Financial issues are always a huge source of stress. Money determines so much of what your life will be like, and what you’ll be able to do with it. More than that, when you’re worrying about something as important as the money it can be difficult to relax and enjoy the things that are going well. It can be so stressful that your finances never get addressed properly.
Like most things when we end up procrastinating, taking a first step is not as hard as we imagine. Breaking the issue up into a few straightforward areas, and then taking it step by step, turns an insurmountable task into a manageable one.
Managing Your Money
1. Write Out A Budget
Make an honest list of where your money is going. Everyone has bills like rent or mortgage, car payments, utility bills, and some other expenses that are consistent every month. Other expenses like food and entertainment costs can be a little more variable. It’s these costs, which aren’t fixed; that can eat into your money. Looking back at past months can give you a better idea how much you’re spending on them.
2. Trim Expenses
Now that you know what you are spending your money on, you know what you don’t need to be spending your money on. Get your spending under control, and you’ll have a much easier time managing your finances. It’s a common sense move, but it is the single thing you can do that will have the biggest impact.
3. Pay Off Debt
Most Americans carry huge debts of one kind or another. In the US, we have over 800 billion total dollars of debt, and other countries have a similar debt load. And interest can make the total amount you owe balloon over the lifetime of your debt, so you end up paying two or three times the original principal. But, pay that debt down, and you’ll not only be in a better financial position, you’ll probably sleep better as well.
4. Save What You Can
Now that you’re paying what you need to, what should you do with all that extra money you’ve got lying around? It’s not a terrible idea to indulge a little bit, but putting a solid plan for saving money in place is essential. Decide how much you want to save, and on what schedule, whether it is a monthly goal or a percentage of a paycheck. It’s your money, so find something that works for you.
5. Add To Your Income
There are lots of ways to add a little bit to your income. We’re not talking about a whole other job here. Doing a few simple things can put extra money in your pocket. Companies might pay you a few dollars for filling out questionnaires. Some people find ways to make their hobbies pay. There are always opportunities, once you start looking for them.
6. Maintaining Is Cheaper Than Replacing
Sometimes it can seem like a car mechanic is running a racket, the amount they charge. Being a plumber can seem like a great idea when you see their hourly rate. But fixing your car is almost certainly less expensive than buying a new one, and getting someone how knows what they’re doing to fix that leak is better than flooding the basement. Keep your stuff in good repair, and it will last longer, and cost less in the long run.
7. Use What You Have
Modern society throws a lot of stuff out, and a lot of that so-called ‘waste’ is still perfectly good. It’s not necessary to go out dumpster diving, or anything extreme like that. But, you can almost always find ways to reuse what you have.
Managing Your Lifestyle
8. Assess Your Relationship With Money
Some people have a weird relationship with money. There are the people who use it to keep score, and who make a point of collecting as much as possible. Other people don’t think money is a big deal and don’t seem to notice when it goes as quickly as it comes. A healthy relationship is somewhere in between. Respect money for the central place it has in our society, but understand it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
9. Your Money May Not Be Just Your Money
Most people have others that depend on them, or at least are interested in their welfare. You share your finances with your significant other, whether it’s a formal relationship or not. Your parents would probably help out if you get in trouble, but that is going to impact their finances as much as yours. Keep in mind that your choices have consequences beyond yourself.
10. Think Ahead
Making money decisions on a whim is usually a terrible idea. Blowing fifty bucks on dinner may not break you. Spending a couple hundred bucks on a new toy can have a big impact, though, on your ability to pay bills. Even if you have savings, it’s not there to save you from bad choices. Think about what you’re going to need before you need it.
11. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For More
Fixed prices are rarely fixed. Big box stores will often match prices, so doing a little research can pay off. Employers will sometimes negotiate for better salary or benefits, and sales people will usually work with you to make a sale. It never hurts to ask for a better deal, and it can often pay off.
12. Live Within Your Means
This is more than just making a budget. This is about your expectations, and how you expect to meet them. If you want to live like a big shot, but don’t have that kind of income, you’re going to end up in trouble at some point. Your lifestyle is about more than your finances, but poor money management can have a big impact on your life.
13. Take Care of Your Credit Score
Credit and debt are not a bad thing, in and of themselves. They can help you get some of those things, like cars and houses that would be difficult or impossible to pay for all at once. If you can manage them well, there’s no reason not to use it. Your credit score is going to determine what sort of credit is open to you, and how you’re able to use it.
14. Educate Yourself
Finance can seem like a bewildering subject, but the stuff most people need to understand to be successful is actually not that complex. There are also lots of resources out there to help you understand. It’s tough to make a good choice if you don’t know what’s going on.
Plan For The Future
15. Set Financial Goals
You have to set your priorities. Is it better to have a new car, or pay off the debt quickly? That’s up to you, and will depend on what you think is best, and what you want to do down the road. Setting a few goals can make many decisions easier, as you’ll have something concrete to work towards.
16. Prepare For Your Retirement
One day you’re going to want to lay back and take it easy. A real retirement increasingly seems like an impossible dream for a lot of people. But, if you start preparing for it now and take that preparation seriously, you can retire with financial stability. Again, there are a lot of resources out there to help you, and a solid retirement plan offers tremendous peace of mind.