Unfortunately, money management isn’t something that’s usually taught in school. Instead, many people have to learn through experience. This isn’t always the kindest or easiest way to learn that lifestyle expectations may not match financial realities. Spending more than you make or borrowing too much can get you in over your head quickly.
But, there are tips from money management experts people can take in stride. These pointers will help anyone avoid the financial headaches from a lack of experience and knowledge. Let’s examine each of these pieces of advice in more detail.
Establish a Budget and Stick to It
Getting help managing your money starts with knowing how much is coming in and going out. Although it’s easy to determine your income, knowing what you’re spending each month is more difficult. The big expenses like rent or a house payment may be simple to track, but it’s all the little items that can surprise anyone. That’s why the experts recommend tracking all monthly expenses for a while.
When people document and add up their expenses, including clothes and gas, most are surprised. While that $6 cup of coffee might not seem like a lot, spend that much every morning for a month and see it turn into $168. That money could be spent on utilities or put in a savings account instead.
Once you’ve tracked, added up, and categorized your expenses, prioritize them. Obviously, most people can’t skip the rent or mortgage payment, and it’s not a good idea to let the electric, gas, or water bills go unpaid. If there are items like ordering takeout or coffeehouse drinks that can go, formulate a plan to meet those needs differently. Start cooking or brewing that coffee in a to-go cup at home.
Save as Much as Possible
Establishing an emergency fund should be everyone’s top priority when it comes to a savings and investment plan. Any money that’s left after expenses should go towards building a reserve to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses. Stashing away a year or two’s worth of monthly expenses is even better. If you experience a job loss or medical emergency, that money can help pay the bills while you’re not earning a steady income.
After building an emergency fund, start investing and saving for retirement. If an employer offers a 401(k) with matching contributions, take full advantage of it. Those matching contributions are, essentially, an annual raise you don’t have to ask for. And putting money into mutual funds, stocks, and bonds can pay off in the long run through compound interest and income payments when someone is no longer able to work.
Nearly everyone has to take out a loan for the big items in life, such as a house or car. But, whenever possible, save up as much cash as you can for large expenses. Putting more money down on a house, for example, lowers loan amounts and interest expenses. Also, limit credit cards to one or two, and anticipate larger expenses so you can start a savings plan ahead of time.
Money management isn’t necessarily rocket science, but people are often tempted to spend more than they make. Establishing a budget and monitoring spending forms the foundation of any sound management plan. Limiting borrowing and saving for the future are also crucial tactics.