Ariana Chavez has over a decade of professional experience in research, editing and writing. She has worked in academia and digital publishing, focusing on content related to U.S. socioeconomic history and personal finance, among other topics. She uses this experience as a fact checker for The Balance to ensure that the facts given in articles are accurate and properly sourced.
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If you're stuck in a debt cycle, earning too little to maintain your desired standard of living, or just want to start saving money towards a major financial goal like buying a home or investing, you may need help to reach your goals. Follow these strategies to take control of your finances right now.
Read books about personal finance
If you need help with finances but don't know where to start, turn to financial wisdom from books written by experts.
There are many books out there on how to take control of your finances, from how to get out of debt to how to build an investment portfolio. Books are a great way to change your approach to money management.
To increase your savings, you can buy used financial books online or borrow them for free from your local library. If you prefer listening to advice, look to audiobooks.
If you're having trouble managing your finances, then you probably need to create a budget - a plan for how you spend money each month based on how much you usually earn and spend. A budget is the best tool for changing your financial future.
To begin, write down your income and all expenses, and then subtract expenses from income to determine your discretionary spending. At the beginning of each month, create a budget to allocate how free funds are spent. Track expenses throughout the month, and at the end of the month, determine if you were on budget.
If you've spent more than you've earned, you can fix your budget by cutting unnecessary spending or, if possible, earning more. Submit a revised budget next month to start living within your means.
Lower your monthly bills
One of the easiest ways to take control of your finances is to cut your monthly expenses.
While you may not be able to cut some fixed costs like rent or car payments without making major lifestyle changes, you can cut variable costs like clothes or entertainment with flexibility and a frugal approach.
For example, you can reduce your electricity consumption to lower your utility bills, choose different providers for your home or life insurance, or buy discounted products from wholesalers.
Cancellation of cable television
When it comes to cutting monthly bills, there's likely one bill you could cut right now and potentially save hundreds of dollars each month: your cable TV bill. If you need a little help with finances, or just want to reach your financial goals faster, consider giving up cable television.
You don't even have to give up TV completely. Cutting the cord, that is, ditching expensive cable services in favor of low-cost streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, will allow you to watch your favorite shows without spending a lot of money every month.
If, after exploring different streaming options, you're still determined to stick with your cable provider, upgrade to a package with fewer channels to save yourself some money each month.
Stop eating out
Looking for an easy way to take control of your variable expenses each month? Limit the habit of eating out. Spending time at a good restaurant is great, but the savings can increase if you start cooking at home or bringing lunch bags to work instead of eating out every day.
Start small – cook at home at least once a week. Start taking your lunches to work next week. You may be surprised at how much you can save. The meals you take to work can save you $1,300 a year, or more than $50,000 over 40 years of work.
Plan your menu for the month
If the idea of cooking every night is bothering you, make a menu for the month to make it less intimidating. The benefit of planning meals for the entire month is that you can cut food or prepare meals in batches. This approach also makes the grocery shopping process easier and ensures that you spend less on groceries, as you are more likely to use all of your purchased ingredients while they are still fresh.
Alternatively, you can use a menu planning service like eMeals or PlateJoy to take the hassle out of shopping and cooking entirely. These services allow you to select recipes and send a list of required ingredients to your local grocery store for quick pickup. However, these services cost money, so you need to evaluate the cost and determine if it fits within your budget.
Pay off debt
One of the most expensive mistakes you can make is having a lot of debt, especially high-interest credit card debt. If you want to change your financial picture and get more financial opportunities, pay off your debt as quickly as possible.
Start by listing all your current debts, whether it's a credit card, student loan, or car loan, and work out the minimum amount you must pay for each. Just paying the minimum amount won't help you get out of debt quickly, so evaluate your fixed expenses and determine how much of your free spending budget you can use to pay off debt.
Try lowering the interest rate on your debt by asking the issuer for a lower rate, by consolidating several debts into one, or by transferring high-interest debt to a low-interest credit card, such as a balance transfer card. Then, make a debt repayment plan and adopt smart spending habits to pay off your debt as quickly as possible.
Stop using credit cards
If you're struggling to make ends meet every month, you may be relying too much on your credit cards. If you continue to use credit cards as a temporary measure to make ends meet, you will quickly find yourself in debt. This will limit the amount of money you have each month to pay bills, save for retirement, or achieve another financial goal.
If you really want to take control of your finances, stop using credit cards. In addition to budgeting, to avoid buying things on credit, switch to cash or debit cards to avoid accumulating debt; open a short-term savings account and take money from it for large expenses; or leave your credit card at home so you won't be tempted to take it out of your pocket and swipe it.
Student Loan Management
Student loans can leave you in debt for years if you don't take care to pay them off. You need to refinance or consolidate them, find out if you qualify for the student loan forgiveness program, or add them to your debt repayment plan. Taking control of your student loans is a great step you can take right now to improve your financial situation.
