Managing money is just like any other job or task – you need the right tools to do a good job.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of fantastic tools to help you make smart money decisions and stay super organized.
In this episode I’ll give you 5 of my favorite financial and productivity tools that I use on a regular basis. They’ll help you simplify investing, pay bills on time, stick to a spending plan, and stay organized for tax purposes, so you can take your money management skills to the next level with less time and hassle..
5 Online Tools to Manage Money and Fix Your Finances
1) Carousel Checks
If you’re a regular reader or listener of the Money Girl podcast, you know that I love online bill pay and rarely write paper checks. However, I do keep a few paper checks on hand in case I need to pay someone quickly who doesn’t accept a credit or debit card or even have a bank account.
Buying a package of checks from the bank is expensive and typically includes way more checks than I will ever need. So I was excited to find Carousel Checks because they offer up to 80% off bank prices and have orders as small as ½ box of quality checks for $3.99. When you order online, all you need is your bank routing number and your account number(s), and the package arrives safely at your door.
But I recommend that you take advantage of free online bill pay so you can make payments with a couple of clicks and cut of the cost of checks, envelopes, and stamps altogether. Plus, you can schedule payments in advance so you never miss a bill due date, which is key to maintaining or building great credit.
And speaking of your credit, you can get your credit report for free every 12 months from 3 of the nationwide credit agencies at annualcreditreport.com. This is the official credit site where you can view or download your credit files from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
I have a sister-in-law who’s also named Laura Adams. Many years ago I found some of her information on my credit report. Ever since then I’ve been diligent about checking my credit reports on a regular basis.
Since you can get one report per year, and there are 3 nationwide credit agencies, I pull one from a different agency every 4 months. For instance, I get my report from Experian in January, from Equifax in May, and from TransUnion in September.
That allows me to check my credit 3 times per year instead of just once. You get the chance to find errors or fraudulent activity more quickly than waiting a full year to pull reports from all 3 agencies at once.
If you want to see what’s in your credit file and protect yourself against errors that may be pulling down your credit scores for free, you should definitely take advantage of annualcreditreport.com. And by the way, checking your own credit never hurts your credit score.
If you’re like me, you have dozens or even hundreds of logins and passwords for various sites. While it may be easy to use the same password for everything, it puts you at increased risk for identity theft. So I use Roboform to manage all my password information and can’t imagine being online without it.
One of the best features of Roboform is the password generator that allows you to create strong, unique passwords for each site without the hassle of having to remember them. Your user names and passwords are kept in one place so you can log in to all of your favorite sites quickly and securely. You just need to remember one master password that unlocks all your passwords.
There are different Roboform versions for PC, Mac, and mobile devices. The software is very secure and is even used by the U.S. government. It’s a great tool that will save you a huge amount of time and give you an added layer of protection against cyber crime, especially for your financial accounts.
See also: 6 Simple Tools to Protect Your Privacy and Prevent Identity Theft
4) Quicken and QuickBooks
I don’t want to give away my age, but let’s just say that I have been using the Intuit products Quicken and QuickBooks for almost half of my life and find them invaluable.
Quicken has all the functionality you need for managing your household finances, while QuickBooks gives you more flexibility if you have a small or medium-size business. They aggregate all of your financial accounts into one dashboard and keep track of every transaction.
Both Quicken and QuickBooks allow you to categorize transactions, create budgets to track spending, pay bills automatically, and create a huge variety of reports. These are fantastic financial tools that can help you stay organized and on track to achieve your financial goals. Plus, it will save you loads of time when it comes to preparing for your annual tax returns.
My personal and business tax information is so organized that all I have to do is run a few reports at the beginning of each year. I use the desktop version but you can also use QuickBooks Online.
While you may have heard me call out Betterment as a Money Girl podcast sponsor, I was actually investing through them way before that relationship began. I like their platform because it’s really simple and easy to understand.
You can invest money in a regular taxable account or in a traditional or Roth IRA. You can even move an old workplace retirement account such as a 401(k) into a Betterment rollover IRA.
What’s unique about Betterment is that instead of having to choose specific investments, such as a stock or mutual fund, you simply follow the steps to indicate your time horizon and risk tolerance. They do the rest to make sure that your investments are aligned with your goals.
As I mentioned, I have an account with Betterment and have set my family members up with them as well because they make investing so intuitive and easy. So, if you’re intimidated by starting a retirement account or are looking for an easy way to roll over an old workplace 401(k), Betterment is a radically easy option.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your debt—or you have it under control, but just want to get rid of it faster—there are some smart strategies to consider. However, if you’re not careful, some can backfire and actually hurt your finances instead of helping you get ahead.
In this episode, I’ll cover one type of debt management strategy, which is using balance transfer credit cards. You’ll understand the right way to use them you so you can cut your interest expense, save money, and get out of debt faster.
Resource: To learn smart strategies to manage and get out of debt fast, check out DominateYourDebt.com.
What Is a Balance Transfer Credit Card?
A balance transfer credit card is a special type of card that offers low or 0% interest for a certain amount of time, which is known as the promotional period. Promotions vary depending on the card, but are generally in the range of 6 to 24 months.
The longer the promotion, the better. Until it expires, you can keep a balance on the card without having to pay one penny of interest on 0% offers.
Let’s say you’re carrying a $5,000 balance on an expensive credit card that charges 22% interest. If you move it to a transfer card that charges 0% for the first 12 months, you’ll save about $875 during the promotional period. But after the promotion is up, a higher interest rate goes into effect for any remaining balance.
When you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, you’re given a credit limit, just like with other types of cards. You can set up a transfer using your card’s online account, or using paper convenience checks, in an amount up to your available credit limit. The transfer card sends money to the account you want to pay down, and then moves the balance to your new card.
Transfer cards aren’t just for paying off credit cards: you can also use them to pay off other types of debt, such as car loans, personal loans, and retail accounts. Many come with a deadline, such as 30 or 60 days, for new customers to complete a balance transfer. So be ready to make the move as soon as you’re approved, so you don’t miss the savings opportunity.
The downside of these cards is that every time you transfer a balance, you’re typically charged a transfer fee in the range of 3% to 5%. For instance, a card with a 3% fee means that you’d owe $150 for a $5,000 transfer. That would increase your debt from $5,000 to $5,150. However, some cards have no transfer fees, which is a terrific offer to take advantage of when you see it!
The best way to use a balance transfer card is to have a solid plan to pay off your balance before the promotional rate expires.
Here’s an example of a situation when doing a balance transfer makes sense: Let’s say you’re having a good year at work and are going to get a $5,000 bonus within six months. You plan to use the bonus to wipe out your $4,000 credit card debt, but nstead of waiting for the bonus to arrive, you pay off the credit card debt with a transfer card that charges 0% interest for six months.
If your minimum payment on the old credit card was $120, now you can save that amount each month instead – so over six months, you could save a total of $720. Once you receive your bonus, you would pay off the transfer card in full, before the 0% interest offer expires.
