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Having a financial plan is about more than figuring out how much of your paycheck is left after the bills are paid. Your plan starts with thinking about what you really want to do. What goals do you have? Do you want to travel? Buy a house? Own a business?
Being successful, whatever that means to you, starts with having a clear idea of where you want to go and then making a plan to get there. Creating a budget is a key part of any financial plan and will help you achieve your goals and stay focused. If necessary, look for resources that provide budgeting or other money management tips.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to rely on credit for unexpected expenses. One of your top priorities should be building up your emergency savings. As a guide, experts recommend saving at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
Saving for retirement should be another top priority. When investing long-term, you’ll want to consider putting your money in something other than a standard savings account that has tax benefits. The most popular accounts that can allow your money to grow tax-free until you are older (hint: age of withdrawal without penalty is 59.5) are 401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). You may want to get financial tips and guidance from a professional advisor.
Using credit responsibly is an important part of a sound financial plan because your credit score impacts your ability to make almost any big financial purchases. Be sure to pay your bills on time, every time, and try to keep your balance well below the limit of the card. Pay attention to the ratio of how much debt you currently have to how much you can borrow. This number should stay below 30 percent or it can negatively impact your credit score.
Housing costs are generally the most significant part of everyone's budget, as well as a major emotional investment. The search for the "perfect" home can easily extend your budget beyond what's really comfortable.
When setting a housing budget, be sure to include all fixed costs and consider what amount you really want to pay. Keep in mind if you are buying a home that just because a lender approves you for a certain home loan amount does not mean that amount is ideal for your budget. The lender is looking out for their best interests — not yours.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when getting their finances in order is becoming too strict. If we constantly deny ourselves the things we love the most, we will eventually cave into the pressure and make mistakes.
Studies have shown that willpower is a limited resource — you can only resist so many temptations before you will give in.
The world of finance is complicated, but money is a necessary part of life. You don't have to understand everything, but in order to stay financially secure, you need to keep learning about tools and resources you can take advantage of to make what you have work hard for you.
Take stock of what you already understand; then build on that with books, classes or savings advice from a professional. Before you know it, you’ll be sharing your expertise on how to manage money effectively with friends and family.
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