6 Simple Personal Finance Tips That Lead to a Big Payoff
Let's face it: A lot of personal finance advice seems to be incredibly repetitive and common sense — like paying off your debt ASAP and watching your discretionary spending when money is tight. Much money-saving advice also tends to be geared toward people who already have money and those more concerned about avoiding the taxman than bill collectors.
These personal finance tips only require some mindfulness and fairly simple action, but they can have a pretty big payoff down the road. Here's how you can get started.
1. Get rid of your auto-saved credit card numbers.
It may seem convenient when a store or web browser keeps your credit card information on file. But it can also lead to mindless spending if you're bored and cannot carefully think through your purchase.
However, suppose you have to inconvenience yourself by manually entering your credit card number every time you make a purchase. In that case, it forces you to become more conscientious about whether you really need what you're ordering — and how much you're spending. You'll save money and also reduce your chances of your credit card information being stolen.
2. "Match" your nonessential spending.
You don't have to live like a Tibetan monk, as most personal finance articles seem to believe. You ARE allowed to have fun. But for every nonessential purchase, put that same amount in your savings account. $15 for a movie ticket? Put another $15 aside in your savings. While you can still have fun and not spend your Friday nights hunkered down with a spreadsheet, you'll also become more cognizant of where your money is being spent on nonessentials so you won't be cash-strapped to pay for your needs like food and rent.
3. Be careful with one-time windfalls.
Maybe you got an inheritance, a big tax refund, or that junk around your bedroom winds up being worth a fortune on eBay. It can be tempting to take that vacation you always dreamed of, but you should be prudent when a major one-time gift shows up. Consider your overall financial goals and priorities, such as saving for a home or paying off student debt. Depending on how much you received and what is relative to your goal, a good rule of thumb is to put 20 - 50% of the windfall toward enjoying your flights of fancy but put the rest toward building your savings and/or eradicating debt.
4. Pay down high-interest debt with urgency.
If you're paying off multiple credit cards, it can seem logical to pay down the card with the smaller balance first, so you can then focus your muscle on the card with the bigger balance. However, you may want to prioritize paying down the card(s) with the highest interest rates so you will pay less over the course of your repayment plan.
It helps to pay more than the minimum payment every month as well, so you can pay down the principal faster and thus become debt-free much quicker.
5. Consider the whole package when taking a new job.
A hot new start-up might offer you a fantastic salary, but they also offer valuable benefits like a retirement plan, health insurance, or childcare coverage. A higher salary could be more attractive if you're relatively healthy and don't have kids or plans to have any. Still, the company offering the more favorable benefits package could save you far more in taxes and the cost of those benefits.
Take advantage of that employer match if they offer a 401(k) plan because it's the closest to absolutely free money that you'll ever get.
6. Invest your extra money.
While you need to be relatively high-income to get an independent investment adviser to pay you any mind, you can get started for pocket change with the DIY approach. Online brokerages like E*Trade make it very easy to open an account with no minimum and get started.
You don't need to be a day trader who's an expert in stock trading: Start with a couple of index funds and watch them steadily grow over the years. Index funds are like cruise control for your portfolio and don't require the upkeep and constant watching as more complicated investments. Apps like Acorn can help you automatically invest your pocket change, so you don't have to think about having enough cash to get started.
You don't have to be ultra-rich to use these tips and start seeing them payoff down the line.