But if you’re not positive that you can pay off the full amount in time, don’t risk doing a balance transfer. When the music stops playing and the promotional period ends, you might get stuck with a higher interest rate than you started with. That’s why it’s important to know what the card’s regular interest rate will be after the promotion.
Another tip for using a transfer card wisely is to avoid making new purchases while you have a transfer balance. One reason is because cards typically only offer the low or 0% rate for your transfers, not for your new purchases.
Additionally, if you have both a 0% balance and a higher rate new purchase balance on the same card, you can’t tell the issuer how to apply your payments. Most card companies will apply your minimum payment to the lower interest debt first. That’s in the card company’s best interest, but not in yours.
Having more money applied to a 0% balance, instead of a higher rate balance, means it’ll take you longer to pay off the more expensive debt. Therefore, to avoid this issue, don’t use a balance transfer card for new purchases until you pay off your promotional balance in full.
See also: Pay Lower Interest Rates on Debt and Save Money
How to Choose the Best Balance Transfer Credit Card
When choosing a balance transfer card, look for one with the lowest transfer fee and the lowest promotional rate that lasts the longest period of time. And if you plan to use the card after the promotional period ends, also look for one with no annual fee and a low regular interest rate.
Also, before you pull the trigger on doing a balance transfer, make sure that you understand all the card terms. Be extremely cautious; there are severe penalties buried in the fine print that can sneak up on you.
For example, one late payment on most balance transfer cards results in a rate hike into the stratosphere. Many default rates can approach 30%! You can also lose your promotional interest rate if you exceed your card’s credit limit or have a payment returned due to insufficient funds in your bank account.
Maintaining good credit scores is a fundamental part of a healthy financial life. Having no or poor credit means you could:
Have trouble getting a loan or mortgage
Pay more for insurance
Get turned down to rent an apartment
Be denied certain government benefits
Miss out on job opportunities that require a credit check
For the unwary, there are many credit pitfalls that can hurt you. In this post I’ll answer reader questions and cover 7 credit traps that could upset your finances if you’re not looking out for them.
Free Resource: Credit Score Survival Kit—download Laura’s tutorial for strategies to build and maintain excellent credit for life!
7 Credit Score Traps You Should Avoid
Pay attention to the following situations so they don’t come between you and a great credit score.
1. Getting talked into a retail store credit card
A Money Girl Podcast listener named Rhianne says, “I was recently kind of tricked into getting a retail store credit card because the clerk never mentioned the word credit. I closed the account as soon as I got home, but am very stressed out about it. Will I still owe money on the account?”
Signing up for a retail card at check out is one of the most common credit traps. You know the drill. We’ve all heard the enticing question, “Would you like to save 20% on your purchases today?”
There are pros and cons to retail store cards to consider before you make a split-second decision that may not be in your best interest.
A couple of major advantages you typically get with a store card are rewards—such as discounts, coupons, cash back, special promotions, or free shipping—and the opportunity to build credit (when you use the card responsibly, of course). I have a retail credit card with a store where I shop frequently and it saves me a lot of money.
The disadvantages include having a new spending temptation to use all those rewards, low credit limits, high interest rates, and a ding to your credit for making a new application.
Hard credit inquiries stay on your credit report for up to 2 years, which means they can hurt your ability to qualify for other accounts you may want or cause you to pay higher interest rates for them.
Rhianne asked if her canceled store card would cost her more money. Once she pays off the balance, no more interest will be charged, and the account will be dead. But even though she closed the account, it will remain on her credit report for up to 10 years. Cancelling a credit card, even immediately after you get it, doesn’t make it disappear from your credit history.
2. Keeping a credit card balance
Many people are confused about how a credit card can be a powerful tool to improve your personal finances. They mistakenly believe that you have to carry a balance from month-to-month and pay interest in order to build credit. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Paying your credit card bill in full every month builds credit the same way as paying just the minimum balance. You don’t get more credit for paying off your entire balance—but you do save a lot of interest.
I strongly recommend that you pay off your credit card bills in full every month so you get a double benefit: paying no interest and building credit. When you follow this rule, having a high interest rate on a card doesn’t even matter because you’ll never get stuck paying it.
Also see: 8 Credit Card FAQs and Tips to Build Credit
3. Having a high credit utilization ratio
Your credit utilization ratio is a major factor in your credit scores, but too few people understand it or use it strategically. The ratio is a simple formula that divides your outstanding balance on a revolving account, such as a credit card or a line of credit, by your credit limit on the account.
For example, if you owe $500 on a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit, you have a 50% ($500 / $1,000 = 0.50) credit utilization. Your ratio tells potential lenders and merchants how much credit you’re using.
The lower your ratio the better. Low utilization says you’re using credit responsibly. High utilization says you’re maxed out and could even be close to missing a payment.
A good rule of thumb is to never exceed 20% to 25% of your limit on any credit account—even if you pay off high balances every month. To learn more, read or listen to episode 270 called Credit Utilization—What It Means for Your Credit Score.
4. Being an authorized user on a delinquent account
A credit card authorized user is someone a card owner adds to his or her account. The user has permission to have a card and make charges, but isn’t responsible for any amount of debt on the account.
Becoming an authorized user is generally a great strategy for building credit because the card’s activity shows up on your credit report—as long as the card company reports it to the credit bureaus. However, being an authorized user can backfire and be a huge credit trap if the primary cardholder doesn’t make payments on time.
Anything negative that appears on your credit file—even if you don’t own the account—will hurt your credit if you don’t take quick action. So don’t allow a cardholder’s negative history to also drag down your credit.
To protect yourself, review your credit report on a regular basis. Watch out for red flags, such as late payments and high balances. You can contact the card company and ask to be removed as a user on the account.
Also dispute the user account with each of the credit bureaus that reports the negative information on your credit report. How it’s resolved will depend on state law and whether you’re married to the card owner.
See Also: Credit Card Authorized Users—How to Avoid Getting Burned.
A good rule of thumb is to never exceed 20% to 25% of your limit on any credit account—even if you pay off high balances every month.
5. Not paying medical bills
Medical bills are the most common kind of past due debt; they show up as bad marks on the credit reports of one in five U.S. adults. But many people mistakenly believe that past due medical bills don’t count against you or cause problems for your credit. That’s absolutely not true.
When a doctor, dentist, or hospital turns your account over to a collections agency, it hurts your credit just like any other collection account. However, recent regulatory changes require national credit bureaus to wait 180 days before adding past due medical debt to your credit report. That gives you more time to navigate the complex world of medical billing and health insurance.
In addition, FICO, one of the most well known credit scoring companies, introduced a new scoring model called FICO 9. This version gives less weight to unpaid medical collection accounts. Lenders don’t have to use it, but it’s a step in the right direction for consumers.
