Responsibly managing your finances doesn’t necessarily come easy — it can be stressful and even daunting to think about the tools you may need to create a concrete financial plan. In reality, though, basic financial management is really quite simple. Here are a few key areas where you can easily start when dealing with your own finances.
Creating a budget
The first step in any solid financial management plan is to live on a budget. No matter how much or how little money you have, budgeting allows you to responsibly manage your money so that you never find yourself in a financial rut. It also allows you to plan for the future and hit your savings goals.
Your budget can be as basic or as complicated as you want it to be. To keep things simple, start by simply subtracting your monthly expenses from your monthly income. The difference is what you have to spend on everything else.
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Saving for retirement
Putting money away toward your golden years is one of the most important things you can do for yourself because it could mean the difference between retiring at 65 or 80. Based on your employment situation and how much money you’re making, you’ll save different amounts over different periods of your life. However, retirement planning should always be on your mind. Aim to save around 10 to 15 percent of your salary. Also, make sure you’re taking advantage of whatever retirement savings plan (e.g., 401k) your employer offers. Many times, your employer will match a percentage of your contribution, which is free money.
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Even if you have a perfect score, failing to monitor your credit report could result in the demise of your financial standing. Surprisingly, when the Federal Trade Commission reviewed 1,000 consumers’ credit reports, it found that 25 percent of people had at least one error that could negatively impact their credit score, according to a FTC report. Check your report at least once a year to ensure this isn’t happening to you.
Getting out of debt
If you’ve racked up massive amounts of credit card debt, stop using credit cards now. Put as much as money as possible toward your monthly balance so that you’re paying more than the minimum amount due and, therefore, less in interest over time. If you’re paying lots in interest, consider opening a 0 percent introductory period APR balance transfer credit card. This will allow you to continue paying off your debt without the interest that usually comes with it. Make sure that your credit card and loan payments are adequately accounted for within your budget. It’s vital that you take care of these expenses before other, less necessary ones, such as paying for a gym membership or buying clothing you may not need.
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Planning short- and long-term savings goals
Creating short- and long-term savings goals will keep your finances in check and keep you from being tempted to use credit cards for various purchases. For example, a short-term goal might be a vacation next year or a new or used car. Determine the amount you need to save and the date when you need the money. Then, configure how much you’ll need to put away each month to hit that goal. Factor that amount into your monthly budget so you are more likely to reach it. The same goes for longer-term savings goals, such as retirement, a child’s college fund or a new house — think about how much you need to save and put away that money over time.