Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
11 minutes reading time (2247 words)

10 Actions That Will Improve Your Financial Outlook

Are you on the road to financial independence? Do you look to the future with a sense of security? Are you confident that your responsible financial decisions will assure you a comfortable retirement?

No matter your age, now is the time to take steps to secure your financial future. If you’re fresh out of college, time is your best friend; smart decisions now will be compounded over the many years and paychecks. If you are nearing retirement, you must act now to ensure that you can enjoy those golden years, rather than stressing about how the bills will be paid.

Take control of your financial situation today!

1) Set financial goals.
How can you get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going? You should have a clear picture of long-term goals, including retirement, and short term goals, including paying off existing debts or buying a home.

Figure out your net worth to see how far you have to go to meet these goals. Your net worth is the difference between everything you own minus everything you owe; that is your assets minus liabilities. Knowing your net worth will give you a clear picture of your current situation and your financial starting point.

Where do you want to go from here? Do you want to buy a nicer home or be able to travel the world? Do you dream about starting your own business or sending your kids to the best school? It won’t happen by accident; you must plan for it and take the necessary action now to ensure that it will be possible later.

2) Develop a budget.
Now that you know where you’re going, you can draw up a financial roadmap to get there. A budget may seem restrictive to some, but setting a realistic, workable budget now will set you free from the anxiety of living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of your life.

Spend a few minutes to write up what you think you’re spending every month. Then, document every cent you spend for the next month, including bills, shopping, life’s little emergencies, investments, and entertainment. You might be surprised after comparing the list of expenses you guessed you had, with what you actually spent in reality.

Now compare your expenditures to your income. If you still have some left over every month, you’re living within your means and you have a good start to financial security. If you’re spending more than your income every month, which is easy to do with the use of credit cards, you have to figure out how to cut your expenses so you don’t dig yourself into deep debt.

3) Reduce your debts.
Whether it’s credit card debt, student loans, or a home mortgage, these debts are costing you interest fees. Pay your debts down faster than the creditor requires, so you can minimize those costs.

Using credit can enable us to enjoy an easier lifestyle, making it possible to purchase a car or home. Abusing credit can cause long-term financial hardship if it’s used like “extra money”. Don’t spend more than you normally would just because you have a credit card in your wallet, it will have to be paid back, with interest.

The longer you take to pay back that amount in full, the more the interest fees run up. Lenders may be willing to extend more credit than you know you can handle; don’t take on a loan bigger than you know you can afford just because you were approved for it.

4) Improve your credit score.
Your credit score is the three-digit number, based on your credit history, that lenders look at to determine if they will grant you credit, and at what price. The terms you get on home mortgages, car loans, and credit cards will often be based on your credit score.

It can save you many thousands of dollars in interest over the course of your life to have a higher credit score. People who have lower credit scores often start off with good intentions to pay, but mistakenly take on more debt than they can afford, and then they are hit with penalty fees and higher interest rates when they can’t pay as agreed. They are punished with more expensive loan terms every time they get new credit, making it difficult to ever get ahead.

This can be a hard cycle to overcome; improve your credit score so that using credit costs you less. If you have had past credit issues, it will take time, money, and diligence to gradually bring your credit score up, but it will be well worth your commitment. If you have excellent credit, keep up the responsible spending habits and your credit score will keep improving, and the best credit terms will remain available to you.

5) Get adequate insurance coverage.
You never know what could happen tomorrow. It’s important to have insurance to cover the possibilities, so you can protect what you’ve worked so hard for. You might be healthy now, but you don’t want to find that you have to sell your home years from now to pay for necessary medical care that you could not afford any other way.

Automobile liability insurance is a must, but every state has their own minimum coverage requirements. Regardless of the state law minimum, you should carry enough liability insurance to protect your assets; you don’t want to lose everything you’ve saved due to a mishap on the road.

Lenders require homeowner’s insurance if you have a mortgage, but even if you own your home free and clear you should protect yourself against fire, theft, natural disasters, and liability.

Life insurance is not something we like to think about because we don’t want to imagine what the world will be like without us, but it’s important to have enough of it so that our families won’t have to worry about our debts if we were to leave them behind. It’s kind of a catch-22 with the whole insurance thing, you pay for something that you will hopefully never need, but the risk of not having enough insurance is worse; security and peace of mind are priceless.

6) Invest regularly.
No matter how much or how little income we have, we will find a way to spend it all if we don’t have a regular savings and investment plan. Many people like to say that if they made more money, they would be able to start saving for the future. The truth is that they would just spend more.

Some like to say that they don’t want to save and get a small return on their investment when they have high interest credit cards to pay off. Most of us will always have some debt; we’d never be able to save a dime if we waited until all the debts are paid off.