A podcast listener named Erica says, “I have health insurance through work and my domestic partner is covered under my policy. He had surgery in April, but is behind on paying for it. If the medical bills are in his name only, can it still affect my credit?”
Medical bills that are not in your name, won’t affect your credit, even if you share the same insurance. That’s because you owe money to the hospital or doctor, not the insurance company.
However, when you’re married and live in a community property state, both spouses are equally responsible for debt created during your marriage. I covered more about this topic in last week’s post, The Truth About Debt and Death.
6. Avoiding credit accounts
I received an iTunes podcast review that criticized my recommendation to use credit cards to build good credit. The reviewer said, “A recent episode suggested owning 2 credit cards. How is that good advice to live a richer life? Someone’s goal should not be to have a good credit score, it should be to not need a credit score.”
The show he or she is referring to is episode 408, called How Many Credit Cards Should You Have for Good Credit? In it I answer a question about why a card company could unexpectedly close your account, how it affects your credit, and how to use cards strategically.
No matter if you agree with the credit system in the U.S. or not, having poor credit is expensive and will affect your quality of life.
No matter if you agree with the credit system in the U.S. or not, having poor credit is expensive and will affect your quality of life. That’s why your goal should be to have a great credit score.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your credit affects whether you can get a car loan or mortgage and how much it will cost. For instance, paying 5% instead of 4% for a $200,000, 30-year mortgage will cost you an extra $45,000 in interest.
A recent insuranceQuotes study found that having poor credit causes you to pay double for home insurance on average than when you have excellent credit. Even having median credit costs you an additional 32% nationwide.
They also studied the effect of credit on auto insurance and found similar results: poor credit causes your auto policy to rise 91% and median credit bumps your rate 24% on average.
I covered more about this topic in podcast 415, called The Truth About Credit and Insurance Rates.
7. Not having an emergency fund
I podcast listener named Thomesa says, “I enjoy your podcast and being a part of your Dominate Your Dollars Facebook group. My goal is to become a homeowner, but my credit is terrible due to a divorce. I had to stop paying my credit cards and they went into collections.
But I’m earning more money now and have paid off or settled all of the balances. I have several unsecured cards and one secured card that I pay off in full every month. What else can I do to improve my credit and how long will it take?”
Thomesa didn’t mention if she had a financial safety net or not prior to her divorce. Many times we fall into the trap of using credit cards as a substitute for emergency savings because we’re not prepared financially for a crisis.
It’s great to have credit as a fallback, but racking up interest is expensive and not keeping up with minimum payments can ruin your credit. I’m glad Thomesa cleaned up her debt and will have a better financial future.
How long it takes to bounce back from poor credit depends on many factors, such as whether you declared bankruptcy, how good your credit was to begin with, and if you make any additional late payments.
Accounts that go into collections remain on your credit history for 7 years. However, recent good credit behavior—such as making payments on time and keeping a low utilization ratio—begin to overshadow a negative history over time.
I can’t say exactly when Thomesa’s credit scores will trend up, but if she shows responsible behavior and payment patterns, she should see positive movement within 18 to 24 months.
If your credit is in bad shape or you’re just starting to build credit from scratch, you might feel shut out of opportunities to borrow money. While having bad credit can be a roadblock when applying for a loan from a traditional lender, the good news is that there are alternative options.
In this article I’ll cover 6 ways to get a loan when your credit is less than perfect.
Free Resource: Richer Life Lab Podcast—gives you everything you need to take control and upgrade your money, career, and life! Follow along for inspiration that sparks a revolution in your mindset and results.
How to Check your Credit Report
If you live in the U.S. before applying for a loan, I recommend that you take some time to review each of your credit reports with the three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Federal law requires each of the bureaus to give you a free credit report every 12 months if you request it. You can get your reports from the individual bureaus or access all of them at annualcreditreport.com.
Any inaccurate information—such as late payments, accounts you don’t recognize, or open balances that were previously paid off—could be dragging down your credit scores without you knowing it. Lower credit scores typically cause you to pay higher interest rates on credit cards and loans, so cleaning up your credit file can really pay off.
If you have old debt in collections, consider negotiating a settlement with your creditors. Arranging a payment agreement today won’t remove the bad debt from your report tomorrow, but it helps clean up your report.
Remember that credit accounts remain on your credit history for many years after you pay them off. Debts with positive payment history stay in your credit file for 10 years and those with negative information stick around for 7 years. So even after you settle or pay off a bad debt, it always remains on your credit history for 7 years after the date you originally became delinquent.
See also: The Statute of Limitations and 4 Options for Old Debt
6 Options to Get a Loan with Bad Credit
No matter if you’ve already been turned down for a loan or you just like the idea of using a non-traditional lender, here are 6 options to get a loan when you don’t have excellent credit:
1: Apply for a loan at a credit union
Since the purpose of a credit union is to serve its members, they’re known for offering top-notch customer service and can be more flexible and forgiving of consumers who have less than perfect credit.
Credit unions are similar to banks; however, they aren’t legally allowed to serve the general public like banks do, so you have to be a member.
Different credit unions have different membership requirements, such as working for a certain employer, in a particular industry, or living in a certain city or county. However, in some cases joining can be as simple as making a one-time $10 donation to a charity that the credit union supports. Also, most credit unions extend eligibility to the immediate family of all their members.
Since the purpose of a credit union is to serve its members, they’re known for offering top-notch customer service and can be more flexible and forgiving of consumers who have less than perfect credit. Additionally, they generally offer competitive interest rates that can save you money.
2: Use alternative lenders
Traditional brick-and-mortar banks tend to have stringent underwriting guidelines for loans. However, there are many alternative companies that offer loans even if you have average or poor credit.
Check out these online lenders:
- SoFi – uses a modern, radical approach to lending that evaluates applicants based on a holistic view of their financial well-being rather than on their credit score. They offer student loan refinancing, personal loans, and mortgages based on factors such as your career experience, income versus expenses, financial history, and education.
- Avant – looks at a variety of factors when determining your eligibility for a personal loan. Checking your rate results in a soft credit inquiry, which doesn’t hurt your credit.
- LendingTree – is an online lending exchange that connects borrowers with multiple lenders, banks, and credit partners who compete for your business, even if you have bad credit.
Some lenders allow you to get rate quotes with a soft inquiry to your credit report that doesn’t affect your credit—but many do a hard inquiry that will temporarily ding your scores
The best way to shop for loans is to submit all your applications within a one- to two-week period. Credit bureau algorithms know that a few credit inquiries within a short timeframe mean that you’re shopping and will only be counted as a single inquiry.
3: Try marketplace lenders
Marketplace or peer-to-peer lenders connect people who need money with investors who want to make loans, which creates a win-win transaction.
Marketplace or peer-to-peer lenders connect people who need money with investors who want to make loans, which creates a win-win transaction. This option is exploding in popularity because borrowers pay less interest than they would to a traditional bank and investors earn above average returns.
