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10 Tips for Improving Your Finances

10 Tips for Improving Your Finances

The vast majority of Americans are only one $500 emergency bill away from being financially destitute. In fact, a survey indicated that 62 percent of U.S. adults could end up homeless if they skipped even one paycheck. Out of this group, only 58 percent believe that they could make up for an unexpected $500 expense by reducing their other expenses, using a credit card or borrowing money from a family member or friend. In other words, there are far too many people who currently do not have any type of safety net.

To help prevent yourself from remaining or falling into this trap, it is imperative to take a close look at your finances and make a few lifestyle changes. Fortunately, this does not need to be nearly as drastic as most people fear. By implementing even a few of the following suggestions, you should be able to build your savings account and begin more effectively planning for retirement.

1. Do an Audit of Your Bills

When was the last time you sat down and thoroughly looked through all of your bills? If you are like most people, you pay the minimum due amount on each bill without paying much attention to errors or interest rates. Auditing your bills can help you make sure that billing mistakes are not unnecessarily increasing your expenses. Additionally, a bill audit will enable you to learn how much money you would save in the long run by adding $10 to each of your credit related payments.

2. Purge Unnecessary Expenses

We all make choices regarding how to spend our money, and most of us have developed at least one or two unfortunate blind spots. For example, you may really like the version of yourself that goes to the gym once a month and continuously pledges to go more often, but this does not mean that you are making a wise financial decision by paying that monthly fee. Unless you are regularly utilizing something, it is best to purge the unnecessary expense.

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It is also smart to look at unrealistic expenses such as a beer budget that outweighs what you pay for electricity. If you are struggling to build a savings account or pay your bills on time, you must make difficult choices that will include cutting back or eliminating things that serve no practical purpose.

3. Contact Creditors to Renegotiate Your Repayment Terms

Many people erroneously assume that their interest rates and repayment terms are set in stone. However, the truth is that you always have the ability to call and attempt a renegotiation. In some cases, this technique may not get you anywhere. Overall, though, creditors are usually willing to work with people who have kept their payments up and express a need for a temporary or permanent alteration to their repayment terms in order to continue paying everything off on time.

4. Carefully Explore Your Trading Options

There are numerous trading options that can help you save for retirement, but you need to carefully examine everything before you make any large investments. The stock market can be very volatile, but there are some stocks that tend to stay more stable or have a better chance of rebounding quickly. Studying trends and talking to an experienced stock broker will help you make a better choice.

Binary options are another robust possibility that many people are not very familiar with. In a nutshell, binary options allow you to not only get involved in trading stocks, currency pairs, commodities and indexes but to also make predictions about how well they will do within a specified time period. If your predictions are accurate, you can earn a nice return on your investment. You can also use loss protection to prevent yourself from losing a lot of money when your guesses are inaccurate. In other words, binary options can be a viable way to earn some extra money for your savings account.

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5. Utilize High-Yield Investments

High-yield investments do come with a bigger risk factor than turning to treasury bills that have an almost non-existent return rate, but this does not mean that you cannot use them to your advantage. The younger you are, the safer it is to gamble on truly high-yield investments because you will have more time to recover any losses.

Please note that it is not wise for people who have a minimal savings account to invest everything they have into these investments. But if you put 10 to 20 percent of your savings into an investment that has high-yield results and a relatively solid history, you could end up cashing out with a significantly higher amount of money that can then be rolled into a safer opportunity.

However, if you want to play it safe altogether, a money market account should help you earn at least 1 percent annually on your savings. Once you achieve a savings of $50,000, this would provide you with a free $500 bonus after one year.

6. Optimize Your 401k

Your 401k options are probably diversified and very confusing, especially if your employer has put a few plans in front of you that do not come with a detailed description. When you add the recent turbulence of the stock market into the picture, it can become quite terrifying to invest money in this way.

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Instead of running away from this investment opportunity, take the time to more carefully examine your choices. You may find that the plans that are being pushed toward people in your age range are not right for you. After all, a conservative plan will not accrue much money, but it will also minimize your risk of losing everything you have contributed to your 401k.

7. Make a Weekly Savings Plan

In just one year, you can put together a savings account that will enable you to avoid any $500 financial disasters. $10 a week is all it takes to build up a savings account with $520 in it. It may seem unrealistic for people who live paycheck to paycheck to set aside $10 weekly, but you should be able to find this money by prioritizing your expenses and purging anything that is not necessary.

8. Build a Precise Budget

According to a Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans do not build or use a detailed budget to help them manage their expenses. This is a major mistake that could seriously hinder your ability to get your finances on track. Instead of allowing yourself to spend money without having any idea if you can afford it, you need to sit down and build a precise budget every month. This budget should include everything from your major expenses to minor purchases.

By doing this, you will be able to see how your money is really being used, and this will make it easier to cut out unwise expenditures. Looking at this budget regularly and updating your check register daily is the absolute best way to keep yourself from spending money you do not have.

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9. Take Advantage of Free or Inexpensive Hobbies

We all need hobbies or a way to blow off steam. For some of us, this comes in the form of televised entertainment. The average cable bill has reached an astounding $99, though, so this is not a good way to scale back your expenses. Instead, you should consider cord-cutting measures such as Netflix or Hulu. For a fraction of the cost, you will be able to enjoy countless movies and TV shows.

Walking and many other physical activities are another free or inexpensive way to fill up your spare time, and they come with the added bonus of being good for your health. If you prefer to stay in and do something quiet, Scribd provides readers with unlimited access to eBooks and comic books for less than $9 per month. Adult coloring is another popular trend that has an initial cost due to acquiring the necessary supplies but will ultimately provide many hours of cheap entertainment.

10. Prioritize Your Personal Goals

We all have personal goals aside from the desire to not fall into bankruptcy over one medical bill. Prioritizing these goals can help ensure that you spend your money as wisely as possible. A good example is that some people buy a daily latte from Starbucks but then bemoan the fact that they cannot afford a monthly wellness massage.

If reducing stress and improving your health is your top personal goal, then it makes sense to skip your daily latte so that you can save up for a massage instead. Keep in mind that you could always make coffee at home for a smaller fee. This will give you a personal daily indulgence without derailing your goals. No matter what your personal goals are, you can achieve them in this same way by being smarter with your daily expenditures.

Now that you have access to several actionable tips, it is time for you to put some of them to work! You may also want to download some handy expense apps to make it easier to monitor your spending. With a little practice and some dedication, you can reach your goals and build a savings account that will allow you to avoid financial disaster during an emergency.

Featured photo credit: Piictures of Money via flic.kr

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Holly Chavez

Writer, Entrepreneur, Small Business Owner

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

2. Keep Them Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

4. Short Term vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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5. To Each to His Own

The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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6. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

7. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

8. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

It is here where that classification will help.

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So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding,

Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

11. Measure, Measure, Measure

All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

The Bottom Line

This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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