Whether you're experiencing the excitement of your first steady paycheck or have been working for years, learning to manage your money wisely can help you not just in the short-term but well into the future. Here are 30 tips for financial success that you can start applying now. Some of this advice may not necessarily apply to your own financial situation, and you may want to consult with a financial professional before you make any decisions.
General Financial Tips
Pay Yourself First: In other words, put some of your hard-earned pay into savings and investments. Some financial planners suggest that as much as a third of your paycheck should be going into savings for emergencies like illness or layoffs, as well as for big future expenses. Senator Elizabeth Warren, special advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, suggests 50/30/20: 50 percent of your take-home pay goes toward needs, 30 percent toward wants and 20 percent toward savings. If you are single and childless, this is the time to live with less so that you can have more in the future. If you have a family, then it will be harder, but it's still possible.
Balance Debt Payment and Investing: In general, you are better off paying down your debt than putting that money into investments (provided you don't continue to accrue more debt). However, it's not always a simple yes-no situation. If you constantly pay off debt and never invest, you may be encouraged to live beyond your means and you'll have nothing set aside for the future. Check out our article on debt payment vs. investing for more.
Comparison Shop for Your Credit Card: Don't sign up for the first credit card to offer a free tumbler for filling out the form. Look for the ones that offer the best interest and rewards program. Avoid annual fees unless you've done the math and are sure you will get back that investment in benefits.
Always Pay More Than the Minimum on Credit Cards: Paying credit card interest is like flushing your money down the toilet, and the longer you have credit card debt, the more money you waste. Credit cards, however, are glad to keep you paying. They calculate the minimum payment as either a small percentage of the principal plus interest, or a small percentage of the amount owed, with payment going toward interest first. As a result, if you have a $1,000 credit card bill, you may only be paying off $15 to $30 of that $1,000 each month. If you pay the minimum payment, it will take you 47 months to pay off the debt, and you'll have spent $1,397 for your $1,000 purchase. Of course, if you miss a payment, incur fines or add more to the credit card, you will increase your debt and how long it takes to pay it.
Try to Pay More Than the Minimum on Loans: Loans, like credit cards, pay interest first, but loans are calculated so that you must have them paid off by a certain date. However, if you pay a little extra each month, you can pay off your loan faster and (provided there are no penalties for early payoff), you pay less overall. For example, if you have a $20,000 car loan for five years at 4.5 percent interest, that's $373 a month, and in the end, you'll have paid $2372 in interest. Rounding the payments up to $400 a month will pay off the loan four months earlier and save you $181. Throwing in an extra $100 a month to the payments cuts over a year off the loan and saves you $554.
Personal Lifestyle Financial Tips
Budget in Terms of Take-Home Pay: You may have scored a $35,000/year job, but that is not how much money you'll actually take home. Before you even see a cent, Uncle Sam will take out taxes and social security, and your employer will take out fees for insurance or other programs you are paying into. If you are taking the advice to pay yourself by investing in savings or retirement, that money should come out, too, along with any tithing or charitable giving you plan. Once all that is removed, that is the money you have for regular bills plus luxuries.
Think in Terms of Time, Not Money: When you're looking at that awesome TV on sale for $700, don't think in terms of the savings or even the price. Consider instead: How many hours will you have to work to pay that TV off? Remember that only take-home pay counts. If you make $16/hour, you may only get $12/hour after taxes and social security. You will need to work 58 hours to pay off the television, about seven and a half days, and that's if you aren't putting it on a credit card to pay interest.
Just Say No: We all know you shouldn't spend money you don't have. However, just because you have the money doesn't mean you need to spend it.
Curtail the Coffee Shop Purchases: You hear this advice a lot, and people often retort with, "What's a latte a week when my issue is making the rent?" Let's do the math: One popular business's latte costs $4.15. Save that amount once a week for a year and it's $207, which might pay a bill or two one month. (That's 50 weeks – treat yourself on Christmas and your birthday!) Say you get a latte every work day; give it up completely and make do with brewing your own, and you can save over $900 a year. (We've taken into account buying the coffee maker, the coffee, filters, sugar and creamer.) Depending on where you live, that could be a month's rent each year.
Don't Buy the Hype: Companies know people, millennials in particular, are concerned about the environment and are interested in green products and natural foods. Many companies try to cash in on this by claiming to be environmentally friendly when they aren't. It's called "greenwashing." Before putting extra money toward a "green" product or technology, do a little research and find out why it makes that claim and whether or not it's as true as the company says. Ditto for foods that claim to be healthier or organic. Also consider if it's in your best financial interest in the long run. Solar panels that cost you $10,000 but save you $100 a month won't be worthwhile if you are planning to move in a few years, especially if your area experiences a real-estate market slump.
Financial Tips for Young Adults
Accept That You Must Start at the Bottom: Financial experts are noting that young people expect to live as well as their parents (or the 20-something characters on TV) right out of college. That generally doesn't happen. The early years for most people involve cruddy apartments, cheap nights out and ramen noodles. Living at or even below your means in those early years can speed your journey toward the lifestyle you really want in the long term.
Let Your Income Rise Faster Than Your Lifestyle: Just because you got a raise at work does not mean you should move to a more expensive apartment or get a better car. Think about small improvements made gradually. If you're fine in the place you have, reward yourself with a short-term purchase you can pay off fast instead and put the extra earnings into investments or debt reduction.
