Handling the household finances can be tough. So tough, in fact, it’s no wonder why most do not hold down a successful budget and are in credit card debt.
Now, some people don’t have to run a budget to be successful, but for people like me, a month without a budget is a spending free-for-all.
Carrying debt is a different issue, one that should be addressed so that instead of paying back the money you owe, you can get ahead and start focusing more on becoming a financial powerhouse.
In order to do that, you may have to make a few changes in your life to adapt to some smart money moves that you can begin making starting now.
1. Build Up an Emergency Fund
You never know what life will throw at you. You can have a firm plan, have your funds allocated in certain areas, and then all of a sudden you get hit with a huge medical bill.
Or your car breaks down and is not covered in the warranty. Your boss calls you in and says “I’m sorry, but we have to let you go.”
You think you’ll find a new job quickly, but then you don’t. Unemployment drags on for months or even years.
How do you support your family? Pay the bills? Keep your house?
The answer lies in an emergency fund. This is a large-scale savings account that is only used for true emergencies like an unexpected job layoff, medical bills or huge car repairs.
Experts say you should have three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund. While that may seem like a LOT of money to save up, there are tips you can use to start building your emergency fund now.
Tips for Building Your Emergency Fund
Use these tips to start building your emergency fund until you have at least three months’ worth of expenses saved up. Six months or more worth of expenses is even better.
You’ll find it easier to save money in your emergency fund if you treat your deposits like a bill. Use your budget to determine how much you can save each month.
Then set up auto deposits to a high yield savings account that you’ve committed not to use but for emergencies only.
Put Unexpected Money in Your Emergency Fund
Unexpected money is money you hadn’t necessarily planned on getting. Some forms of unexpected money include:
- overtime at work
- tax returns
- found money
- money from returning stuff
- birthday and other gifted money
You get the picture. If it’s not a form of money you normally get via your paycheck, it’s unexpected. Commit to putting this money toward your emergency fund until you consider it fully funded.
Get a Side Hustle
Did you know there are dozens of ways you can make extra money on the side? In fact, you can even use your hobbies to make extra cash.
Use our blog to find some great income ideas to get your emergency fund looking plush.
Having an emergency fund will give you peace of mind you never imagined you could have.
2. Stop Paying Banks Interest
If you’ve got credit card or mortgage debt, you’re giving banks free money every single month.
Let me ask you a question: Who needs your money more: You or the big bank you’re paying hundreds of dollars in interest to every month?
I’m guessing the answer you chose is “you”. You’ve got a plan in place for building your emergency fund. Now put a plan in place for paying off all of your debt.
How to Get Your Debt Paid off Super FAST
Personally, I like the debt snowball method for paying off debt. I find the little wins at the beginning give you motivation and drive to pay off the big debts.
The debt snowball is easy to work: Just list your debts from smallest to largest. Throw all extra money (except for designated funds to build your emergency fund) toward that smallest debt.
Once it’s paid off, take the minimum payment you were paying on that debt – and extra money if you can – along with the minimum payment on your next debt. Put all of that money toward your next debt.
Then repeat the process as you go down the line.
More Money in Your Pocket Every Month
The more debt you get paid off, the less money you’ll be paying in interest each month. And the more money you’ll have in your pocket.
If you want some extra motivation for getting your debt paid off, take a look at last month’s statements for your mortgage and credit card bills.
Then add up all of the interest you paid last month. Is the number in the hundreds? In the thousands?
I’m quite sure you can find better things to do with several hundred dollars each month than give it to the bank. Sure, you may have to make some sacrifices in the meantime to afford to make high monthly payments to get rid of the debt, but I promise it’ll be worth it when you’re floating on debt freedom.
3. Educate Yourself on Investing (Then Start Investing)
Investing can be scary – especially for beginners. If you aren’t into investing and don’t know where to start, take heart.
You’re not alone. I did some investing in a 401k when I worked for an employer, but totally abandoned investing when I became a stay-at-home mom.
I got back into the investing world a year and a half ago, and honestly – it feels great. Start by assessing your risk tolerance level.
From there, start reading up on investing, and learn from the experts. There are several good books and blogs out there for beginners.
- JL Collins: The Simple Path to Wealth
- Mike Piper: Oblivious Investor
- Jeff Rose: Good Financial Cents
- Todd Tressider: Financial Mentor
There are many other good investment blogs out there. I chose these four because I think they present a good balance of “regular guy/girl” articles and articles that help you step up your learning curve.
As with the blogs, I’m listing some books here that will be informative, yet easy to read for beginners.
- The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle
- The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins (condensed version of blog)
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
OH. And we’ll talk about retirement investing in a bit. But non-retirement investing is just as important as retirement investing. Why? Several reasons.
First, you might decide you want to retire early someday. And most of your retirement accounts are untouchable until you’re in your mid-fifties or older.
Second, if you take retirement funds early, you’ll pay penalties to the IRS in many cases. Wasted money.
Third, a plush non-retirement investment account will help you fund future dreams. You might know what you want now, but trust me when I tell you that could (and probably will) change five years from now.
Make sure you have the money to fund your dreams – no matter what form they might take.
Self-Directed Investing or Broker Assisted Investing?
Self-Directed investing means you primarily manage your investments on your own – after a solid education, of course.