Put away a set amount every month, whether it's fifty dollars or five hundred, and factor that amount into your budget. You might have heard it before, but I’ll say it again, “Pay yourself first!” The key is balance when it comes to paying off debts and still being able to save.

You want to make a big dent in your debts, but watching your savings grow is just as, if not more, important. You might simply put your money into a savings or money market account at your bank, or you can invest in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. You can set up an automatic monthly withdrawal that is treated just like any other bill, so you never forget to put away what you will need for your future.

7) Minimize your tax bill.
Taxes provide the funding to run our country, and they are required for us to enjoy the high standards of living we Americans have grown accustomed to. With that being said, there is no reason for you to pay more than your fair share of the tax burden.

Take advantage of all the tax breaks you are entitled to. Your total tax bill can be reduced by improving the energy efficiency of your home, child care costs, retirement contributions, employment related costs, higher education, medical expenses, income or sales taxes you pay to your state, among many other types of credits. Some of these credits or deductions may or may not require you to itemize, it’s important for you to find out what credits and deductions apply to your tax situation.

Also, your filing status can greatly affect the amount of tax you owe, you should be sure that you are using the filing status that is most beneficial to you while still being truthful. You can use a tax software program, hire a tax preparation professional, or file online with a nationally known tax prep company. These methods assure you are getting the most out of your tax return without much research and knowledge of current tax laws on your part.

If you are doing your taxes by hand and on paper the old-fashioned way, I highly recommend that you make sure you are aware of all your entitlements; missing one thing could easily cost you hundreds of dollars in tax savings.

If you get a big tax refund every year, think about reducing the amount of federal tax withheld from your paycheck by filing a new W-4 with your employer. There is no reason to give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan all year, you’d be better off if you invested that money every month to grow your savings.

8) Buy only what you really need or want.
Have you ever come home from work, perfectly content with your life, checked your mail, and decided you had to go out to buy something because of an ad that was sent to you? Do you relax in front of the TV to watch your favorite show, see a commercial for something you’ve never heard of before, and write down the 800 number so you can order it, because the ad convinced you that your life would be easier if you owned some gadget?

We've all gone out to buy something we needed, and came home with something extra because we saw it in the store and had to have it. Pushy salesmen are pros at talking us into buying something we really would be just fine without. Do you ever buy something on sale that you really didn’t need just because it’s a good deal? It’s not a good deal if you wouldn’t have bought it at full price.

There may be times you luckily find some gem that you never knew you were missing, but if you’re like a lot of shoppers, you just may end up with a lot of junk that you never needed. Shopping for entertainment is a very expensive hobby, and the clutter build-up caused by it can be worse than a typical woodshop hobby. Keep control of your spending and don’t let impulsive shopping sabotage your financial outlook.

9) Enjoy free or low-cost fun.
Going out can be expensive. While there’s no need to deprive yourself of recreation altogether, you can reduce the money you spend on it. Find some activities that you and your family can enjoy without breaking the bank.

Public libraries, parks, your local tennis courts, bicycling, and hiking are just a few of the ways you can enjoy family time without spending much, if any, money. Playing board or lawn games together can provide hours of fun. Making dinner preparation a family affair can teach teamwork with a sense of accomplishment and a scrumptious meal as the reward.

You don’t have to completely deprive yourself of entertainment that costs money. You could come out ahead in the long run by purchasing big-ticket items if you know it’s something you and your family will enjoy for years to come without much additional cost. It may even be worth the initial investment to buy some camping gear, radio-controlled airplanes, fishing equipment, a kayak, or even a pool table if it’s something you know you’ll use and enjoy for years.

10) Teach your kids the value of a dollar.
We love our children and want to give them the best. Sometimes we want to give them more than they need. Taking care of your children is expensive enough even without your child demanding more. If we don’t teach them that material items are earned with hard work and saving money at an early age, they may become a financial drain, and will eventually make many financial mistakes in their adult lives.

First, they start off screaming in the store until they get the toy they want, and then they learn to mentally manipulate to get the coolest in-fashion clothes and shoes. At age 16, they will feel they are entitled to a car that Mommy and Daddy paid for, not just any car, but the car they want. When they go off to college, they call home to say they need money instead of getting a part-time job.

They might one day be in their thirties, asking you for help with their rent bill. It may never end if your adult child doesn’t learn to earn, budget, save, invest, and spend wisely. It may hurt you to withhold something your child wants when you know you can provide, but it will do no good in the long run if they aren’t taught the invaluable life lessons of money management.
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Friday, 23 February 2024

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