You need money to get by in the world, but most of us have not been formally educated on how to manage our personal finances. We hear things from people we know, the media, and in advertisements. A lot of what we hear is out of context or wrong, and money is so personal that we often think it's in bad taste to talk about it with other people. So the topic is avoided.
But it's clear that many Americans desperately need to improve their financial situation. A recent survey from Bankrate.com says that 63% of Americans don't have enough savings to cover a $500 unexpected expense. Worse, one in three families have no savings. That's a big deal because unexpected expenses are as guaranteed as death and taxes. They always happen.
Many people feel that they can't save because they don't earn enough money. There are people that's true for. Some people are doing everything they can, working multiple jobs and not spending a penny on nonessential items, and they still can't get ahead. Those people are in a very difficult spot, and a better paying job might be the only solution for them. Everyone else can benefit from making better choices about spending, saving, and investing their money. Here are some tips for doing just that.
Smart Spending and Saving
Pay yourself first, automatically.
If you have some money taken out of your bank account or paycheck automatically every month or pay period, you won't miss it. You can have your bank deposit money from your checking account into your savings, and make automatic deposits into your retirement plan. Set it up once, forget about it, and watch small contributions add up to something significant. Paying yourself after you've paid your bills or trying to remember to transfer money each pay period is a recipe for procrastinating and forgetting. Automating saving is the way to make sure it's done consistently.
Beware of the 'latte factor.'
Everyone is concerned about big expenses, but small things add up to be a major drain on your finances. The latte factor describes how spending a negligible amount of money frequently, on an item like coffee, can cost serious money over time. The latte factor is devious because there's no pain in spending a few dollars at a time, but when you look back you realize you've spent a small fortune. If you need to save money, see if you can cut back on nonessentials like eating out and entertainment. It's not about eliminating simple joys, but about being aware of how much they really cost you. Take a thorough look at your cell phone plan, cable bill, and car insurance to see if you can save any money there, as well. Even a little bit adds up when its repeated enough times.
Be aggressive with your money when you're younger, and conservative with it when you're older.
When you're younger, you can lose a lot of money and recover because you have most of your working life ahead of you to make it up. When you're older, you don't have that luxury. For example, financial advisors recommend that you concentrate your retirement savings in stocks when you're younger and transition into bonds as retirement nears. The reason is that stocks yield higher returns and carry more risk, while bonds are low yield, low risk. You can get the best of both worlds by owning each at the appropriate time in your life. Remember that there's no need to pick individual stocks, just buy into a low cost index fund and reinvest the dividends. Studies have shown that index funds are not only cheaper, but consistently outperform actively managed funds.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There's always someone trying to sell an investment that's going to make you rich quickly and easily. A few years ago you couldn't throw a rock without hitting someone who was trying to sell you gold, saying you'd be a fool to miss out on the returns it was sure to provide. Real estate was similarly touted as a no-fail investment, just like countless stocks poised to explode in value, and many other 'opportunities' to make easy money. There's a term for when everybody is rushing to buy something so they don't miss out. It's called a bubble. That doesn't mean all those things are bad investments. In fact, gold is supposed to be part of a diversified portfolio, and real estate and the stock market have helped many people build wealth. However speculation is inherently dangerous. If you're determined to speculate instead of invest, don't spend any more money than you can afford to lose, and ask yourself some questions: Do you understand the investment or are you taking a salesperson's word? At what price will you sell to cut your losses or take profits? Are you being realistic or hopeful?
You've got to save and make smart investments if you want to build wealth and retire. Save as much as you can starting early and often, and beware of things that seem too good to be true. All too many Americans have little or no savings and can't cope with even minor unexpected expenses. Six million homeowners have been foreclosed on since the housing bubble burst, with nearly a million more in some stage of the foreclosure process. And almost a third of homeowners have effective negative equity in their home.
Financial troubles are no trivial concern. They cause serious stress. People facing foreclosure are at a higher risk of suicide and physical ailments. Do your best to educate yourself, and talk to a professional when you need to. There may be help that you didn't know was available for people in your exact situation.
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