With the day-to-day pressures you face, it’s easy to let your financial life go unattended — especially if there’s money left over at the end of the month. Yet, if you pay just a little more attention to your savings and spending habits, and get clear and specific about your goals, you will find yourself in a position of financial strength. Here are some quick steps you can take that are easy to implement and will get you results fast:
- Get Organized. An organized household spends less money. Why? Because when you know what you have you won’t buy duplicates. When you plan your meals ahead, and know what’s already in your pantry, you don’t overspend. When you keep track of your checking account balance and your bills, you avoid late fees, and bounced checks. What’s more is you save time – something we can always use. This step is also vital if you plan on following recommendations #2 and #3.
- Know Yourself. Track your expenses, so you have a good sense of what you spend, and where it goes. Then, and only then, can you see where your priorities have been. The question is: Is this how you want to spend your money? Or, do you need to shift your spending patterns to reflect your priorities?
- Cover your Bases. Make sure you have adequate life insurance on both spouses (about 7-10 times annual household income), disability insurance for all working spouses, and an emergency fund to cover at least 6 months’ of living expenses. Also, make sure your wills are up-to-date. A strong foundation makes all the difference in an emergency situation.
- Eliminate Credit Card Debt. If you carry a balance every month, make a plan to pay as much as you can each month – not just the minimum.
- Shop Smartly. Check the circulars and plan your meals accordingly. Add more beans and veggies to your meals (your wallet and waistline will thank you). If you are tempted to make a big purchase, go home and sleep on it. You’ll be surprised how these urges can pass.
- Eliminate the “Sin Tax”. Tobacco and alcohol carry heavy taxes. Cut back or eliminate these habits and you’ll improve your health and finances. While you are at it, bag the lottery. Wishing for a windfall is a waste of energy, especially when creating one is within your control. Take the money you would put into lottery tickets, and increase your emergency fund, retirement fund, or college savings. It will serve you better if you put the money there.
- Conserve. Conserve. Conserve. It’s not only good for the environment, but it’s good for your wallet. Shut off lights, use energy conserving bulbs, repair leaky faucets, and add weather stripping. Who needs to waste money and energy?
- Make a Plan. Where are you now, and where do you want to go? You’ll never reach your goals if you aren’t clear about what they are, how much time you have to get there, and how much you will need. Be specific, and list them all — short-term goals (e.g., paying off your credit cards in two years), to intermediate (e.g., sending two children to college in eight years), to long-term (e.g., retirement in 15 years). Work with a financial professional to estimate how much you will need, what the effects of inflation will be on affording these goals, what type of investment commitment per month you will need to make, and what range of investment returns you will need to receive to stay on track.
- Pay Yourself First. That’s right, you’ve earned it. Treat your financial goals with the same seriousness you treat your housing, car, cable and utility bills. That’s the only way your dreams will ever become a reality. Make sure you are participating in any company sponsored retirement plans available to you, and make sure you open an IRA or Roth IRA for you and your spouse.
- Know What You Own. What mutual funds do you own? What do they invest in? Make sure they invest in different types of securities; otherwise you’ll end up with all your eggs in one basket. Know what fees and sales charges you pay, as these expenses can really add up over time. It may be boring to read, but the prospectus has all the answers to these questions.
Remember, if you don’t care about your own money, no one else will. Pay attention to the areas where you can improve, and make your financial goals a top priority. These small changes will allow you to reap benefits for many years to come!