Working toward financial responsibility may not sound like the most exciting life decision, but falling into debt is definitely a lot less fun than budgeting. Being smart with your money is a life skill that can be learned at any age, but it’s easier to start young.
Whether you’re 22 and looking ahead to your post-college years of independence or 52 and moving on from past mistakes, there are some crucial steps to take if you want to be confident in and comfortable with the way you manage your finances.
1. Prioritize Saving
Setting aside money can be one of the most difficult changes for people to make (which is why it helps to start saving from a young age). Instead of figuring out monthly expenses and saving whatever is left, try setting up an automatic transfer for the amount of money you need to save, then determine the rest of your spending plans with the remainder of your disposable income.
Saving comes in many forms — retirement, an emergency fund, a down payment for a home or car, indulgences — and it’s up to you to decide what needs your attention. Because saving is a long process, it’s often best to contribute a little to a lot of goals, rather than trying to meet one at a time. Especially when it comes to retirement and emergencies, savings are crucial to avoiding expensive debt that is often difficult to escape.
2. Stick to a Budget
There are different schools of thought on the “best ways” to budget, but in general, it helps to track your spending, even if you’re not categorizing every transaction. If you don’t know where your money is going, chances are you’ll lose track and end up short when it comes time to pay bills. For anyone looking for some guidance, here are some great tips on creating your first budget.
You’ll really regret spending money on unnecessary items if it prevents you from making important payments, because payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score, and good credit is often a hallmark of the financially responsible.
3. Avoid Debt
Not all debt is bad, but unnecessary borrowing certainly is. The primary reason to avoid borrowing is because it’s expensive: You pay interest on the amount you borrow, and if you have poor credit, you’ll end up paying a lot more in the long run than a credit-smart consumer with a similar loan.
It’s a common misconception that you can’t have good credit without going into debt. One of the simplest ways to build credit is to use a credit card and pay off the balance in full every cycle: You pay the same amount for items you charge as you would using cash, because you don’t pay interest unless you carry a balance. Before you start using a credit card, make sure you understand what APR is and how credit card use could impact your financial situation.
Assuming you want to make some large purchases in the future, like a home or a car, it’s likely you’ll need to finance them, which is why fiscal responsibility and smart credit choices matter. Not only is it sometimes difficult to receive loan approval with poor credit, the loan can be much more expensive than if you had a better credit score. You can check two of your credit scores for free through Credit.com, and additional free tools allow you to track your progress and make changes so you can improve your scores over time.
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