Achieving your personal financial goals isn’t brain surgery. Or rocket science. Or – fill in your own cliché. It doesn’t require incredible intelligence, a college degree, or hours spent scouring the latest economic and money news.
All it requires is a clear objective, a plan for reaching that goal, and the discipline to stick with the program. Here are 20 simple ways to make the most of your money, and speed the journey to your dream.
1. Plan for long-term goals, the biggest of which should be when to step away from work and into retirement. Your goal shouldn’t be dictated by a certain age, necessarily, but by getting to a place of financial comfort and security, so you don’t have to worry about money as a retiree.
2. Do a priority check by looking at where your money goes each month. Only by understanding your spending habits can you get control over your finances. You want to spend money on the important things and trim the fat on everything else.
3. Folks always say to live within your means, but how about living below them? Spending a lot less than you earn allows you to rocket ahead on savings and investment goals.
4. Make smart decisions when it comes to big-ticket items. Do you need (and can you really afford) that $75,000 car? What about that five-bedroom home for your family of two? Keeping our financial house in order isn’t as dependent on the number of lattes we treat ourselves to as it is on how much we spend on large purchases. So, it pays to keep your housing and transportation budgets between the ditches.
5. Settle into a place where you’re comfortable with what you have (and your neighbors are, too). Experts have identified the phenomenon of how folks mirror the actions of others to gain acceptance. If we have friends or neighbors who spend lavishly, we may find ourselves in a race for bigger-better-faster-more. In this game, there are no winners, only sore bank accounts.
6. Focus on creating a healthy savings account. My suggestion is you have between three and six months of living expenses stashed away. That way, you have liquid assets on hand to handle life’s curveballs.
7. Remember that your net worth is more important than your salary. What matters more than being a high earner (or a medium or low earner, for that matter) is how much you set aside for savings and investments.
8. Set your sights high when it comes to savings and investments. If you make a practice of paying yourself first, this step follows easily behind. And this is the best investment decision you can make – by setting a high savings and investment rate, you create a great big margin of financial safety.
9. If you want or need more income, get out there and make it. While saving, following a budget and being financially prudent are all good ways to grow your money, you still want to keep focused on growing your career and earning potential. After all, that extra money each month could be translated into increasing your net worth. Which brings me to my next point…
10. Every year, try to save a little more. A surefire way to increase your net worth is to roll every raise over straight to your savings and investment portfolio. Stay away from the urge to splurge that extra income and keep focused on building wealth.
11. Don’t forget about Uncle Sam. Be sure to make the most of as many tax breaks as you can, based on your particular tax situation.
12. Watch your credit card balances. Credit is just that – borrowed money. Don’t treat your credit cards like free money, or you run the risk of hurting your net worth.
13. Keep in mind that your credit score is incredibly important. The biggest expenses in life usually boil down to interest costs on mortgages, auto loans and student loans. With a solid credit score, you’ll snag lower borrowing costs and likely save thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. Here’s a tip to healthy credit – try to always pay off credit card balances at the end of each month.
14. Try automating routine bills. By setting up automatic bill pay for things like utilities, cell phone and credit card bills, you will avoid late fees because you’ll never forget to pay.
15. Remember to cover your bases with proper insurance. It’s common sense, and it’s a financial safety net. Your insurance protects your wealth. Be sure to shop for the best rates so your premiums don’t put too much of a drain on your money.
16. Save enough in your 401(k) (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan) so that you get the full match. If you don’t, you are in essence saying no thank you to a tax-deferred portion of your salary.
17. Talk to your spouse about money and get on the same page. Ask professionals for help when you need it. Money talk isn’t taboo; it’s the way towards achieving financial goals and true wealth.
18. With that said, keep in the know about where you stand financially. Stay up to date with what your net worth is. Remember the simple formula – it’s the total of your assets minus the total of your liabilities.
19. Pick up a personal finance book. No book reports required; if just the thought of reading something like this bores you, commit to skimming. Who knows? You may just learn something that will save you money.
20. Never forget that material possessions aren’t the source of happiness in life. While there is the short-term shopper’s high, it quickly vanishes. Invest more in experiences, family and friends.