Taking control of your finances is not easy. It involves calculation, dedication and usually some serious behavioral changes. Creating a plan and sticking to it prepares you for both short- and long-term financial well-being. Use this checklist to get started on your path to financial health. Getting started is the hard part, but you’ll find that the more you accomplish off of the following list, the more motivated you will be to keep on the path.
Set a savings goal.
The earlier you plan for your financial future, the more your money compounds over time. Be sure you have a plan for your savings, whether it’s for starting an Emergency Fund, a Retirement Account or paying off destructive debts like credit cards. Finally, make sure you increase your savings as your wages increase.
Track your purchases.
Simply keeping track of your spending is a great first step to building a budget. Make sure you go through your bank statements on a monthly basis and try to recognize all of your charges. Many times, things pop up on your statement that are irregular. Ask yourself if the money spent on non-essentials was worth it. Often, this frank discussion with yourself will allow you to find ways to reduce your spending on unnecessary items - if even only a little.
Cancel unused services.
Some services may charge you for monthly fees and automated annual renewals without you realizing it. Catalog your subscriptions, and cancel the ones you don’t use or could do without. There are billions of dollars we spend a year on services we either thought we discontinued or didn’t know we had in the first place.
Tackle credit card debt.
Try to eliminate one of the most expensive and spiraling debts you can have: credit card debt. With interest rates often topping 18%, monthly payments usually only cover interest and don’t touch the debt itself. People can live with these types of dangerous debt for their entire lives before they get them under control.
Pay yourself first.
Automatically allocate a portion of your paycheck to go into your personal savings and retirement accounts. When the money is taken out of your paycheck before it hits your bank account, you won’t miss it. This is one of the easiest ways to get some extra insurance should a financial curveball come your way. And the best part - it’s automatic.
Contribute to your 401k or IRA.
Be sure to contribute the maximum you are able to into your retirement funds. That’s money in the bank for your future, and less taxable income right now. Additionally, 401Ks can be matched by your employer, which becomes free money added to your retirement account. Who doesn’t like free money?
Monitor your Credit Report.
Maintaining good credit means you’ll pay lower interest rates when you borrow for a big purchase like a house or car. Check your report for free at least once a year. There are several places you can check and usually, your current financial institution or credit card can offer a free look. If not, there are several services you can use to obtain your score.
Set up automatic bill pay.
Pay your bills on time with automated services. Setting up automatic payments saves both time and hassle while helping you avoid late fees and potential damage to your credit score. Anytime you can set-and-forget a bill is less time you have to worry about keeping track - and less likely you’ll accidentally miss it. Missing a bill for even one month can wreak havoc on your credit score.
Get a better deal.
Call around. Survey the field. Is there a cable company that may offer a better monthly rate? Is there a promotional deal that makes sense? Have you been a loyal customer for a long time? Often, service providers and even credit card companies would consider better rates or lower fees if you’re a good, long-term customer.
Start an Emergency Fund.
Make sure you set aside funds in an easily accessible account in case of an emergency. That way, in the unlikely instance you need to make a large healthcare, car or simply an unplanned payment, you will avoid paying fees to access your retirement account or going into debt.
There are many considerations to think about when tackling the complex topic of your ultimate financial health. This checklist is a great start.
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