You do not have to drastically change the loan repayment schedule; By paying off half of the student loan amount every two weeks, you will make a full additional payment each year. Some lenders will even cut your interest rate by about 0.25% if you sign up for automatic loan payments.
Start saving every week
Like investing, saving is another passive approach to growing your wealth, albeit a more gradual one. To take control of your finances right now, open and regularly (for example, every week, month, or at certain times of the year) put money into an interest-bearing savings account.
It could be the money you save each month on groceries, a tax refund, a certain amount you set aside from every paycheck, or the amount you budget for monthly savings.
No matter which option you choose, and no matter how little you save, look for ways to increase your savings over time. Small successes in the long run will turn into big incomes.
Another way to help you limit your spending and get your finances in order is fasting, where you stop spending money on your own for a set period of time.
These are often monthly periods of spending cuts, where exemptions are made only for major spending categories such as food, transportation, and standing bills.
If you're ready to live like a minimalist for a short period of time, take on this challenge to top up your checking account, change your habits, and appreciate what you need, not just what you want. This experience may even change the way you think about money forever.
Make a financial plan
A financial plan is necessary in order to take control of your finances and achieve specific goals. In short, a financial plan is a timeline of important milestones in your life.
It is similar to a budget, but covers a longer time horizon - 10, 20 or 30 years, while a budget is a short-term plan for several weeks or months ahead. The two concepts work hand in hand, which is why a budget is often a component of a larger financial plan.
These plans can also help you manage your finances by prioritizing your goals, as it's often more efficient to focus on one or two financial goals at a time. Your financial plan should include activities such as buying a home, saving for retirement, and paying for your children's college education.
Set realistic goals
Take the time to set the financial goals you're aiming for, like buying a house or expanding your retirement nest. If you don't have specific goals that you're working towards, you'll find it hard to motivate yourself to keep saving or investing every month.
When setting goals, make sure they are realistic. For example, don't set a goal to pay off $40,000 of debt in one year if your salary is only $30,000. Unrealistic goals that set you up for failure can discourage you from making the right financial moves in the future.
Lastly, keep track of your goals over time so you can see how much you've accomplished. For example, most modern brokerages offer tools on their websites that allow you to track the profits and losses of your investment portfolio over time. These tools will help you stay on track as you work toward your long-term goal.
Become an investor
There are two main ways to make money: earn it actively by working for it, or earn it passively while you sleep by saving or investing the money you have in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, or other financial instruments. Given that the long-term average annual return of the stock market is 10% or 6% or 7% inflation-adjusted, investing in the stock market is a great way for the average person to build wealth.
If the idea of investing scares you, take a course on the basics of investing, meet with a financial advisor, or talk to a trusted family member or friend with experience in the field. While investing comes with risks, consistently investing and distributing your money in appropriate proportions across different asset classes (such as stocks and bonds) can help you maximize your returns and limit your losses.
Protect your savings
If you're great at putting money into savings every month, but start spending it quickly to cover budget discrepancies or buy things on impulse, take steps to protect your savings from yourself.
Solutions include moving your savings to a certificate of deposit (CD), from a bank where funds are readily available, to an online bank where funds are less liquid, or setting up an emergency fund at a separate bank other than the one you use regularly.
Increase in pension savings
Retirement will be expensive, so ideally you should start saving for it from the moment you start your first job, especially if you are offered a 401(k) plan. Even if you're working to get out of debt, make sure you contribute as much as your employer suggests - it's free money after all.
If you are not in debt, work on increasing your savings. How much you should save depends on how old you are when you start working. If you are 20 years old, you can get away with contributions of 10-15% of your income, while a person who starts saving money at 40 years old must contribute up to 35% of their salary to retirement. The sooner you start saving money, the better for your wallet, both now and in retirement.
Find additional sources of income
Financial problems sometimes arise from insufficient income rather than expenses. If you stick to a budget, don't spend money on unnecessary things, but still struggle to make ends meet, you might want to look for a better paying job or find multiple sources of income. More income generally means more financial stability, especially if you're single or live in a single-income household.
If you are unable to change jobs, look for opportunities to earn income on the side or in addition to your job. Passive rental income is another way to build wealth or find more money to get out of debt.
Improve your work skills
Although it may not seem directly related to finances, job security is an important part of your financial picture, as it determines how regular your salary will be.
Make sure you have the right skills to stay competitive in the workplace. This may mean further certification or training from your current employer. Or it could mean going back to college for a graduate degree that will allow you to have a more stable career.
You can protect your finances by taking out insurance for the amount you need. Common types of insurance include car insurance, renter's or homeowner's insurance, life insurance, and health insurance.
While you may be tempted to go without insurance, remember that it protects you from catastrophes that could cause your finances to plummet.
Take advantage of employee benefits
In addition to retirement plans and health insurance, your company may offer additional employee benefits such as dental insurance, vision insurance, and flexible spending accounts.
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Not all of these benefits may be worth the extra money you pay for them, but some of them can help you financially by saving you from having to pay out-of-pocket for basic expenses. Take the time to evaluate your options to get the most out of your employee benefits.
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