UNITED STATES—Whether you’ve just graduated from college and joined the world of employment or you’ve been working for several years and still can’t seem to make ends meet, getting a good hold on your finances is key to achieving financial serenity. We look at 5 things that you can do right now to improve your financial life.
It may seem like a simple step, but do you really understand your financial commitments? Do you know what an IRA is? Do you know how much sales tax you pay in your state? Do you understand the terms on your bank statement or the penalties for being overdrawn? It stands to reason that you will be unable to make sound financial decisions if you don’t know anything about finance. So, take the first steps to improve your understanding by doing some research online.
Once you’ve taken the first steps to understand finance in general, it’s time to get organized, especially if you’re not sure how much money you actually spend on a monthly basis. Set up a spreadsheet that shows all the income you receive, whether that’s from employment or your business, a second job, an allowance from parents or elsewhere. Then list all your outgoings from rent and utilities to travel expenses, car payments and everything else that you’re liable for. One way to account for casual spending such as your daily coffee fix or the random purchase you made because you were feeling down, is to save the receipts and log them all or simply use your bank statement if you’re not using cash. Be sure to update your spreadsheet regularly and you’ll soon see where your hard-earned money is going – plus it will make it much easier when the time comes to file your taxes.
Pay Down Your Debts
If you’ve recently been through college no doubt you have sizeable student loans to repay and you may also have other loans and credit card debts to service. Paying down your debts should be a top priority even before you start to save. You should also consider finding out more about how your student loans affect your tax situation and whether you can take advantage of the available deduction of student loan interest.
Set Up a Savings Plan
You may think that you don’t have any spare cash to invest into savings, but even small amounts soon mount up into a reasonable sum. Some bank accounts enable you to round-up your purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the change to a savings account, so you’ll hardly miss the money at all. You may also want to consider setting up a regular payment into a savings account to use as an emergency fund for those unexpected expenses. Even a few dollars each month is better than nothing.
Diversify Your Investments
If you’ve been saving for a while and you have a healthy pot of money, consider dividing it up into liquid pots – i.e. you can withdraw funds immediately in case of emergency – and fixed pots which require more notice for withdrawals and which often pay higher rates of interest. You may also want to discuss your finances with a financial advisor who can advise on how to build stock accounts and mutual funds or how to invest in a home or land or start up your own business.