The key to financial success is understanding your money and controlling where it is going.
Although many families across the United States do not consciously budget their money or contribute towards financial goals, getting into these smart habits is paramount to having good money management skills and creating significant wealth. Understanding your savings priorities is the only way to successfully work towards the goals you consider to be the most important. Whether it is investing in an emergency fund or a retirement savings account, it is important to make sure you invest in your own wellbeing first. Having a clear picture of your spending habits and financial goals by tracking your spending will help you identify ways that you can earn a little extra cash or cut back on unnecessary expenses that are silently draining your bank account. If you are really looking for a shift in your financial future, you may want to consider long-term changes in your spending and investment behavior. Keep reading for more advice on how to better track and save your money.
Once you have more or less figured out how much money you are spending and how much money you are putting into the bank every month, you will need to consider your financial priorities. While these may be somewhat different for everyone, some basic elements should always be present regardless of your unique situation. For example, all budgets should include a fund dedicated to storing away just emergency savings. Emergency savings are the money you and your family would live on if for any reason you were no longer earning the income you are now. There are various recommendations for exactly how much you should store away in this obligatory fund, but most estimates direct families to save between three and six months of living expenses in their emergency fund. If you are starting at zero, start with an emergency savings goal of just one month of living expenses.
When you know how much you are working towards putting into your emergency savings fund, you can start to try different ways of meeting that financial goal as quickly as possible. You will want to start by making a realistic timeline for your deposits into the fund based on how much extra money you have at the end of every month. This is the minimum you should be putting away every month. Once you have come this far, you are ready to open a separate account to keep your emergency savings fund separate from your other expenses. If you can only manage to deposit a relatively small amount into this account on a regular basis, you can think about other creative ways of saving extra money that could be directly deposited into your emergency savings fund. Tax refunds and work bonuses, for example, can go straight into your emergency fund instead of towards a surprise vacation.
Saving money on a tight budget and a limited income can sometimes seem impossible, but it rarely is. In fact, there are dozens of tips and tricks you can use to save money in all sorts of surprising ways, from your daily expenses to your large annual purchases. If you have not done it already, saving money always starts by examining your existing financial situation, deciding upon your financial goals and creating or updating a functional budget that works towards your goals and within your limitations. Once you know what you want and the sort of tool you can work with to get it, it is time to think about new money saving strategies that can save you money in the long run.
One easy way to cut back on your spending, studies have shown, is to stop using cards for purchases and use cash. Using cash seems to make it easy to grasp the value of the money you spend and limit you from dipping too far into your account. You may also be able to save some extra bucks from bank and ATM fees by automating as many of your bills or payments as possible. If possible, you can save hundreds of even thousands of dollars by getting and responsibility using a credit card with awards points, especially if they are transferable. You can consider cutting back on some of your digital and paper subscriptions. Making your home more energy efficient or even refinancing your mortgage may also make you some extra cash. If you have more time than money, you may want to look into getting a side gig whose earnings could go directly towards your highest priority financial goals.
Learning how to manage your money is not just about cutting costs or earning a little more money, it is about changing the way you approach money. To permanently alter the way you deal with money, you need to start thinking about how your short term goals are going to add up to meet your long term goals. To begin this process, you will want to have your long term goals spelled out, along with a few ideas on how you can realistically meet those goals. Investing in yourself should always be the top priority after paying off the necessities. By giving you an actual number to aim for, identifying your financial goals can also make it much easier to stick to your budget. Along the same lines, it is important for you to believe that you deserve to have great sums of money if you ever expect an employer or client to give you great sums of money.
Developing better money habits can start by changing a few small ways you may be unnecessarily spending money. That being said, this is also a good opportunity to reexamine any money-saving techniques you have been implementing that are not really contributing to your overall wealth. Driving an extra 10 miles to avoid paying a 50 cent toll, for example, is not actually saving you any money. You can also start to save a lot of money by cutting back on how often you eat outside the home, especially if you have kids. If you are paying off any high-interest debt, you will want any excess funds to go towards paying it off before you make any investments. If you still are feeling lost when it comes to your finances or you would simply like to increase your level of understanding for any area of finance, you can sign up for a course online or in-person that covers the topic you need help in.
For many people, the first step towards creating a functional budget is to begin tracking your spending. In fact, it is the only way you can realistically estimate how much you should budget for various expenses or spending categories. Luckily, there are many ways you can track your and your family’s spending so that you can finally get a clear view of where your money is being spent every month. Those of you who prefer more traditional tracking methods can write down every purchase or payment you make throughout the day in a notebook. If you dislike the idea of having to remember to make a note after every purchase, you can opt for the envelop method, which is basically pre-budgeting certain amounts for various spending categories by cash into various envelopes.
Technology can be a big help when it comes to keeping track of your spending. If you rely heavily on credit or debit cards, you can simply download your recent banking activity to see where your money goes or you can use the totals from each card as a spending category in itself. There are tons of apps and websites dedicated to helping you track your spending and translate your spending data into meaningful information. When you feel like you may need some professional help to get to the bottom of your complicated spending situation, taking a finance course or hiring a finance consultant may be the best way to move forward. Whichever method allows you to get a good grasp on your spending needs and habits is the right one for you.