You create a profile and post a loan listing that investors can review and choose to fund. Many are willing to take a chance on borrowers with average or low credit scores.
Check out these popular marketplace lenders:
- Lending Club
4: Appeal to a loan co-signer
If you’re having trouble qualifying for a loan on your own, consider finding someone with good credit to be your co-signer. Maybe you have a family member or friend who trusts you enough to share responsibility for a debt.
When you co-sign a loan, the payment history gets reported on both of your credit reports, even if only one co-signer makes the payments. That means if you make payments on time, it benefits both of your credit reports and helps increase both of your credit scores.
However, making late payments damages both of your credit files. And if you default, the lender will hold both of you equally responsible for repaying the full amount of outstanding debt.
5: Use a home equity line of credit
If you’re a homeowner and have enough equity in your property, you may qualify for a low-interest home equity line of credit (HELOC). It’s a second mortgage that you can access as needed using a paper check or debit card.
With a HELOC, you’re limited by the total amount of the credit line offered and only pay interest on the amount you take out. Plus, up to $100,000 of the loan or credit line is tax deductible.
Your credit score typically doesn’t play a role in your loan’s approval or the interest rate you pay for a HELOC because your home is the collateral. That’s great if your credit isn’t good. However, the big drawback to a loan that’s secured by your home is that if you don’t make payments, you could lose your home.
So before tapping your home’s equity always be sure that you have secure and steady income. You can apply for a HELOC with the lender that handles your first mortgage or shop around with other banks or credit unions.
6: Take a loan from family or friends
If you accept a loan from family or friends, view it as a business transaction and create a proper loan agreement to avoid future disagreements.
If you can’t get a loan using these 5 options, the 6th is to borrow from someone you know. Taking a loan from family or friends is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly since feuds over money can destroy relationships.
If you accept a loan from family or friends, view it as a business transaction and create a proper loan agreement to avoid future disagreements.
ZimpleMoney and LendingKarma are unique platforms that manage person-to-person loans. Both handle loan documents and payment arrangements to make your life easier. You can also draft your own promissory note with the agreed upon loan terms using sites like Rocket Lawyer or LegalZoom.
Would you be interested if I told you there’s a secret to saving money? Well, it’s true. There are a few secrets that can be used to save money, even if it doesn’t feel like you have any money to save. The bad news is that these secrets have been made public for decades and it’s simply up to you to decide whether or not to use them.
First, you need to create a budget.
I know what you’re thinking, but before you can even dream about saving money you have to know where your money is going. There’s simply no way around it. How can you decide where to make cuts or find extra cash to save if you have no idea where all of your money is going? You can’t. So, it’s time to create a budget.
The thing is, you don’t have to make it a chore. In fact, many successful people get through life without tracking every single penny each and every day. You can probably get by doing the same. Initially, you do have to at least sit down and find out where your money is going. How much is being spent on housing, utilities, groceries, debt, and entertainment? Once you have created a clear picture of where your money goes in a typical month you can begin to spot trends and problem areas. After you’ve found the problem areas you’ll have a better idea of where you can cut back and by how much.
Then you can use that money to apply to your savings.
As you can see, the idea is to paint a picture of where your money is going and isn’t so much about tracking every single dollar you spend throughout the day. Yes, that can also be a helpful exercise to keep spending under control, but that’s also what turns most people off of budgeting after just a few weeks.
2. Paying Yourself First
After you’ve identified where your money is going you should have a few spare dollars to put aside into your savings or a retirement plan like a 401(k). That’s a great start, but there’s another secret to saving money: paying yourself first.
You’ve probably heard that phrase before, but it’s so common because it works. If you’re like most people you probably wait until your paycheck hits your checking account, you pay the bills and buy the weekly groceries before deciding how much you can afford to deposit into savings. By then the amount may be small and you’re worried you might need those few dollars later in the week so you avoid putting any money into savings at all. Big mistake.
You need to think of your savings just like you would any other bill. When your electric bill comes each month what do you do? You make sure it gets paid, right? That’s how you need to treat your savings account. If your goal is to save $100 a month then think of that as a $100 bill that needs to be paid.
If you are thinking about this in terms of a bill you’re more likely to make that deposit and build up your emergency fund.
Just thinking about your monthly savings as a bill isn’t enough, and that’s where you have to pay yourself first. You need to create an automatic savings plan that will automatically deposit money into your savings account before you even have a chance to spend it. This can be done right through your employer’s direct deposit or with a recurring transfer with your bank. And just like magic, you don’t even miss the money going into savings each week, yet your savings account begins growing over time.
3. Spend Less Than You Earn
This is the holy grail of personal finance, but if you can’t utilize this secret you’ll never be able to save money. You simply have to spend less money than you earn and there’s no way around that. It’s all about cash flow.
If you earn $100 and spend $110 you’re now at a -$10. Where does that extra ten dollars come from? Usually, it’s borrowed money, either from a credit card or some sort of loan. And guess what? That borrowed money comes with interest. That means you’re actually more than ten dollars in the hole. As you begin to do this on a regular basis month after month and with large dollar amounts it’s easy to see how someone can get tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which is exactly why most people feel as if they don’t have any money to save.
As this debt mounts you may find yourself just making the minimum payments each month, but that in turn just means you’ll be spending the next ten or twenty years paying for something you couldn’t afford, spending thousands on interest.
You Can Save Money
Do those secrets sound like common sense? They should. Most of us know that we need to budget our money, put money aside for the future, and stay out of debt, but many of us still can’t do it. Unfortunately, short of winning the lottery, there are no secrets to building wealth. These three sound money management principles are the foundation of personal finance.
One thing is certain. If you can budget your money so that you are spending less than you earn and put some of that money into a savings or retirement account before you have time to spend it, you will be able to save money and build wealth.
Keys to Financial Success Although making resolutions to improve your financial situation is a good thing to do at any time of year, many people find it easier at the beginning of a new year. Regardless of when you begin, the basics remain the same. Here are my top ten keys to getting ahead financially
1. Keep Good Records
If you don’t keep good records, you’re probably not claiming all your allowable income tax deductions and credits. Set up a system now and use it all year. It’s much easier than scrambling to find everything at tax time, only to miss items that might have saved you money.
How are you doing on the top ten list? If you’re not doing at least six of the ten, resolve to make improvements. Choose one area at a time and set a goal for incorporating all ten into your lifestyle.
2. Get Paid What You’re Worth and Spend Less Than You Earn
It sounds simplistic, but many people struggle with this first basic rule.
Make sure you know what your job is worth in the marketplace, by conducting an evaluation of your skills, productivity, job tasks, contribution to the company, and the going rate, both inside and outside the company, for what you do. Being underpaid even a thousand dollars a year can have a significant cumulative effect over the course of your working life.
No matter how much or how little you’re paid, you’ll never get ahead if you spend more than you earn. Often it’s easier to spend less than it is to earn more, and a little cost-cutting effort in a number of areas can result in big savings. It doesn’t always have to involve making big sacrifices.
