Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magic formula or simple trick that allowed you never to have to worry about money or manage your finances again?
While that may not be realistic, there are some simple things you can do right now to improve your money situation. Try these five steps for successfully managing your personal finances. Another bonus? If you stick to these five tips, your financial problems may start to diminish, and you can start reaping the rewards of lower debt, saving for the future, and a solid credit score.
Detail Your Financial Goals
Take some time to write specific, long-term financial goals. You may want to take a month-long trip to Europe, buy an investment property, or retire early. All of these goals will affect how you plan your finances. For example, your goal to retire early is dependent on how well you save your money now. Other goals, including homeownership, starting a family, moving, or changing careers, will all be affected by how you manage your finances.
Once you have written down your financial goals, prioritize them. This organizational process ensures that you are paying the most attention to the ones that are of the highest importance to you. You can also list them in the order you want to achieve them, but a long-term goal like saving for retirement requires you to work towards it while also working on your other goals.
Below are some tips on how to get clear on your financial goals:
- Set long-term goals like getting out of debt, buying a home, or retiring early. These goals are separate from your short-term goals such as saving for a nice date night.
- Set short-term goals, like following a budget, decreasing your spending, paying down, or not using your credit cards.
- Prioritize your goals to help you create a financial plan.
Flesh out Your Plan
A financial plan is essential in helping you reach your financial goals. The plan should have multiple steps or milestones. A sample plan might include creating a monthly budget and spending plan, then getting out of debt.
Once you’ve accomplished these three things and have followed through on your new plan for a few months, you may find that you have extra cash, and the money you free up from your debt payments can be used to reach your next round of goals.
Again, it's key to decide what priorities are most important to you. Keep steadily working toward your long-term retirement goals, but also start to focus on the most important near-term goals you have set for yourself. Do you want to take an extravagant trip? Start investing? Buy a home or build your own business? These are all things to consider when deciding on your next step.
Your goals, along with an emergency fund, will help you stop making financial decisions based on fear and help you get control of your situation.
When creating a financial plan, remember these things:
- Your budget is key to success. It is the tool that will give you the most control of your financial future. Your budget is the key to achieving the rest of your plan.
- You should keep contributing to long-term goals, like saving for retirement, no matter what your financial plan stage is.
- Building an emergency fund is another key factor in financial success and stress reduction.
Make and Stick to a Budget
Your budget is one of the biggest tools that will help you succeed financially. It allows you to create a spending plan so you can allocate your money in a way that will help you to reach your goals.
You can make your budget as high-level or detailed as you want, as long as it helps you reach your ultimate goal of spending less than you earn, paying off any debts, padding your emergency fund, and saving for the future.
A budget will also help you decide how to spend your money over the coming months and years. Without the plan, you might spend cash on things that seem important now, but don't offer much in terms of enhancing your future. Many people get caught in this quagmire and get down on themselves for not reaching the financial milestones they want for their family and their own life.
Don't forget to celebrate small victories along the way. For example, congratulate yourself once you pay off your debt, or reward yourself when you stick to your budget for three months solid, or when you successfully pad your emergency fund.
If you are married, you and your spouse need to work together on the budget. Working together makes it feels fair to both of you, and you both have the same level of commitment towards achieving it. This unity can go a long way towards helping you prevent money-related arguments. Below are some tips for married couples who want to create a budget together:
- Consider switching to an envelope budgeting system that uses cash for spending areas that require more discipline.
- Use budgeting software with a mobile app so you can enter spending in real-time.
- Plan expenses in advance to avoid any overspending.
Pay off Debt
Debt is a huge obstacle for many when it comes to reaching financial goals. That's why you should make eliminating it a priority. Set up a debt elimination plan to help you pay it off more quickly. For example, while making minimum payments on all of your debt accounts, pay any extra money towards one debt at a time. After paying off one debt account, move all the money you were paying on the first debt to the next debt and continue from there, creating a debt-paydown “snowball effect.”
Once you are totally out of debt, commit to staying out of debt. Leaving credit cards at home may be a wise strategy. Save up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, so you aren't tempted to use a credit card to cover them.
Try these tips to help you pay off debt more quickly:
- Sell unused or unwanted items around your home to find extra money to add to your debt repayment plan.
- A second job can help speed up the process and can be necessary if you want to make fast or lasting changes to your situation.
- Look for areas in which you can cut your budget to increase the cash available for your debt payments.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice
Once you have grown your savings and want to begin investing to increase your wealth, speak to a financial planner to help you make wise investment decisions.
A good adviser will share the risks involved in each investment and help you find products that match your comfort level and investing return needs while helping you work toward your goals as quickly as possible. A financial planner can also help you with your budget, which is another plus.
Investing is a long-term strategy that helps you in building wealth. You can also find financial help elsewhere, such as:
- Search for a local church or community center that offers free or low-cost classes or workshops on personal finances and budgeting. Occasionally, banks and credit unions offer courses, as well.
- Find a mentor that would be willing to help you formulate and work through your budget for the first few months. This mentor can help you if you are overwhelmed by the budget process.
- If your parents or other family members are good with money, consider asking them for help, and talking to them about what worked for them financially and what they would have done differently.
It doesn't have to be a difficult experience to get your debt paid off, money saved, and progress made towards your financial goals. Invest in yourself and your financial future so that you won't ever need to worry about your finances again.