Get Smart on Finances: Before trusting your investments to a financial planner (or your buddy, spouse or even a parent), do a little research yourself. Read some books on personal finance or explore articles. We offer learning centers on areas of investing, loans, debt management and personal finances.
Give Yourself (and Your Spouse) an Allowance: A great way to avoid spending the rent money on personal stuff and to keep from arguing over why he bought that workout gear and she bought that new PlayStation is to assign allowances. You and your spouse can determine what they are used for – lunches at the office, wardrobe, personal electronics – and how much each gets. Not only does it keep you from overspending the household money, but it can prevent arguments and lets you surprise your significant other with gifts because they won't see the purchase.
Discuss Finances Before You Combine Them: Even if you are responsible, getting involved with someone who isn't can wreck your finances. Before you get married or move in together, have a frank discussion about how finances will be handled. Who will be in charge of bills? What purchases must be discussed? Will you pool your earnings or assign certain financial responsibilities to each paycheck? How will you handle raises – or layoffs?
Tips for Investing
Money = Opportunity: Warren Buffet, the multi-billionaire investor, offers this advice: Don't think in terms of how much something costs; think in terms of what opportunities that money could buy. Say, for example, you need a new car and your choices are a fairly nice used one at $5,500 or a very cool new one at $32,000. Will that $26,500 of car benefit you more than if you invested that money? Probably not. On the other hand, investing $60 on an Excel course that gives you a certification you can show an employer could do your career more good than a $5 eBook on Excel tips and tricks.
Invest in Your Career: If a $2,000 class on job skills can help you get a better job, then it might be a better investment in the long run than even putting that same amount into an IRA.
Invest in your Retirement: Retirement may be 40 years away, but thanks to compound interest, the sooner you start putting in money, the more you'll have when you do finally quit working. Further, the earlier you start, the less you have to invest in order to get the same returns.
For example, say you start saving today $100 per month over a 40-year period, which compounds monthly at a 5% annual rate of return. At the end of 40 years, in 2053, your $48,000 contribution ($100 per month for 480 months) will have grown to approximately $152,602. If, instead, you wait until 2023 to start saving, you would have to contribute approximately $66,010 over a 30-year period ($183.36 per month for 360 months) in order for your savings to grow to approximately $152,603 by 2053. And finally, if you wait until 2033 to start saving, you would have to contribute approximately $89,105 over a 20-year period ($371.27 per month for 240 months) in order for your savings to grow to approximately $152,604 by 2053.
Diversify: No matter how much you are able to invest, don't put it all in one place. Savings are very secure but don't earn a lot in the long run. Meanwhile, stocks may be more volatile, but the potential gains are larger. When young, you definitely should invest in both low- and high-risk funds. As you get closer to retirement, you may want to increase the amount you have in lower-risk investments, however.
Watch for Investment Fees: Some investment companies charge monthly fees or inactivity fees that could end up sapping your hard-earned funds. Just like you should shop for the credit cards that give you the best deal, look also for the best investment firm for your needs and budget. If you are interested in going on your own with investing in the stock market, check out our online stock investing programs for beginners.
Tips for Your Paycheck
Independent Contractor? Prepare for taxes: Being an independent contractor might seem like you are getting a bigger paycheck than if you were a salary worker, but the employer is not removing taxes or social security for you. Find out how much you'll have to pay the IRS come April, then set up a savings account and put enough money away each month that you can pay the bill with ease come April. If you save too much – congratulations! You got a refund.
Fluctuating Income? Stick to a monthly average and save the rest: If you are in a job that depends on tips or seasonal business, you know you have slow months. Your best move is to set aside money during the good times to get you past the slow times. Determine how much an average month is and what your expenses are. (Don't forget investments and taxes). Then, in months when you go over that, put the rest in a special account to carry you through the lean months. Alternately, use some of that overflow to pay down or pay off debts, provided you have enough saved so that you can pay the bills even in months when your income dips below average.
Get Health Insurance: Not only is it expensive to have to go to the doctor or emergency room, but the government now imposes fines on uninsured people. Even the most basic of insurance plans can protect you. Check out our reviews on health insurance companies if your employer does not provide it for you.
Invest in Employer Matching Fund Programs: Many employers offer funds-matching programs as a benefit. For example, some offer to put in 50 cents for every dollar you invest in the company 401(k) program. That's just free money, given to you tax free as well. If you invest $2,000 over a year, you've just given yourself a $1,000 bonus which is going toward your retirement.
Invest in Employer Fund Programs: Employers also sometimes have fund programs for health care, transportation expenses and the like. These are accounts that you put a small amount into each month and them pull out for medical expenses, bus passes or whatever the fund is earmarked for. The nice thing about these is that the money comes out of your check before taxes. Thus, if you make $32,000 annually, but put $2000 into these programs, you are only taxed on the remaining $30,000.
Bonus Tip: Donate Regularly
It doesn't benefit you financially, but it does benefit your soul as well as help others. You don't have to be religious to dedicate a portion of your paycheck to good works. There are plenty of worthy charities, from medical research to sponsoring children in poverty. Do the research, however, to find a charity that puts donations toward the cause and not toward administrative or promotional expenses.