3. Stick to a Budget
One of my favorite subjects: budgeting. It’s not a four-letter word. How can you know where your money is going if you don’t budget?
How can you set spending and saving goals if you don’t know where your money is going? You need a budget whether you make thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
4. Pay Off Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt is the number one obstacle to getting ahead financially.
Those little pieces of plastic are so easy to use, and it’s so easy to forget that it’s real money we’re dealing with when we whip them out to pay for a purchase, large or small. Despite our good resolves to pay the balance off quickly, the reality is that we often don’t, and end up paying far more for things than we would have paid if we had used cash.
5. Contribute to a Retirement Plan
If your employer has a 401(k) plan and you don’t contribute to it, you’re walking away from one of the best deals out there. Ask your employer if they have a 401(k) plan (or similar plan), and sign up today. If you’re already contributing, try to increase your contribution. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, consider an IRA.
6. Have a Savings Plan
You’ve heard it before: Pay yourself first! If you wait until you’ve met all your other financial obligations before seeing what’s left over for saving, chances are you’ll never have a healthy savings account or investments.
Resolve to set aside a minimum of 5% to 10% of your salary for savings BEFORE you start paying your bills. Better yet, have money automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into a separate account.
If you’re contributing to a retirement plan and a savings account and you can still manage to put some money into other investments, all the better.
8. Maximize Your Employment Benefits
Employment benefits like a 401(k) plan, flexible spending accounts, medical and dental insurance, etc., are worth big bucks. Make sure you’re maximizing yours and taking advantage of the ones that can save you money by reducing taxes or out-of-pocket expenses.
9. Review Your Insurance Coverages
Too many people are talked into paying too much for life and disability insurance, whether it’s by adding these coverages to car loans, buying whole-life insurance policies when term-life makes more sense, or buying life insurance when you have no dependents. On the other hand, it’s important that you have enough insurance to protect your dependents and your income in the case of death or disability.
10. Update Your Will
70% of Americans don’t have a will. If you have dependents, no matter how little or how much you own, you need a will. If your situation isn’t too complicated you can even do your own with software like WillMaker from Nolo Press. Protect your loved ones. Write a will.
While it might seem like using credit cards could hurt your finances because of the potential to rack up a huge amount of debt, you might be surprised that using debit cards can also be risky—but for different reasons.
In this episode, you’ll learn 6 risky situations when you should never use a debit card. I’ll review your liability and consumer rights for using debit and credit cards so you know the right way to use each one to stay safe
The Differences Between Debit and Credit Cards
Although debit and credit cards may look the same, they’re completely different financial tools. I’m sure you’re familiar with how they work:
A credit card allows you to make purchases using borrowed money that you have to pay back with interest over time.
A debit card allows you to make purchases using your own money that’s linked to a bank checking or savings account.
But what you may not know is that credit and debit cards offer very different levels of legal and financial protection. Debit cards give you fewer rights than a credit card, so it’s important to understand your potential liability. In just a moment, I’ll explain six of the riskiest situations to use a debit card.
What’s the Risk of Using a Credit Card?
First, let’s cover what happens if someone steals your credit card. Fortunately, you get some really nice protection thanks to a federal law called the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA).
This law is one of the reasons why I prefer using credit instead of debit. The FCBA says that if a thief takes your card or even just steals the card number and takes off on a shopping spree, you’re responsible for no more than $50.
It doesn’t matter if a cyber criminal hacks your credit card number online and then uses it to kick back in a 5-star hotel in Maui for a week, you won’t have to pay more than $50. Plus, many credit card issuers offer fraud protection that completely eliminates your liability.
The protection gets even better if you become aware that your credit card is lost or stolen and report it before unauthorized charges are made. In that case, you’re not even responsible for $50—you’re completely off the hook!
The FCBA protects you from unauthorized charges on revolving accounts, including credit cards, charge cards, retail store cards, gas cards, and lines of credit. The law also protects you against other issues like being charged for unaccepted goods, undelivered goods, or other formal disputes you make.
These are terrific protections that should make you feel confident about using a credit card in stores or online.
Free Resource: Laura’s Recommended Tools—use them to earn more, save more, and accomplish more with your money!
What’s the Risk of Using an ATM or Debit Card?
Now, let’s review what happens if someone steals your ATM or debit card. These cards are regulated by a federal law called the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.
Many people mistakenly believe that because their bank is FDIC-insured, their money is protected from theft. This is dead wrong. The FDIC reimburses you up to a certain amount if your bank goes out of business, but not if a criminal accesses your bank accounts and steals your money.
Your liability for fraudulent charges on a debit card depends on how quickly you report it lost or stolen. Unlike a credit card, your liability with a debit card is not capped at $50—it’s unlimited. Here’s how it works:
Unlike a credit card, your liability with a debit card is not capped at $50—it’s unlimited.
If you report a missing debit card before a thief uses it, you’re not responsible for any unauthorized transactions, just like with a credit card.
If you report your debit card as lost or stolen within 2 business days, you’re responsible for up to $50 only. However, if it takes you 60 days after you receive a bank statement to report unauthorized debit card charges, you’re on the hook for up to $500.
If just your debit card number is stolen while you still have the card in your possession, you have a little more protection. In that case, you’re not liable for fraudulent activity if you report it within 60 days of your statement date.
However, if it takes you more than 60 days to report fraudulent charges, you have unlimited liability. That means a thief could completely drain your bank account and get away with stealing your entire balance, plus you’ll probably have bank overdraft fees.
I use my bank’s iPhone app to check my bank accounts at least once a day. I would catch any unauthorized use immediately, report it within 2 business days, and only get stuck with a $50 liability.
But if you’re not in the habit of reviewing your bank accounts on a daily basis, please think twice about using a debit card. Or consider switching to a better bank that offers tools to make it easy to stay on top of your transactions.
In 3 Top Online Banks and 8 Banking Security Tips, I review my favorite bank accounts, so you can see how yours stacks up. I also created the Online Bank Comparison Chart (PDF), a resouce you can download for free to see a detailed review of seven of the best banks.
Now that you understand the potential risks associated with debit and credit cards, here are 6 risky situations when I recommend you never use a debit card:
1.) Shopping Online
Whenever someone tells me that they don’t need a credit card because they simply use their debit card to shop online or make travel reservations, I cringe!
One of the most important rules for using debit cards is to never use them online. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying shoes, getting concert tickets, paying your power bill, or booking a cruise vacation.
Buying anything online using a debit card makes you vulnerable to a cyber criminal who could steal your card number and drain your bank account linked to the card—unless you watch your transactions like a hawk and would catch fraud immediately.
See also: Identity Theft and Your Wallet—7 Items to Purge Now
2.) Making a Large Purchase
When you make a big purchase, like furniture, electronics, or appliances, you get much less protection if you pay with a debit card instead of using a credit card.
