you have the total amounts of what you own and owe, subtract the difference. If your assets exceed your liabilities, then you have a positive net worth—and that's a good thing. If it's the opposite, then you know that you’ll need to work towards paying down the debt that you owe more aggressively.
2. Have a Written Budget
One of the best ways to budget and save money is to actually have a budget. Wild, right? Budgeting gives you insight into, and therefore more control over, where your money goes each month. Creating and following a budget shows you where unnecessary expenses can be cut.
3. Keep a Positive Money Mindset
Keeping a positive money mindset is essential for successful budgeting and saving. In fact, the way that you think about money can determine your overall financial success. Those who possess a positive outlook about money—even if they are not wealthy—are more likely to succeed financially in the long run than those who have a negative financial outlook.
If you’re not optimistic, you can use psychology hacks to trick yourself into a better money mindset.
4. Set Financial Goals
Realizing your vision for the financial future requires present action.
Make short-term goals that include what you would like to accomplish within one year or less, intermediate-term goals that encompass approximately five years, and long-term financial goals of 10+ years.
5. Stay Out of Debt
Saving money is far easier when you've paid off all of your debts. Unfortunately, many young adults begin their working lives with student loans or credit card debt. If possible, do not borrow, especially for non-essential items.
6. Avoid Using Credit Beyond Your Means
If excessive spending is keeping you in debt, ditch your credit cards (if it's not, take advantage of credit card perks). Millions of people carry credit card balances with interest rates that hover in the area of 20% or more. By carrying these balances month after month, you end up paying double or triple (or more) for the items or services that you've purchased.
7. Pay Yourself First
Consider your own savings as a creditor that you owe each month, and you'll be able to build up a substantial amount of savings over time. Pay yourself first at the beginning of each month or pay period by transferring a sum to your saving account. You can automate the transfer with your bank.
8. Take the "Free Money"
If your employer offers a 401(k) or other type of retirement plan, they'll often provide you with a matching contribution that’s based on a percentage of your own contribution. Be sure that you participate in the plan to get this "free money" added to your retirement savings.
9. Be Aware of Tax-Related Benefits
Saving money doesn't always come in the form of actually placing funds into a savings or investment account. It can also mean taking advantage of other finance techniques, like tax deductions and credits. Make certain that you're aware of any tax-related benefits that you're eligible for.
10. Avoid Costly Repairs
By keeping your home and vehicle(s) well maintained, you can avoid costly repairs in the future. Regular upkeep can save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in the long run. The same holds true for living a healthier lifestyle to avoid costly illnesses.
11. Buy Insurance for Potential Problems
Insurance is a financial must-have for when a disaster or emergency arises. Even a small medical emergency can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Another consideration: if you were injured and absent from work for several months, would you be able to pay your bills?
Having the proper life, health, and disability insurance protects your finances in the event of an emergency. Rather than thinking of your policy as an added expense, consider it an investment in your savings and your income.
12. Don't Get Distracted
Saving money means not spending impulsively on unnecessary items. By sticking strictly to a list when you go shopping, you avoid spending money on items that you don't need. If you save money on items that were on your list, consider going a step further: actually transfer the amount that was discounted to a savings account.
13. Lower Your Living Expenses
You may be able to save a significant amount of money by lowering your living expenses. While some areas of spending like rent or mortgage are typically fixed, others, like utilities, food, and entertainment, have more flexibility and room for adjustment. These areas of spending can be altered in order to align with your budgetary needs.
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