Today I’d like to take a step back and review a few personal finance basics. Consider it a special bonus weekend article. I’ve been writing about investing a lot this year. The stock market has been the big financial news and it’s captured my attention more than ever before. However, I had to learn some important skills before I could turn my attention to investing.
For most people, graduating college comes with a lot of student debt. With a strong combination of luck and hard work, I earned a big scholarship. I also managed to go to college in my hometown, which allowed me to keep my high-paying pharmacy technician job. My peers, without that kind of income, turned to credit cards. They reasoned that once they made money in the real world, it would be easier to pay them off. It’s true that it is easier with income, but there were also more expenses. It took at lot longer than they thought to pay off all the debt.
A little fiscal responsibility may have gone a long way to getting them started on the road to financial freedom. Here are eight habits to start with.
1. Create a Budget
The first step to becoming financially responsible is to create a budget. Once you analyze your expenses over a few months, you’ll know what to expect. This way, you can see how much you spend on bills each month versus the amount you spend on frivolous items. This information shows you how you can trim expenses so you can save money.
Personally, this has never worked well for me. It’s just too much work, even though credit card categorizations can make it much easier. Instead, I developed a frugal mindset, which has helped me keep expenses low.
2. Start Paying Off Debt
Paying off debt can be daunting challenge, if you owe a significant amount. Paying extra toward your credit card debt each month is always best. Credit card expert, Donald Gayhardt of CURO Financial Technology Corporation always says the more money you can put on your card, the faster you will pay it off. Make it a habit to pay your cards and loans extra each month, even if you can only afford an extra five dollars a month.
Of course, the best plan is to avoid carrying credit card debt in the first place.
3. Live Below Your Means
It’s always best to spend less than you make. That’s why I adopted a really frugal mindset. It works even if you aren’t currently making much money. In some cases, it may be helpful to pick up a second job. In others, it simply means you need to cut out some of the things you spend money on. Cutting out subscriptions, shopping for cheaper services and buying food in bulk are all easy ways to save money.
4. Avoid Impulse Spending
Many people buy items as soon as they think of them, but this practice can be harmful to your wallet. When you are considering making a purchase, as yourself a series of questions to determine if you really need the item. If you answer “no” to any of the following questions, you shouldn’t buy the item.
- Is the item a good value for the price?
- Do you need the item immediately?
- Will the item make life easier?
- Is it a good investment?
My secret to avoid impulse buying is to spend a lot of thinking about expensive purchases. I often find that I didn’t need it after all.
5. Automate Savings
It’s never too early to start saving for the future. Even if you can only afford to put ten dollars a month into a savings account, set up an automatic process to do it. Set a calendar alert for every 3 months and review whether you can increase the monthly savings.
Put Money Aside for Emergencies
While savings are meant to help you if you want to reroof your house, an emergency fund is meant to help you with unexpected expenses. In a perfect world, you will always have extra money to repair your car, buy new tires or replace your HVAC system, but unfortunately, many people have to put these expenses on credit cards. Get into the habit of setting a small amount of money aside each month so you can dip into the emergency fund whenever and unexpected expense pops up. This way, you can avoid adding new credit card debt.
Cut Down On Living Expenses
Make it a habit to shop around for different services every few months to see if you can find them cheaper. You will often find a better price for gym memberships, insurance premiums, and cable subscriptions. Decide which expenses you don’t need and cut them when you can. For example, you may be able to call your cable company and negotiate the same package for less money. If you rely on your cell phone, you may be able to save a few dollars by eliminating a home phone. You can even save money by bundling several services together with the same company.
Cook at Home
If you don’t like to cook, you might be tempted to order out for every meal but this is one of the fastest ways to drain your wallet. On the weekends I’m always slow cooking something for the week. Boneless chicken thighs, onions, and some Thai sauces go a long way. Not only does this habit help you save time and money, but it is also a wonderful way to establish healthy eating habits.