For instance, let’s say your furniture is delivered and you find damage that occurred during shipment. If the furniture company won’t reimburse you or exchange the merchandise, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
The card company will reverse your payment to the merchant and inform them that they’ve opened a dispute on your behalf. But if you paid with a debit card, the money is taken from your account right away. The only way to settle a dispute might be to begin an expensive lawsuit.
Additionally, many credit cards also offer extended warranties. So, if your new television has a 60-day warranty, but the display goes bad after 90 days, your credit card might protect you.
Of course you should only use a credit card if you can pay off the balance in full or if you’re intentional about financing a planned purchase using a low-rate credit card, so you pay no interest or as little as possible.
See also: How to Pay Lower Interest Rates on Debt and Save Money
3.) Dining Out
Using a debit card in a restaurant is especially dangerous because they’re one of the few places where the card leaves your sight. The server takes it away to process and you have no idea what could have happened.
Of course, someone could also steal your credit card number. But as I mentioned, since your potential liability is so much less with a credit card, paying with cash or a credit card is a smarter way to handle a restaurant bill.
4.) Buying Gas
When you swipe a debit or credit card at the pump, some gas stations place an immediate hold on your account to make sure you don’t buy more gas than you can afford.
The hold amount varies by station, but could be $100 or more, even if you only plan to buy $10 worth of gas. While this practice is almost unnoticeable on a credit card, it can be a real problem with a debit card.
Some banks may process a debit transaction at the pump for the exact amount within seconds and clear the hold immediately. But others may keep the hold for days, freezing a certain amount of money, which could cause you to bounce other payments or have new charges denied until the hold expires.
5.) Making an Upfront Deposit
Anytime you need to pay an upfront deposit for goods or services, never use a debit card. Some examples include booking travel reservations, making a deposit to order cabinets or flooring, securing freelance services, or renting equipment.
As I previously mentioned, once a debit card charge is processed and money is withdrawn from your account, it’s gone. On the other hand, putting a deposit on a credit card gives you the ability to dispute the charge and get your money back if something goes wrong.
6.) Setting Up Automatic Bill Payments
While I love the idea of setting up recurring payments to make sure expenses like loan payments, gym memberships, and utilities never fall through the cracks, it can become a bookkeeping nightmare if you don’t keep a cash cushion in your account.
To protect yourself from bank overdraft fees, consider setting up automatic payments on a credit card instead.
Free Resource: Online Bank Comparison Chart (PDF) download
Should You Use a Debit or Credit Card?
Since dealing with fraudulent charges on a credit card is easier and less costly than with a debit card, be cautious about the six situations that I covered—or paying with debit at any establishment that seems questionable.
If you have enough discipline to pay off credit card balances in full each month, they should be your primary payment method. Not only do they give you more security and purchase protections, but they also help you build credit, give you a precise record of your expenses, and allow you to earn rewards.
All of these benefits are free, as long as you pay your credit card bill in full every month. The trick to using a credit card successfully is to pretend that it’s a debit card, so you never charge more than you can pay off right away.
But if you’re not ready to use a credit card for all your purchases, simply being informed about their pros and cons compared to debit cards will help you make smarter financial decisions.
As the mom of eight kids, several who are in college, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have my eyes open to finding a new or better way to save some cash. With 11 more months to go in 2016, now is a great time to focus on money saving tips that will put a few (or hopefully more!) bucks in your family’s pocket this year.
Ibotta is a new Android and iPhone app that allows you to earn money by purchasing participating items. You can earn this money in addition to using manufacturer and store coupons. And the best part: You don’t even need your phone while you are shopping! All the work is done once you get home. Visit their website to learn more. You can either submit receipts or link to a loyalty account. I’ve been using Ibotta for a few months now and I literally feel like I’m getting paid to go shopping. It’s a no brainer for busy families.
Groupon is a deal-of-the-day recommendation service for consumers. Every 24 hours, Groupon broadcasts an electronic coupon for a restaurant or store in your city, recommending that local service while also offering you a 40% to 60% discount if you purchase that service. My family has saved more than half off of weekend getaways and some of our larger electronic purchases. If you sign up you can get daily e-mails daily about great local deals.
(1): Subscribe to Finance Blogs and Podcasts
I love the expression, “Knowledge is Power” and when it comes to finances that is certainly the case. Too often many of us shy away from money topics because we’re afraid it will be too complicated or perhaps if we ignore it, it will go away. Get into the habit of following financial blogs and podcasts such as quick and dirty tips own Laura Adams, Money Girl. Laura has over 400 helpful and timely podcasts on everything from getting a loan with bad credit to understanding your mortgage options and how to maximize your tax return. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll be with all types of financial matters including the best strategies for saving your hard-earned money.
(2): Turn it Off
Growing up as the oldest of five siblings, both parents being school teachers, we were fortunate to have teachers at our disposal all throughout our school years for help with homework, extracurricular projects, and everything else in between. One lesson that all of us learned, however, wasn’t about our ABC’s or how to multiply fractions it was to never leave a room without turning off the lights! To this day I am fastidious about not walking out of the room without flipping that switch from on to off. I’ve tried to pass this along to my kids as well because believe it or not, when we get into the habit of simply turning off the lights when we exit a room, we can potentially save hundreds of dollars a year. See Also: How to Save Money on Your Electricity Bill
(3): Order Water When Dining Out and Forget the Dessert
You can imagine what a meal out costs for a family of 10—let’s just say it ain’t cheap. We knew when we had a big family that we were going to have to cut corners to make it all work financially, so we learned early on where we could save but still get out and enjoy life. Eating out at a decent restaurant (we’re not talking pizza and burgers!) a couple times a month is something we have done regularly for the past 20 years and two ways we have cut the bill significantly is by not ordering drinks except for water (we have cocktails when we get home!) and we forget the dessert. This makes it affordable and it’s still a great night out. Another tip is to order an assortment of appetizers instead of entrees, especially if you have fussy eaters—gives a variety and no one is stuck with a meal they really aren’t crazy about.
(4): Purchasing Clothing and Shoes for Family
There’s no question that clothing can eat up a large chunk of a family’s budget, especially when you consider the cost of a single pair of kid’s sneakers these days. If you are savvy, however, and invest a little bit of time in strategizing your family’s clothing needs, you can save hundreds of dollars every year. There’s the obvious choices such as thrift and second hand stores but there are other tricks to saving money on apparel and gear such as when you shop. The best clothing sales are typically in February and August so if you can estimate your child’s size six months ahead, you can score some great deals. ShopItToMe.com is a San Francisco company that analyzes more than 750,000 sales items a year from more than 200 online retailers. By running averages, the company found the following interesting patterns:
■ Mondays: Shoppers can save nearly 50% on men’s and women’s dress pants, and about 55% on sunglasses
■ Tuesdays: Expect to save more than 40% on men’s apparel
■ Wednesdays: Shoppers save about 40% on shoes and children’s clothes
(5): Re-evaluate Your Cable Bill
We have a bundle plan in our house with our cable company, which includes a land-line, internet services, and cable. Cable companies continually run specials on various packages and when we took advantage of one a few years ago, I was stunned to learn how many extra channels we were paying for that my family never even watched. By renegotiating our bill, we saved over $60 a month and still have premium movie channels to enjoy. In addition I put a “lock” on “on-demand” movies so only a parent has the authority to purchase one.