The downside of broker assisted investing is the fees. Full service brokers often charge up to 15% or more to manage your investments.
I use self-directed investing because I want to minimize the fees I pay. I’m also pretty low on the risk tolerance level – not a big fan of risk.
In addition, I have a bit of control freak in me. I work very hard for my money and don’t want some yahoo charging me a lot of money to manage it – and then screwing it up.
I know: I’m paranoid. There are lots of great brokers out there. If you find one, and you’re happy with his or her fee scale, go for it. But if you would rather manage your own money, here are some options.
Personal Capital is uber popular for their free budgeting and money management tools. But they also have a self-directed investment option and a broker assisted investment option. And you’ll pay fees of less than 1% annually to have them help you.
Ally Invest will help you invest and manage your funds for just $4.95 per trade. And there’s no minimum balance requirement for your account. They offer self-directed and managed account options.
Ameritrade offers online trading for just $6.95 with no minimum account balance. No hidden fees here.
Do what feels right to you, but know that the online investment platforms – whether self-directed or broker assisted – are typically much lower in fees than traditional firms will charge.
To summarize, you need to be learning how to invest – and then taking action on what you learn. Your future self will thank you.
4. Reduce Necessary & Unnecessary Expenses
In order to free up extra money for your first three money moves, you’ll want to reduce what is going out. You can do that by taking an objective look at your expenses.
I like to use the term Challenge Everything Budget. This was a budget term coined by J$ of Budgets are Sexy.
The concept is simple yet profound: Go through every line item in your budget and find a way to reduce or eliminate it.
You see, as J$ explains, cutting your expenses has a double bonus effect:
- It increases the amount of money you’ll have left over to save each month
- it permanently decreases the amount of money you’ll need to live on each month
The result is that you’ll be putting more money toward early retirement or other savings goals, and you’ll need less passive and other income to live on.
How much earlier could you reach your savings and retirement goals if you need $1,000 a month to live on instead of $3,000 a month?
There are several ways you can work to lower your monthly expenses. Here are some suggestions:
- Call GEICO or other insurance companies and start working to get a lower insurance premium on your home and autos
- Eliminate unnecessary costs such as cable or satellite TV, salon trips (do-it-yourself or find cheaper services), gym memberships (work out at home or walk in the neighborhood), etc.
- Look for ways to cut your housing expense: downsize, pay off your mortgage, move to a cheaper city, etc.
- Set – and keep – a monthly limit on fluid expenses such as groceries, entertainment, etc.
- Be proactive about your health. Take good care of yourself now, eat whole foods, exercise, minimize or eliminate bad habits so you can work to avoid high health care costs later
- Minimize energy and water usage to keep bills low
- Find free sources of entertainment
- Work to save money on groceries by buying generic, menu planning and buying on sale
And remember that whether spending or saving, every penny adds up. You might not think it’s going to affect your long-term financial goals, but I promise you it will.
Want proof? Start tracking your spending. Do it for 30 days while keeping on your regular spending habits. Then implement a challenge everything budget and track for another 30 days.
You’ll likely be amazed at the money you save.
5. Increase (or Maximize) Your Retirement Contributions
The money you free up by using a challenge everything budget can now get used – in part at least – towards retirement. The amount you contribute will depend on your situation, so you may want to consult a professional to help you get to your goal.
Standard suggestions from financial experts encompass:
- Start as early as possible
- Contribute to an employer sponsored 401k plan at least to the employer matching maximum
- Max out your IRA contributions (using traditional or Roth IRAs depending on what’s best for your situation)
- Adjust your investment choices as you get older
- Increase your contributions as your income increases
The fact of the matter is that you likely won’t notice your automatic retirement contributions missing from your paycheck. But you’ll be glad you started the accounts when you’re retirement age and financially stable.
6. Find a Financial Mentor
Handling the household finances is a tough job whether you are single or have a significant other/children to worry about. And there’s always someone around who’s better at managing/investing money than you.
For that reason, it’s a smart idea to consider finding a financial mentor. Your mentor should be someone who is good with money, knows about investing and has a handle on spending.
Ego – or a lack thereof – is important too. The truly self-made rich person is humble enough to know to be careful with their money.
And don’t feel guilty about asking someone to be a mentor – most financially stable/wealthy people love helping others and sharing what they’ve learned.
7. Be a Giver
As a wise friend once told me: There are two types of people; givers and takers.
A giver goes about his/her day looking for ways to help and bless others. A taker, on the other hand, goes about his/her day looking for what they can get from others.
You need to know that whatever you call it: karma, common sense, life, is on the side of the giver.
Life might seem to shower goodness upon takers, but don’t be fooled. Karma will come back to get them sooner or later.
Now, there is a difference between being a smart giver and a giver who gets taken. Use common sense and don’t be steamrolled.
Give in a way that gives a hand up, not necessarily a handout. Look for opportunities to teach people to fish instead of just giving them fish.
Share your skills and look for ways to give back to your community and those around you.
I’ve been studying personal finance and passive income on some level for several years now. In that time, I’ve learned that money success is much more about doing what needs to be done than about knowing what to do.
You can know all you want, but until you put what you know into action, you’ll get nowhere.
Use this list to make the smart money moves that will get you to your financial goals.