Establish a budget: There’s no better way to manage your finances than by being keenly aware of the interplay between your net income (how much you take home after taxes) and your total expenses (including fixed expenses like bills and variable expenses like clothing or entertainment). See our companion article “Creating a Household Budget” for an easy path to a clear and cogent financial plan. Making use of software, like Budget Forecaster from Strativia, makes the task even easier.
Make more money: Indeed, it may sound simpler than it really is, but it’s by no means outside the realm of reason. Just take a look at what you’re making now and try to find ways to augment it, be it asking for a raise, working extra hours, holiday or overtime, taking on a part-time second job, applying for a promotion or for a whole new job with an entirely different employer – there are numerous ways to increase your earning power.
Pay yourself first: This is an ages old lesson that is as tried and true as they come – the instant you receive each paycheck, take 10% and sock it away in savings. Plan to live off of 90% of your income and you’ll be slowly but surely building a sizable nest egg that could end up lasting you a lifetime. But if you don’t do this religiously, first and foremost upon being paid, then there will be no money at month’s end to save at all, not 10%, not 1%.
Pay your credits cards off: Credit card debt is a brutal, self-feeding cycle that can decimate your savings faster and more effectively than almost any other financial burden. At the very least, make your minimum payments on time so that your credit report remains untainted. Good credit is priceless in today’s world. And in many important circumstances, excellent credit can even compensate for poor income and savings. The best course of action, however, is to carry no balance. Pay your credit cards off in full as soon as you possibly can. Then restrain yourself from using your credit cards except when you know you can pay off new purchases in full at your very next billing period.
Make your 401K contributions: Especially if your employer makes matching contributions, take maximum advantage of any 401K plan you have available to you. Not doing so would cheat you at the very least of the income from those matching funds, not to mention the income that can be gained from savings account interest or investment maturity. You wouldn’t turn down a company bonus would you? Then don’t let your company’s 401K plan go to waste.
Stay on top of your investments: As time passes, the economy fluctuates, and an intelligent investment today may be a foolish investment tomorrow. You need to review your portfolio regularly and readjust it regularly to avoid loss and pursue gain. Remember, though, avoiding loss – or protecting your capital – is infinitely more important than pursuing gain. Don’t let any one stock comprise more than 5% of your total portfolio, and don’t let any one industry comprise more than 20%. Remain diversified and readjust your distribution of assets as the performance of your holdings changes. Seek professional financial guidance as necessary.
Build an emergency fund: Start saving money in a separate, FDIC-insured account and build it up until it contains enough to cover six months of your expenses. Take a look at your total expenses (both variable and fixed) from your personally designed or Budget Forecaster household budget and then multiply it by six to discover how much you should keep in an emergency fund. Then leave that money alone until and unless you need it. Should the unfortunate day come that you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.
Get your free credit reports: Your credit reports can be among your greatest tools for acquiring credit or they can be your biggest hurdle. The government decision to allow consumers a free copy per year of each of their credit reports from the three major reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – is an opportunity to take charge of your finances that should not be ignored. See our companion article entitled “Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Reports” for further details.
Review and update your insurance policies: As with bank terms and credit card rates, insurance premiums also change considerably over time. A good deal yesterday could be a lousy deal today. And with your ability to go online, you can easily compare and contrast insurance offers in an instant. Important coverage to make sure that you have on both your home and auto insurance plans is cost replacement insurance. Decent liability coverage is also of the utmost importance. And also be certain that the insurance on your home accurately reflects the true value of your home today.
Start A Business: Starting a business is easier today than ever before. There is all sorts of informational material, resources, and tools available to help you, and most of them are free. Whether it’s selling books on eBay, developing a sleek new high-tech product from scratch, or outsourcing your intellectual talents there is a market out there for almost anything. Whether you decide to go into business full time or part time, there is money to be made that will ultimately help you to keep your finances under control by increasing your income.