(6): Choose Lunch Over Dinner When Dining Out
If you would like to experience nice restaurants at a better savings, in addition to only ordering water for drinks, choose lunch time to treat your family instead of dinner. Most nice restaurants have a full menu mid-day so you can fill up on a delicious meal and either have leftovers or something simple like grilled cheese for dinner.
(7): Take a Money Challenge
About ten years ago I met with a new financial planner who had a different approach to managing money. Her advice? Challenge every single expense you have and get your family on board and involved in the process. The object of this exercise was to analyze every single line item we were paying for such as different insurances, car payments, credit card payments, house taxes, cable and Internet, dance lessons, little league fees, clothing budget, grocery bill, movies and entertainment, pet care, babysitting—every single expense we had. Next she advised looking for the “fluff”—in other words, extras that we could fully cut out such as extra magazine subscriptions, costly birthday party gifts, unnecessary warranty packages, drive-thru coffee runs etc. Then, we shopped around and compared our insurance premiums, credit card rates, how much we paid for clothing and so on. This took several long periods of time we set aside to do so, but we included our older kids in the process and it was an eye opener to see what they thought they could and couldn’t live without.
(8): Have a Regular Meal Plan
As the mom of a large family and also a full-time working mother, I couldn’t survive without a regular meal plan each week. In my episode,5 Tips to Make Family Meal Planning Easier, I share the ins and outs of how my family eats on a scheduled meal plan. Not only is it a sanity saver, I’m able to save over $100 per week on our family’s grocery bill because I go to the store armed with a list of what I need and can stick to the list for the most part (especially if I shop without any kids in tow.) Because our average savings is $400 a month, sometimes more, we budget that savings towards our family’s vacation each summer. Ca-ching!
(9): Don’t Upgrade Electronics and Tech Gadgets
Technology changes so quickly that it would certainly be possible to upgrade laptops, smart phones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets on a very regular basis, and believe me, some families I know do this. If your current tech items are working just fine, save your money by hanging on and using them as long as possible. Check out Quick and Dirty Tips’ Tech Talker for dozens of informative and fun podcasts that relate to all the technical parts of your family’s life.
(10): Save Without Using Coupons
I’ll openly admit that my history with using coupons, even with a large family like mine, is not consistent. When I get inspired and am having an extremely organized phase, I’m all over coupons like flies to a dumpster. When life is moving along at my usual hectic pace, however, coupons are not usually on my radar. That’s why I love taking advantage of two other amazing sources of saving on everything from groceries to electronics and vacations—Ibotta and Groupon.
Whether you’re single because you’ve never married or are suddenly single due to divorce or death of a spouse, money management and financial planning are always critical. While many people mistakenly consider financial planning to be a couple’s or family’s exercise, it is equally as important an exercise for a single person with no dependents. As a single person, you have only yourself to depend on for income, goal-setting, decision-making, and retirement planning, which means that you need to pull together a plan.
To get started, these are the nine personal finance and money mistakes singles face that you should avoid.
1. Not Managing Debt
It can be a great tool for reaching financial goals (like owning a house), but it can also be a destructive tool (allowing you to overspend). Know exactly who you owe, how much you owe each creditor, and the interest rate on each account. Develop a plan to pay down your debt using a popular method that I call the “Credit Crunch Method,” described at the end of the article, Get Out of Debt.
2. Not Having a Budget
You’ve heard the expression: “You can’t get there from here,” right? Well, whoever coined the phrase might very well have been talking about budgets. When it comes to meeting your financial goals, without a budget you certainly can’t get there from where you are. A budget doesn’t have to be looked at as financial handcuffs or a money diet. For a more positive outlook on budgeting and all the advice you need to succeed at it, see Budgeting 101.
3. Not Having Health Insurance
It’s common to feel invincible when you’re young. Many young singles take a huge financial risk by going without health insurance because they believe their youth and good health render insurance unnecessary. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a single person.
Regardless of your age or your current health, anyone can become ill or suffer an accident. You could be in a car accident, hurt yourself skiing, tear a muscle lifting weights, fall on the ice, get mono or pneumonia, or incur any number of illnesses or injuries that would land you in the hospital and rack up large medical bills that may take you decades to pay off.
When it comes to your health and your finances, don’t be short-sighted. If you can’t afford a good plan with a low deductible, at least protect yourself from catastrophic financial losses by purchasing a less expensive plan with a high deductible. You’ll pay the small expenses yourself, but the large ones that could ruin your financial future will be covered by insurance.
4. Neglecting to Check in COBRA Coverage
Staying on the topic of health insurance, if you’re covered under your employer’s group health insurance plan and you’re about to change jobs, be sure to look into COBRA coverage. COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows you to continue your coverage under your former employer’s plan until you’re covered under your new employer’s plan, for up to 18 months after termination of employment.
The cost to you is whatever your employer pays, plus a small administrative fee. It’s generally not the most cost-effective plan, but it will keep you covered during the transition when you otherwise might go uninsured.
5. Not Having Disability Insurance
This insurance is among the insurance policies you need. Because as a single person you don’t have a second family income to rely upon, it’s very important that you protect your income-generating power by investing in long-term disability insurance, and if possible, short-term disability insurance. Disability insurance will pay a percentage of your income (usually around 60%) if you’re unable to work due to illness or accident. Again, don’t let your feelings of invincibility prevent you from protecting yourself. As a single person with no dependents, these types of coverage are much more important to you than life insurance. Many employers offer short- and long-term disability insurance for free or at a substantial savings. Check with your Human Resources department.
6. Holding Off on Retirement Planning
If you’re young, don’t let your age fool you into thinking it’s too early to save for retirement. The sooner you start saving, the less you’ll need to save overall due to the power of compounding, deferred taxes, and your employer’s 401(k) match if you’re lucky enough to have access to such a plan. Don’t walk away from the free gift your employer offers through a 401(k) match. If you’re not eligible for an employer’s plan, set up an IRA and begin contributing.
And if you leave your job, avoid the big mistake many singles make by not cashing out your 401(k) account when you change employers. Not sure what you can do with those funds when you leave? Read What to Do with Your 401(k) When You Change Employers.
