Let’s face it—no matter how much you might love your job and enjoy going to work every day, when it comes down to it, you rely on your profession to pay the bills and support yourself and your family. Though you may not be in your ideal salary range just yet, if you’re financially fit–responsible with your spending and mindful of how much you have in your accounts–you should still be able to cover your expenses and hopefully have something left over at the end of each month.
Sounds easy, right?
From poor work performance to fighting with a spouse, your financial health can easily affect every area of your life. Household finances top the list of sticking points for many couples. Marriages have ended, jobs and homes have been lost, and folks have committed suicide because of money woes. Bank accounts have been wiped out and credit ratings have been ruined because of overspending and financial irresponsibility. If you have trouble managing your finances, it won’t matter if you earn minimum wage or a six-figure salary—if you don’t know how to handle money, you’ll always feel as though you’re scrambling to pay off your debt and peace of mind will seem a long way off.
More companies have started offering financial literacy workshops to employees as part of their corporate wellness programs to help individuals get a better grasp of their spending habits. In today’s shaky economic climate and stagnant job market, it’s more important than ever to make your salary go as far as possible. Below are a few tips to improve your financial fitness:
1. Develop a budget.
Getting a handle on your finances starts with taking a hard look at where your money goes and seeing what you can reduce or cut out completely. Sit down with your bills and see what you pay for everything each month. Account for your basic living expenses first, then see what you accumulate in “extras”—your morning coffee fix, dinners out, vacations, etc. When you see your expenses laid out in black and white, it’ll be easier to see where you can cut back. You might be surprised at how much you’re forking over for things you can easily do at home for much less money. Invite your friends over for a nice dinner rather than go out. Brew your own coffee—splurge on a gourmet brand if you must, but use it sparingly and make it last. Trim your shopping habits. Instead of hitting the mall for some new things, dig into your closet. You probably have more than a few things in there you’ve forgotten about or have never worn. Get out the iron and start putting together some new outfits. No one will ever know you got those pants three months ago.
2. Open a savings account.
I’m always surprised to hear how many people I know do not have any type of savings account. They’ve either never had one, or whatever money was in it is now long gone. I think of my savings as a safety net, and don’t dip into it unless absolutely necessary. I reserve that account for larger one-time purchases rather than a regular source of cash flow. Try to set aside a little bit from every paycheck for your savings account and resist any urge you have to withdraw funds from that account. Let it accumulate and keep it as your nest egg for emergencies.
3. Don’t rely solely on credit cards.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is paying for everything with plastic. Use the card for larger, one-time purchases, such as some new furniture or a vacation. Many people start running into trouble when the bill comes and they see their interest payment. The longer you put off writing a check, the more interest you’ll accumulate. This is how credit card debt can easily snowball. Pay those credit card bills, even if you can only manage a minimum payment every month. Apply for a store credit card only if you’re sure you’ll be able to pay the balance due.
4. Pay your bills on time.
No one likes to see the window envelopes filling up the mailbox, but sadly, bills are the reality of life. Budget enough to cover your expenses every month, even if it means putting off that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing for months or the new iPhone you were planning to buy. The electric company doesn’t care about your newest gadget or how cute your shoes might be—they care about you keeping your power on (and you should, too).
5. Live at – or below – your means.
This is really the key to smarter spending. Once you’ve listed all of your expenses and have devised a budget, it’s important to stick to it. If you have a weakness for brand name or high-end anything, wait for end-of-season sales or seek out deals online. Of course everyone wants the best of everything, but the reality is that many people simply can’t afford it and often dig themselves very deep into debt trying to maintain that sort of lifestyle.
There are a lot of resources out there to get you going on the path to better finance. Share any tips or strategies you’ve put in place in the comments.
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