Managing your money doesn't have to be overwhelming. Setting practical goals for your personal finances is a wise move, no matter what stage of life you're in. These smart financial goals are the first steps to a secure and fiscally balanced future.
Spending less money than you bring in sounds reasonable, but millionaires and struggling students alike may find it difficult to manage a budget. Unsurprisingly, sticking to a budget is one of the most common types of financial goals, at least to start.
Here are some ways to make your budget a practical part of your daily life.
- Plan meals before you go to the grocery store, and don't buy anything that's not on your list.
- Sell or consign old items before you buy new ones.
- Examine your budget at the end of the month before budgeting for the next month. What should change in order to meet your financial needs?
- Use category-budget programs like You Need a Budget. Or, create a spreadsheet that you access every day.
- Build fun activities into your budget. No one wants to completely strip the household entertainment.
Creating and sticking to a budget may not sound fun. However, once you are aware of your monthly spending habits, it's easier to make beneficial choices as you've laid down the basic foundation.
Debt is a huge financial stressor, but the type of debt depends on its purpose. "Good debt," such as a mortgage or student loan debt, increases your net worth or value. "Bad debt," which includes credit card debt and payday loans, do not add value or net worth.
Avoid having debt negatively affect your credit score with the following tips:
- Pay more than the minimum monthly payment (and never pay interest only).
- Focus on paying off your smallest source of debt before moving up to larger amounts.
- Pay off credit card balances in full every month.
- Don't take out more debt until you have reduced or eliminated all bad debt.
- Negotiate lower interest rates and avoid taking out loans with variable interest rates.
The added benefit of lowering debt is an increased credit score. You can obtain better interest rates with high credit, reducing your chances of getting into unmanageable debt. For help with debt management, you may choose to work with a financial goal planner to stay organized.
Planning for retirement on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis may seem overwhelming at first. However, investing in the future includes setting aside money for both short-term and long-term goals. Here are some practical ways to help you save for tomorrow's needs.
- Prioritize saving every month, even when money is tight. Budget for it.
- Contribute to an (interest-bearing) emergency fund of at least $1,000, and keep it funded.
- Increase your professional net worth with additional classes, training, or conferences.
- Make sure you are up to date on all insurance policies.
- Backwards map your ideal future. Consult a professional to determine what steps you need to take today to reach your long-term goals.
Whether your future includes buying a home or a pizza, planning is essential. You can't get to next month without getting through this month first.
According to a Prosperity Now report, millions of Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster. However, having at least one month's pay in your account can be the cushion you need in the event of unemployment or surprise expenses. Financial buffers enable people to spend last month's money on this month's expenses, staying at least one month ahead of their needs.
Here are some ways to build (and keep) a financial buffer in your account.
- Contribute windfalls, including inheritances, income from yard sales, or holiday bonuses, to the buffer.
- Build the buffer slowly over time. Even $50 a month results in a $600 buffer at the end of the year.
- Don't dip into the buffer for one-time events and expenses.
- Stay ahead of surprise expenditures, such as overdraft fees or app subscriptions, that could negatively affect your buffer.
- Temporarily divert funds from other expenditures (such as clothes or eating out) to the buffer.
The last goal is much easier said than done. But, worrying about finances never improves the situation - and can even lead to limiting your cognitive capacity. Being aware and in control of your finances can keep your mind from drifting to unpaid bills and shutoff notices.
In addition to the first four goals, here are some ways to stay on top of your financial situation without unduly increasing stress:
- Set up automatic bill pay to avoid missing deadlines.
- Check your accounts and credit score regularly.
- Stay up-to-date on the latest optimal interest rates.
- Take an online or community college course on consumer economics to learn more.
- Live within your means by not spending more than you can afford.
Learning to live without financial stress is the most important goal of all. Money is an important part of your life, but only if it's actually helping you live your life.
If you're feeling more confident about managing your money, you can find more resources for managing the rest of your life as well. Explore the parts of a check to ensure you're using them properly. An article on long-term goals demonstrates how to plan for your future as a whole. Check out a helpful slideshow on important financial terms as well.