1. Take time to evaluate your current situation and how you can save more money.
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It sounds basic, but you can’t improve your finances if you don’t know what they look like now. Look at your statements from the previous year -- how much did you spend on food? Rent? Entertainment? Are there easy places where you can make cuts?
For example, I realized I was spending too much on eating out in 2018. This year, I want to make sure I keep plenty of nutritious food in my apartment, which should lessen the need for Seamless orders and help curb my spending.
In order to keep our spending in check, we can use the simple budget outlined by Joseph Benoit here. That budget is broken down into two types of expenses: fixed and variable expenses. A fixed expense is one that is predetermined, such as a loan payment or rent. A variable expense includes things like my restaurant spending, which can change based on my actions.
Jot down how much you expect to spend on major expenses, then track the difference between what you expected and what you did. Many banks have online features that can help you with this, but you can also make a spreadsheet for free.
2. Be willing to talk about finances with your partner.
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If you intend to share your financial situation with someone else, it’s important that you talk about money on a regular, continual basis. That can be a scary thing, especially if one of you has struggled in the past -- or is struggling now.
Brittney Castro has some great tips on how you can make that conversation easier.
Castro advises that you should start the conversation as slowly and calmly as possible. Don’t just spring a money conversation on your partner. Instead, let them know a few days in advance that you’d like to sit down and discuss finances. Then, when the day comes, ask them about their financial story -- give context to their current situation. Asking about how student loans helped them get a degree can be easier than bluntly asking whether they have a bunch of debt.
Finally, Castro says that you shouldn’t be satisfied with a single sit-down. Make your finances a long-term conversation, so that neither of you are surprised by the other.
3. Avoid Bitcoin and other high-risk options.
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Entrepreneur Network partner and investor Phil Town often talks about the first rule of investing: Never lose money. Simple enough, right? But, that’s Warren Buffett’s rule, and it’s helped him become one of the most successful and influential investors in the world.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies might be able to make you a fortune overnight, but they might bankrupt you the next. If your goal is to safely, incrementally increase your savings, then Bitcoin probably just isn’t a fit.
If you’re still interested, at least make sure you’re educated about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
4. Create a travel fund.
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Brittney Castro advocates that anyone who plans on taking a vacation should think ahead and set aside money well in advance. Don’t just budget for plane tickets or hotels, but also for the experiences or expenses you expect to need. For example, if you’re coming to New York, you might budget in the cost of Broadway tickets, or a tour of Ellis Island, or a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.
That way, you won’t splurge and spend more than you can afford, but you also won’t feel guilty about making purchases. It’s a win-win.
5. Contribute to your 401(k).
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According to the Entrepreneur encyclopedia, a 401(k) is “a retirement plan for employees that allows them to put part of their pre-tax salary in an account. The funds may not be withdrawn until employees retire without paying a penalty.”
If you are a full-time employee, you should be able to contribute to your 401(k). The IRS says there are four steps of setting up and maxing out a 401(k) that can help you either set up a 401(k) for your business or help you contribute to an individual account: choosing, establishing, operating and terminating. Here’s a quick breakdown of each part.
- Start by thinking ahead toward retirement
- Learn specifically how money can be put aside for your and your employees’ retirement
You take the necessary steps to put your plan in place. Depending on the type of plan you choose, the administrative steps may include:
- Put your plan in place by adopting a written plan and arranging a fund for the plan’s assets
- Tell your eligible employees about the terms of the plan
- Develop a record-keeping system
You want to operate your retirement plan so that the assets in the plan continue to grow and the tax-benefits of the plan are preserved. The ongoing steps you need to take to operate your plan may vary depending on the type of plan you establish. Your basic steps will include:
- Allow assets in the plan to grow while preserving the tax benefits.
- Cover eligible employees and make contributions
- Keep the plan up-to-date with retirement plan laws
- Manage the plan assets
- Provide information to employees participating in the plan
- Distribute benefits
- If the plan no longer fits, close it and notify the appropriate parties
- Discuss each of the four stages with a tax professional
You can learn more about 401(k)s by checking out the IRS website.
6. Stop buying extended warranties.
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Be honest with yourself: How often have you really ever returned a microwave after three years, or a toaster after 18 months? Probably never, right? Yet, you’ve probably purchased an extended warranty before in order to give yourself that option.
There’s a reason stores like Best Buy offer those extended warranties -- according to Entrepreneur Network partner Jeff Rose, those warranties contribute a huge percentage of the company’s profits.
They know you’re more likely to lose the receipt or forget about the warranty than you are to actually return whatever you bought. You should do the same and save yourself some easy money the next time you buy something that offers an extended warranty.
7. Get a credit card if you don’t already have one -- but make sure you manage your payments.
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Credit cards can come with great rewards and/or cashback offerings that will help you save money on all sorts of purchases, and you can find one that suits your unique needs. If you spend a lot of money at the grocery store, you might be able to find one that saves you seven percent on every purchase. Or if you like to order from Amazon, you could get a card that gets you five percent back on every order. You can also get general cards that get you a few percent back on everything you buy.
In order to find the right one for you, you need to know a few things:
- Does the card have a spending minimum? That is, how much do you have to spend on a monthly basis to earn that card?
- Does the card have a monthly fee? How much would you have to spend to make that fee worth it?
- What penalties can you incur for failing either the first two or failing to make your regular payments?
After all, there’s no point in getting a card that penalizes you more money than it saves you.
8. Being cheap can ultimately be costly.
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If you want to save money this year, it makes a certain sort of sense that you might want to buy cheaper options. And that can be a great thing -- if possible, you should go to the grocery store more often, do meal prep or rent a movie or watch something on Netflix instead of paying $40 to go to the theater. But, if you need something to last, it makes sense that you should try to get it right the first time. If you need a new computer, don’t buy a broken down one for $300 if it means you’re going to need to replace it again next year. Because while that might save you money in 2019, it’s going to cost you in 2020.
More specifically, you should value things that will retain their value for a long time. For example, a used car with a great engine is often a better purchase than a brand-new vehicle, because a new car’s value depreciates as soon as you buy it.
Think of your purchases as investments -- evaluate what makes sense long-term, and be willing to take a short-term hit if it will pay out in the long run.
9. Create an emergency fund.
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The government shutdown highlights something we all should know, but rarely think about -- much of life is simply out of our control. We can’t predict everything that is going to happen, but we can do our best to prepare financially for whatever comes our way.
Phil Town breaks down his advice for an emergency fund in this video, but there are a few simple tenets to a good emergency fund:
- It should be able to last you three to six months
- It should be liquid -- that is, available at a moment’s notice
- It should only be touched for emergencies
If you’re going to use the emergency fund for just anything, you’d probably be better off using it on your 401(k), stocks or other investments. But, the whole point is that it’s locked away until you really need it.