9 Important Financial Lessons Every Working Adult Should Learn

Develop These Money-Management Skills to Get Your Finances Under Control

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Navigating the world of personal finance can be overwhelming, even for an adult who has quite a bit of experience in the working world. With some smart planning, a good strategy and understanding of the basics you should be able to develop the money-management skills you need to get your finances under control. Here are some fundamental truths of personal finance that everyone should be aware of.

1. Set Clear Financial Goals

If you don’t have a set destination to work towards it can be hard to find the passion or drive to save. Whether it’s a house you’ve been eyeing or your retirement, carefully defining these goals and figuring out how much you’ll need to save can help you craft a plan for getting there.

As you establish financial goals, consider making them S.M.A.R.T. -- specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. Creating goals using these guidelines can help ensure that what you're working towards is achievable and giving yourself a timeline for reaching your goal can be a motivator to stay the course.

2. Start as Soon as You Can 

Ever heard of compound interest? This process allows the interest on your savings to earn even more interest. The sooner you start to save for retirement, the more time your money has to grow and take advantage of compound interest. Time really is a powerful lead for your investments so waiting just a few years to start saving may significantly reduce the size of your retirement nest egg.

Compounding interest can also help you grow your non-retirement savings. For example, you may be contributing money to a high yield savings account to establish a down payment for a home. The higher your interest rate and the longer you have to save, the more opportunity your money has to grow.

3. Spend Less Than You Make 

This seems like one of the simplest personal finance rules to follow but it can be one of the most challnging. It’s incredibly easy in this consumer-driven world to live beyond our means but a good rule of thumb is to try and save at least 15 percent of your income. If you find it easy to overspend try paying for things like clothes and groceries with cash instead of a credit or debit card.

Withdrawing a fixed amount every month helps you be more aware and make better spending choices. If you can't commit to saving 15 percent of your income to start, decide how much you can save. Then, automatic those savings so you're moving money out of your checking account, eliminating the temptation to spend it.

4. Create a Budget 

Budgets play a critical role in paying off debt, controlling your spending and staying on track towards your goals. It’s easy to spend a little extra some days than others but if you have a budget in place or set a daily spending limit you’ll be able to adjust and make up for any oversights another day.

Creating a budget can be as easy as adding up all your expenses for the month and subtracting that amount from your total income. You can make a budget using pen and paper, a spreadsheet or with a budgeting app if you prefer a tech-savvy solution.

5. Put Your Savings on Autopilot

Have your savings contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck via the 401k plan and/or direct deposit into a brokerage account. If you put money aside before you even see it you won’t miss it.

And if you get a raise at work each year, consider increasing your 401k contributions automatically as well. Some plans allow you to incrementally raise your contribution rate each year so you can accelerate the amount you're socking away for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis.

6. Always Take Free Money 

If your employer offers to match a percentage of your 401K contribution — and most do — maximize that benefit by contributing to the match limit.​ Employers who offer to match your contribution will typically do so up to 3-6 percent of your annual salary. So, if you make $50,000 and your boss matches your 401k up to 5 percent, be sure to contribute $2,500 over the course of the year. The more free money you can grab, the bigger your nest egg can grow over time.

7. Don’t Go House Crazy

Be careful not to over-buy when shopping for a new home. A big mortgage payment can really set you back with your savings. Try to think about what you truly need out of your home so you have the freedom to spend on other necessities.

And consider putting down a bigger down payment if possible. The larger your down payment, the less you have to finance. That can mean a smaller mortgage payment and more savings on interest charges in the long run.

8. Protect Yourself

A fully complete financial plan includes provisions to protect your life and your future. Life insurance and estate planning are key to making sure your obligation to your loved ones is met, even after you are gone. Start shopping for life insurance as soon as possible if you don’t have it already. As soon as that is done, make your will and get it filed. You can use an attorney or an online legal service like LegalZoom.com.

9. Don’t Let the Financial World Intimidate You

Money guru Dave Ramsey has observed that “80 percent of personal finance is behavior” not education. Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to be a financial expert on the stock market to start building your portfolio and preparing for the future. All you really need to do is work on building a solid plan that you will commit to and stick with over the years.