Let’s rewind to six months ago.
It was the second week of January, a time when your New Year resolutions were still fresh in your mind. Now that 2014 is halfway over, how well have you stuck to your financial intentions?
If you’ve strayed from your New Years goals, we’ve crafted a mid-year pick-me-up for your personal finances. If your finances didn’t make it onto your list of 2014 resolutions, July’s as good a time as any to get on track.
Here are five foolproof ways to improve your personal finances and implement good money management skills, no matter what month.
Compare: Car insurance rates
1. Set Financial Goals
Any successful endeavor requires a plan, especially when it involves money management. Imagine starting out for a road trip without a map of how to get where you are going. Chances are, you won't get very far. The same holds true for managing your finances.
Set financial goals for the short-, mid-, and long-term to create a personal finance roadmap. Here's a guide to how to create your financial goals list.
When setting your financial goals, don't be afraid to dream, especially with your long-term list. Having your goals written down in a place where you will regularly see them can give you the motivation to follow through with the day-to-day steps that they require.
2. Have an Emergency Fund
A staple of good money management is an emergency fund. An emergency fund is an account with cash that you can easily access in case of a medical, household, or other emergency that requires quick payment.
An emergency fund is also vital if you become suddenly unemployed. With this savings, you can pay your living expenses while you search for a new job.
How do I start an emergency fund?
Ideally, your emergency fund should contain between three and six months worth of your living expenses. The best place to keep your emergency fund is in a bank or credit union savings account, or in a money market account. Here, you can store your funds, without the risk of loss, while having quick access to the money if and when it is needed.
3. Have a Budget
Though it’s easier said than done, living within your means is an essential money management skill. Spending more than you earn each month will send your finances spiraling out of control.
A budget keeps you on track. With a written plan that shows exactly how much you make and how much you spend, you have greater control over your money. A budget reveals where you can cut unnecessary expenses in order to strengthen your income to outgo ratio.
While fixed costs such as your rent or mortgage may not be changeable, other expenses—like dining out or your cable TV package—can be. If you need to lower your spending in order to better manage your monthly expenses, your budget shows you where there’s room to change.
4. Use Credit Cards Wisely
Using credit cards to live above your means can put you in dangerous financial straits.
Most credit card companies charge interest rates of 20% or more after your fail to pay your bill on time. If you get in the habit of not paying off your balance every month, you could end up paying a great deal of interest over time.
To avoid credit card debt, closely monitor your spending and never rely on lines of credit to purchase items that you don’t have the money for.
5. Stick With Your Plan
Once your financial goals are written down and your monthly budget is in place, the next challenge is sticking with your plan. When it comes to finances, it’s easy to get distracted and make unnecessary "impulse" purchases. Resist. Straying from your financial plan can put you behind, and, in some cases, it can cause a major financial setback.
To maintain good money management, remember these practices:
- Keep a close eye on your financial goals, both short- and long-term.
- Live within your means (in other words, live within your budget).
- Revisit and adjust your budget periodically. As your income level and other life factors change, you’ll want to adjust your budget and add more flexibility into it over time.
Regardless of how much money you earn, it’s important to implement solid wealth management habits, starting sooner rather than later. Having goals and strategies in place can give you a tremendous edge in achieving the financial future that you hope for, and in living a more stress-free life along the way.