When it comes to finances, we could all use a little help. Many American high schools don’t teach a course in basic financial literacy, and many of us don’t pick up tips from our parents. Instead, we are left to learn how to manage our money when we are out on our own for the first time. Oftentimes, we’ll end up figuring things out only after we have made mistakes.
Despite whatever mistakes you make, there’s always plenty of room for improvement, whether it’s saving a little more money or paying off debt. There are plenty of habits to develop that can lead to better finances overall. You don’t have to be a financial guru to make daily choices that lead to better financial health.
Here are a few basic habits that can improve your finances.
1. Set Clear Financial Goals — and Update Them Regularly
A great financial habit to get into is setting financial goals and milestones. How can you improve your finances if you don’t have any end goal in mind? You need to know what you want, which is the first step to figuring out how to get there. Each month, take a look at your finances and decide on some goals for that month.
For example, if you have debt, you could resolve to make a larger payment that month, or you could try to save 5% of your paycheck that month. If you accomplish your goals, you could try to ramp it up next time – save 10% of your paycheck! You can have longer-term plans, like saving for retirement or paying off half of your student loans. Just be sure to do a self-check regularly to make sure you’re on track.
2. Pay Off High-Interest Debt First
As a general rule of thumb, high-interest debt will cost you more. The higher the interest rate, the more you will pay in interest on that debt. It may also take you longer to pay off the debt. If you have any debt (and most people do), then you should try to prioritize paying off the accounts with the higher interest first.
This could mean a credit card with a high APR or a private student loan with a high rate. Make a list of your debts, and rank them by interest rate, highest to lowest. Start by making bigger payments on the high-rate debt while maintaining all low-interest accounts. Work your way down the list!
3. Set Up Automated Savings
Resolving to save more money is always an admirable goal, and you can help yourself do that with automatic savings. Most employers offer you the option to set up automatic electronic direct deposit paychecks, so you don’t have to go to the bank to deposit a check anymore.
Direct deposit allows you to sign up multiple accounts. Every time you get a paycheck, you can devote a percentage to your savings account, checking account, etc. If you set aside a decent portion of your paycheck to savings, then you can automatically save money without ever touching your accounts. You can do this while also depositing your spending money for the next two weeks into your checking.
4. Track Your Expenses
If you have trouble keeping track of your spending, accounts, and money in general, then consider tracking them automatically. Luckily, it is easier than ever with free apps and web-based platforms. Many of these will link to your accounts and track the activity automatically. In real time, you can see exactly where your money is going. That makes it simple for you to cut costs and retool your budget as needed!
5. Use a Cash-Only Budget for Random Expenses
If you struggle with impulse shopping or buying things that you don’t need, consider using a cash budget for those random expenses. There isn’t much to this idea: just set a limit on those expenses, like going out to eat or ordering takeout. Withdraw your limit in cash from your bank account. Use that cash to pay for those purchases. Resolve to leave your debit and credit cards alone if you’re doing this.
Limiting yourself to cash is great because you can help yourself spend less. It’s much harder to part with cash, and you can make it a challenge to save as much of that cash on a weekly or monthly basis. If you really curb your spending, then you can roll over that leftover cash and withdraw even less money for the next cycle. This will help you save money in your bank account.
6. Put Basic Monthly Expenses on a Credit Card – Pay Them Off!
Don’t get this confused with the cash budget, which is for random expenses. By following this advice, you are putting your essential, necessary monthly expenses on a credit card (expenses such as fuel, transportation, bills, etc.)
By using a credit card, your checking account can be left untouched until it’s time to make a credit card payment. Ideally, you’ve saved up one or two paychecks by now; then you can cover your credit card bill with money you would have spent up to that point anyway.
Making these payments diligently can help build credit over time, and it’s made easier because these are essential expenses that you would have made anyway. However, make sure you control your spending. Don’t spend too much on credit, and don’t miss your payments.
7. Check Your Credit Report on a Regular Basis
This is a pretty easy tip. Each year, you can check your credit report for free – 3 times per year. It’s important to review your credit in order to spot any discrepancies. If you stay on top of it, you’re more likely to prevent credit card fraud, identity fraud, etc. Each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) allow you to request a report once per year.
8. Find a Side Gig to Increase Your Income
If you want to supplement your income, don’t think that you’re limited to your full-time job and paycheck. Consider taking on some extra work to bring in some additional cash. There is a massive online market for freelancers with many different types of skills such as writing, photography, graphic design, and more. It doesn’t end there either, you could pick up a side-job and work part-time, or you could reach out to your community looking for all sorts of work.
While getting on top of your finances isn’t always easy, these habits can make a difficult chore a lot simpler. When they become routine, add more to increase your financial health — and your financial know-how!
Andrew is a Content Associate for LendEDU – a website that helps consumers from all walks of life with their finances. When he’s not working, you can find Andrew hiking or hanging with his cats Colby & Tobi.
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