Here are four steps to take today to spruce up your money management process and get yourself on the path to financial health.
(BPT) - Are you feeling good about your finances? Or do phrases like “account balance,” “credit score” and “retirement savings” give you a twinge of anxiety?
Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Only 24 percent of millennials have basic financial literacy, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. When it comes to getting their financial house in order, most millennials would prefer not to set foot in that proverbial house in the first place. Getting yourself out of debt and building enough savings to cover your expenses in an emergency is a marathon, not a sprint. Small, incremental changes in your financial habits today can make a big difference in your financial health months or even years from now.
Take these steps today to spruce up your money management process and get yourself on the path to financial health.
* Check your credit score. Before you start the work of realigning your finances, you should check your credit score and review your credit report. It helps to know where you stand financially, and the good news is, even if your credit score is not as high as you’d like it to be, you can take steps to improve it. Establishing a history of on-time payments and maintaining a healthy credit utilization ratio are two things that could improve your credit score quickly. One way to access your credit score without any cost is to find out if your bank or lender offers your VantageScore through their website.
* Knock down your debt. Track down all your accounts — checking, savings, investment, credit cards and other loans — and do the math to find out your net worth. That’s your benchmark to help you track your progress. In the beginning, the truth can hurt, however, knowing how much you have in savings and knowing how much you owe gives you a valuable blueprint for where you need to direct your energy. From there, put together a household budget, and figure out where you can trim expenses, so you can pay ahead on your debts, one account at a time.
* Automate your savings. You’re much more likely to accumulate savings when you make the decision once and let the rest happen automatically. Log onto your bank account and set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings, starting with a small amount, preferably timed with your regular pay day. If you can manage to set aside $85 a month, in a year’s time, you’ll have set aside a full $1,000. That’s a decent emergency fund for things like car repairs and doctor bills.
* Open a retirement account. Here’s another way to automate savings. If you haven’t done so already, start contributing to a retirement plan. Even better, if your employer makes a plan and a match available to employees, sign up as soon as you can. If you can’t afford to contribute the full amount to get the full match, start with a small percentage, and slowly add on.
Taking the first steps to gain control of your finances isn’t easy. Setting up good financial habits today can leave you in a better place tomorrow. Test your credit score knowledge at CreditScoreQuiz.org, and be sure to visit VantageScore Solutions to learn what things influence your score, and what you can do to improve it.
Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
How to Help Your Family Budget
(Family Features) Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
Many people turn to creating a personalized budget or a spending schedule to help keep track of their expenses. Planning payments on a monthly basis can sometimes be helpful when it comes to setting an appropriate family budget, anticipating short-term expenses and planning ahead for long-term payments.
However, creating a personalized budget is not always enough. Some companies also offer discount and incentive programs for particular customers, so it’s best to do some research when planning your next month’s budget and take advantage of available programs.
For example, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for $5.99 per month for customers receiving government assistance. This offer is already available to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders and now Medicaid recipients also qualify. Members have access to a wide selection of more than 100 million items, video and music streaming services, low prices on select items and fast, convenient delivery options, which can ultimately help save both time and money.
In addition to fast, free shipping on millions of items, these benefits come at no additional cost to Prime members:
To help make your budget more manageable, take a close look at your bills, ongoing purchases and opportunities to save where possible.
Find more information to help balance your budget at amazon.com/qualify.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
Saving money – it’s one of the most challenging tasks people face month after month, year after year. However, a few simple rules and free personal finance apps can make it easier for you to stay on top of your spending and saving habits. Consider these simple steps for building up your savings and net worth.
5 Steps to Saving Money Easily
(Family Features) Saving money – it’s one of the most challenging tasks people face month after month, year after year. However, a few simple rules and free personal finance apps can make it easier for you to stay on top of your spending and saving habits.
Consider these simple steps for building up your savings and net worth:
Track Your Spending Habits
Use Peer Pressure to Your Advantage
Identify Problem Areas
Set a (Logical) Budget
Negotiate and Change Financial Providers
Saving money can be a challenge for people in all walks of life, but creating a plan can help you change the outlook of your financial life for the better. Visit statusmoney.com to learn how much you can save.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (woman using calculator)SOURCE:
(BPT) - It’s that time of year again when you may find a little bit of extra money in your pocket, thanks to your annual tax refund. There are plenty of practical ways to spend it, such as putting it toward paying off credit cards, loan payments or even starting a college fund, but there is always something tempting about taking that money and putting it toward something just a little bit more fun. Instead, consider something that is both practical and fun that you will use every day and will help you save money throughout the year.
1. Learn something new: Maybe you have been meaning to learn a new skill or explore a subject that you have taken interest in. Your refund is the perfect solution to fund a new hobby. A little bit of cash and a few extra hours a week can go a long way in honing in on one of your new (or old) passion points. Look into your local community college, dance studio, art center, etc. and check out the various classes offered to find one that piques your curiosity. If you are lucky, these courses could turn into something far more fruitful that will last far beyond tax season.
2. Be on the cutting edge: Haven’t you always wanted to be the first among your friends with one of the latest smartphones? Often though, it becomes too expensive between the phone, the update charge and the data fees. This year, use your tax refund to purchase one of the latest smartphones and a new wireless plan that allows you to save in the long-term. Achieve balance with Straight Talk’s $55 Ultimate Unlimited* Plan, and stay in touch with friends and family, stream the latest videos and navigate while you’re on-the-go without worry. While you reward yourself with the latest technology and unlimited* data, you’ll also give yourself the gift of saving on your phone bill all year long.
