Set Specific Goals:
When it comes to laying the foundation for your financial future, being realistic and specific with your goals is crucial. Once you set a goal -- whether it’s putting $200 into your savings account each month or setting up an IRA -- stick with it. Revaluate goals periodically to ensure you’re still on the right path. Utilize tools available to you, such as direct deposit or auto-transfer, to help you reach your goal.
Make a Budget:
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and are finding it hard to make ends meet, it’s probably time to create a budget. The easiest way to do this is to track your monthly expenses; see which expenses are necessary and which are not. Find ways to cut down your discretionary spending – going to the movies, eating out, shopping. Put limits on how much you can spend on non-essentials. Once you see where you stand each month, you might find that you’re able to put aside some extra funds into a savings account. Track spending within online banking, use check registers or keep receipts to see how much money you are spending on non-essentials. It may be surprising to discover Starbucks costs you $60 a month.
A common reaction to making money is spending money. But before you spend your paychecks, put some thought and effort into a proper saving strategy. A good start to your savings plan, before putting money into hard-to-touch investments, is to create an emergency fund. Your emergency fund should cover three to six months worth of living expenses, enough to see you through a difficult financial time. In the early years of your saving, it’s a good idea to keep your assets liquid so that you’re able to access them at any time.
Pay Off High-Interest Debt:
High-interest credit cards are a definite drain on your funds. Paying off or transferring large balances of high-interest cards guarantees you a return on that investment (the amount your interest was reduced by). Once your credit cards are paid off, it’s a good idea to use them sparingly. Work to build your credit history so that you can secure cards with low interest rates in the future.
Consider Buying a Home:
In the past 40 years, the average cost of single-family homes in the U.S. has increased 700 percent. As a homeowner, you’re entitled to major tax breaks and interest on your first and second home mortgages is typically fully deductible. If you’re in the financial position to do so, consider becoming a homeowner. Why throw away money on rent when you could put that money toward an investment that can yield a healthy return.
Create a Will:
A will is a legal document that ensures your funds, property and personal effects are distributed according to your wishes in the event of your death. This is especially important if you have children under 18, as you’re also able to specify who you’d like to be their guardian. When drafting your will, be sure to name a guardian for your children, an executor and beneficiaries.
Focus on Life Stages:
When it comes to making sound financial decisions, it’s important to consider what life stage you are in. Are you a recent college graduate, a first-time parent or someone on the verge of retirement? Where you are in life will help determine the financial decisions you make. It’s important to understand that your finances are in a constant state of change and your financial needs fluctuate as your life changes. For most individuals, income levels, spending patterns, family situations and financial concerns tend to follow three primary stages of life.
Stage One: This is typically when you enter the workforce, get married and start your own family. This is when you develop financial habits and consider making major purchases like a home or new car.
Stage Two: A bit further along now, your family is growing and your career is advancing. Now your financial activities include accumulating and managing your wealth and possibly funding college educations.
Stage Three: You’re now at the peak of your career and are considering retirement. If you had children, they’ve most likely left the house and you might now have grandchildren. Your financial focus has shifted to things like preserving your wealth and estate planning.