7. Not Having a Will
Wills are another item that many singles think are unnecessary. They’re wrong. If you own anything of value (car, jewelry, house or condo, computer, savings account, etc.), you should have a will specifying who will get your belongings when you die. The problem with leaving this question unanswered (without a will) is that the state will determine who gets what on your behalf, and you can’t expect an appointed state executor to know your private wishes. Maybe you want to leave certain assets to a family member, a friend, or your favorite charity. Maybe you don’t want an estranged family member to get their hands on anything. Your will is the only legal way for you to make those wishes known. Of course, if you have minor children or dependents, a will is an absolute must because it’s the method for designating a guardian for them. Need more information on creating a will, be sure to read Why You Need a Will.
8. Not Having a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney
If you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself, a living will and power of attorney will designate someone you trust to make those decisions for you or carry out the wishes you’ve indicated. Without these documents, your next of kin will likely get that right. Like a will, these are the only legal documents that allow you to make these important wishes known in the event that you become unable to speak for yourself. See a lawyer or financial planner to draft these documents.
9. Not Having Medi-gap and Long-term Care Insurance
Though these are not applicable to younger singles, singles over 65 years old should purchase a Medi-gap policy to cover medical expenses not covered by Medicare, of which there are many more than most people are aware. Singles over 50 years old may also want to consider a long-term care insurance policy, which covers the expenses of a nursing home or home health care, if needed.
Effective financial planning is much more than avoiding these nine money mistakes, but they provide a place to start getting your personal finances on track on your own.
Managing money is generally not taught in elementary school. About 17 states require students to take a personal finance course in high school, but only a handful require testing on the topic, according to the Council for Economic Education.
When it comes to money, it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make your own. Follow these tips when you’re young to avoid financial hardship in life.
1. Be thankful for your good fortune
It’s not all about money. If you work at it, you will have abundance — through strong family ties and solid relationships, as well as monetary assets. Take some time out each day to reflect on the good in your life. Spend at least 1 day a week in a recreational activity or hobby that you enjoy, and take a minimum 1-week vacation annually if you possibly can so you can totally unplug and unwind. Again, save for the trip.
If you have children, spend as much time as you can with them when they’re still young and dependent on you. Before you know it, they’ll be old enough to get a driver’s license, and you’ll see less and less of them from that point on
2. Find your purpose
If you’re having trouble figuring out what you want to do with your life, look within. You were born with certain talents and natural abilities. You know which subjects you excel in and which ones you struggle with. Choose a career that enables you to maximize your gifts in a way that fulfills you or helps others. As you grow, your career may change along with your desires. But for now, gravitate toward a field that feels like home.
3. Go to college
You may want to do something that doesn’t require a college degree, such as playing professional golf. But give serious consideration to enrolling in college anyway. Yes, it’s a major investment, but if your parents are unable to help you pay for it, make it happen yourself, even if it means taking out loans. Just don’t get in over your head; try to borrow no more than the amount you expect to earn the 1st year after graduation. That way you can pay off the loans within 10 years. One way to save on costs: Go to a community college first; then transfer to a
4-year university after 2 years.
It’s easier to get a degree when you’re young than when you have a home, family and all the attendant adult responsibilities. Your earnings potential increases significantly with a college degree — which will come in handy if your other dreams don’t materialize. Plus, you will likely experience a love of learning that you will never outgrow.
5. Begin retirement planning with your 1st job
This tip is so important. If the company you work for offers a 401(k) plan, sign up at your 1st opportunity. If there’s no such plan, divert some of your paycheck into an IRA. Believe it or not, if you’re lucky, one day you’ll find you are older, so it’s best to be prepared. Setting up automatic contributions to either one of these retirement vehicles at a young age will help you build wealth painlessly.
Naturally, the more you earn, the more you can stash. Sock away at least 7% of your earnings in the beginning, and increase it each year until you’re diverting 15% a year.
6. Place a value on money
It doesn’t buy happiness, but it can certainly make you comfortable. Just understand what it’s worth. Money is what you earn in exchange for your time in some productive pursuit. Let’s say you earn $20 an hour at your job, and you’re considering purchasing a TV for $500. You may calculate that you spend 25 hours, or about 3 days, earning that money. It’s worth it, you may think. But that’s not an accurate value estimate. If you’re single, you’re in the 25% tax bracket, so you actually spend about 33 hours earning the net income required to make the purchase. It still may be worth it, but there may be competing demands for that money, such as rent and car payments, not to mention your retirement fund. Each purchase represents a trade-off. Make these decisions wisely.
7. Use the credit card sparingly
This tip is also really vital. It’s easy to spend now with plastic and much harder to pay later. Use credit responsibly. Comparison-shop for your card. Remember that you’ll be relying on your future earnings to pay for today’s credit card purchases. And if you keep a running balance, you’ll also be paying interest, sometimes at usurious rates. Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, save money to meet financial goals.
8. Follow the golden rule
Contrary to popular belief, the duplicity and craftiness of Machiavellian tactics won’t really help you survive. Instead, they’ll engender mistrust in your relationships. Treat others fairly, the way you wish to be treated. No one looks good when trying to make others look bad. When you’re on the job, avoid gossip. Beware that when someone takes you into his or her confidence to point out someone else’s foibles, it’s only a matter of time before your foibles come to light.
9. Select your partner wisely
Choose someone whose values match your own — not just where money is concerned, but more importantly, ethical and moral values. Get to know your soul mate over the course of at least a year. Passion is important, but trust even more so. Make sure you are free to be yourself. If you hook up with an angry or overly critical partner, you will be subjected to hostility and may lose your sense of self. Conversely, if you’re the one with anger issues, resolve them before they poison a perfectly good relationship. Learn to make decisions with your heart, along with your head.
10. Be prepared for the unexpected
Someday you may lose a job through no fault of your own. Prepare today by stashing money into an accessible emergency fund. The easiest way to do this is to automatically divert a portion of your earnings into a savings account in addition to the amount you’re contributing to a 401(k) plan or IRA.
Try not to use that 401(k) money for emergencies. It will cost you plenty, between income and penalty taxes. For instance, if you have $10,000 in your account and you’re in the 25% tax bracket, you’ll lose $2,500 to taxes, plus pay another $1,000 penalty for breaking into the money before you reach age 55. (For IRAs, the early withdrawal penalty applies up to age 59 1/2, with certain exceptions.) Bottom line: Your $10,000 dwindles to $6,500. Worse, you will have lost the opportunity for that money to compound and build wealth for your retirement.
9. Learn about investing or hire help
It’s not rocket science; in the beginning you just need to overcome fear and select 1 or 2 good, cheap mutual funds. After you’ve amassed some wealth, it may be time to hire someone. If you do, you will obviously have to pay for the service. Get referrals and then check out the qualifications and credentials of a prospective financial adviser or broker.
Make sure you understand the fee structure of the services. Is it commission-based or do you pay an hourly fee or a percentage of assets or some combination of these fees? Ask for a complete breakdown. Also, check with the appropriate authority to see if any disciplinary actions have been taken against a certified financial planner or broker before you initiate contact. If you’re confident enough to choose your own investments, you might find that going with a robo-adviser is the best bet.