3. Plan a staycation: Planning a vacation can be tough with a hectic family schedule. Between working out the details and packing, the planning process can become overwhelming. Why make it complicated when you can instead vacation from the comfort of your own home? Use your refund to have family-based experiences in your hometown — many museums, zoos, waterparks, etc. offer discounted year-round family memberships, too. Even though your staycation may end once the weekend is over, the new membership will allow for family fun to continue throughout the year.
4. Get fit: Have you faltered on that New Year’s resolution to spend a few more hours a week at the gym? Your tax return is your second chance at getting into better shape this year. If the gym isn’t for you, put it toward trying a new exercise class, or better yet, do it with a friend or partner! Many workout studios give discounted classes for your first session, so you’ll have the opportunity to “try before you buy” — and if you love it, pick up a package of classes to reduce longer-term costs.
5. Cook a homemade family feast: While you could take your hard-earned tax return to a fancy restaurant, you could also make a fancy dinner right at home. Use your extra spending cash to revamp your kitchen with new appliances and ingredients that will allow for more exciting in-home dining. Splurge on a homemade pasta maker or a brand-new mixer, then work as a family to cook up your very own secret recipe. These purchases and new creations will result in a fun night of cooking for the whole family, but also will be around for years to come!
You work hard all year and deserve to reward yourself with something fun and practical that can bring a little more balance to your emotional and financial health. For more information and ways to save, visit StraightTalk.com.
*At 60GB, Straight Talk reserves the right to review accounts for usage in violation of its Terms and Conditions. Please refer to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at StraightTalk.com. A month equals 30 days.
(BPT) - A recent study by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College suggests an alarming state of awareness about retirement readiness: Of surveyed households, 33 percent realize they are not well prepared, 19 percent are not well prepared but don't know it, and 24 percent are well prepared but don't know it.
For the Americans at risk of not being able to maintain an adequate retirement lifestyle, it's critical to take action. For the households that are well prepared and don't know it, they risk sacrificing a comfortable retirement. Understanding the behaviors associated with good retirement planning, in turn, can help you get a better sense of where you stand. Consider the following behaviors, which are more likely to be modeled by those who are well prepared for retirement.
A high-level approach to ensuring adequate retirement assets is to save a minimum of 10 percent of your gross income each year. You may need to save even more depending on your asset accumulation goals and how many years you have left to save before retirement.
If you would rather have a dollar goal, multiply your annual income goal by 25 to arrive at the amount you should try to save. For example, if after considering Social Security and any pension payment, you want $30,000 more of annual income in retirement, you will need to save $750,000. Lower goals mean you need to withdraw at a faster rate and increase the risk you will deplete your assets too soon.
Not all budgets need to detail specific spending items. Rather, you can consider yourself working within a budget if you know that each year you are saving and not creating new debt (and paying off legacy debt for your education or home). If you want to squeeze out more savings, a line-by-line review of spending may well be fruitful.
Many of us are saddled with personal debt from college and graduate school. This debt has become so burdensome that the customary progression to home ownership has been delayed for many. The debt has also had a domino effect on the ability to save for retirement. Paying down personal debt should be job one. Other personal debt, such as for a car purchase, should be avoided, minimized or paid down as quickly as possible. Credit card debt, which carries high interest rates, should be avoided entirely. Remember, each dollar of debt limits your ability to save for the future.
It used to be commonly accepted that you pay off your mortgage before retirement, but more and more retirees are entering retirement with mortgage debt. The old rule remains the best approach, since any indebtedness in retirement will limit your ability to react and adjust to poor investment return on your assets.
With traditional pension plans less commonly offered by employers, Social Security has become an even more important source of guaranteed lifetime retirement income. By waiting to age 70, you can increase the benefit payment significantly, which is also the base for annual Social Security cost-of-living increases for the rest of your life. That increased Social Security benefit may also increase the benefit that a surviving spouse will receive after you die. Unless you have a health care issue that could reduce your life expectancy and no spouse who might need a spousal benefit based on your earnings record, claiming Social Security early is the greatest retirement planning mistake made.
Health care is the single greatest cost in retirement, and various studies estimate the cost to be $250,000 or more for a healthy 65-year-old couple. The cost of health care will be even greater to the extent one retires before age 65 and Medicare eligibility.
Moreover, health care costs can vary and may come sooner than expected. The best plan, then, is to work until at least age 65 and understand that health care is a unique challenge in retirement. To the extent possible, utilize Health Savings Accounts and bank any unused amounts annually to build up a tax-free health care fund for retirement.
No later than 10 years before your planned retirement, you should be translating your retirement assets into an annual or monthly retirement income stream. Start with your Social Security and any pension plan payments as your income base, and then consider how much income your other assets can safely generate. Depending on this analysis, you may want to consider purchasing an annuity to make more of your retirement income guaranteed and avoid the twin risks of poor investment return and living longer than expected.
Consider also that many of your retirement assets have an embedded tax liability. You will need to look through your retirement assets to determine after-tax income, since your food, rent and cable bills are paid with after-tax money. Only by seeing your after-tax income can you decide if you have enough to live on.
Annual financial wellness check-ups
During your early working years, you are likely to be focused on debt reduction and asset accumulation. As you get closer to retirement, you will need to focus on the strategies associated with Social Security, health care and income generation. At all times you should annually revisit your goals and make adjustments, as needed, to how much and where you are saving, how much you are spending, how aggressively you are investing, and when your target retirement date is.
Modeling such behaviors will make it more likely you will be well prepared for retirement. By doing so you will also make it more likely that you are properly assessing the state of your retirement readiness and not over- or underestimating your financial health.
Interested in Publishing on The Money Idea?
Send your query to the Publisher today!
Get this money content for your website with our RSS Feed below!