Being smart with your money is important for ensuring a prosperous financial future. But financial fitness and freedom isn't as easy it sounds. In fact, it takes a lot of practice and discipline to make your money work for you. Here are a few tips to help you get started and stay on track.
*Set Your Financial Goals
Making a plan for your money is the first step. Perhaps your goal is to increase your income. Do you simply want some extra money for fun and vacation; or to put toward bigger purchases like buying a home? This may entail getting a second part-time job or applying to positions where you can increase your income. Reflecting on what you individually, or with a spouse, want to achieve financially in the next year will keep you motivated. Additionally, it keeps you accountable. Make it a fun activity by drawing or writing out your goals somewhere you can see them daily. The more you can remind yourself of these goals the likelier you are to stick with them!
*Make a Budget
There is a common misconception that creating one budget will work all year long. Unfortunately, additional, unanticipated expenses come up each month (car problems, birthday gifts, social events). Making a solid outline for your budget at the beginning of the year is helpful for organizing bills and expenses that typically won't be subject to change. Once this is in place, you have a boilerplate budget to adjust for each month. Compare your actual versus expected expenses at the end of each month. This can help you understand where you can make budget cuts and where you can put your money toward other financial goals such as savings, retirement or paying off debt. There are many wonderful budgeting apps out there today for you to choose from, or you can always develop your own on an Excel spreadsheet. Keep in mind, budgets are not one-size-fits-all, therefore, spend time thinking about it and designing it in a way that fits your lifestyle.
*Get a Free Credit Report
For those of you who didn't know, you can get a total of three free credit reports each year from one of the following credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It's simply going to AnnualCreditReport.com and requesting your free credit report. You will be asked a series of personal information questions and, if answered correctly, you will be given your credit report. Requesting from all three credit-reporting agencies is necessary to ensure there are no discrepancies. Another tip is to spread out the timing of when you request your reports. Request one at the beginning of the year, one halfway, and then one toward the end of the year. This will help you to see if there have been any significant changes in your credit throughout the year, and whether or not you need to make any appeals or claims if there are any discrepancies or errors.
If you're interested in learning more about how to stay up-to-date with your finances, check out the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s Smart Money financial education program or Credit.org's Financial Instructional Training Academy's personal finance education webinars. Both of these financial education programs are easy to find online, and the best part is that they are free. Good luck as you embark on your journey to financial success with these various tips and tools in hand.