Good habits are the first step toward becoming a personal finance dynamo.
Financial responsibility begins with discipline. If you live within your means and pay everything on time, you're already on your way. But if long-term stability and wealth are your goals, you still need something more.
Finding the right approach means examining what you've got and where you want to go. Your goals will differ from someone else's, but that's okay. The point is having goals and working toward them. Budgeting software can help.
Now is the Time to Learn about Personal Finance
There are a few rules that most people seem to know, such as setting money aside for the future and securing the best interest rates possible for credit cards, mortgages, vehicles loans and other expenses. This is rudimentary personal finance, but there is so much more. Investopedia says people who are financially literate generally have more wealth than those who rely only on the bare bones fundamentals.
You don't need an accounting degree or MBA to learn how to manage money more effectively. Respected financial bloggers and columnists give relevant, timely pointers. Budgeting software, such as Mint.com products, get you started by setting up and then helping you monitor your plan at home or on the go using mobile access.
Blend Long-Term Plans with Short-Term Goals
No one plans to be in debt or struggle to make ends meet. But the difference between being on the right track and continually searching for it may be the simple act of planning. Decide what you want to achieve, and set a time frame for it to happen.
Wells Fargo recommends a three-step process for planning:
Step one is deciding what you want to achieve. This could be where you'd like to be in five or even ten years. Step two is setting short-term milestones in the long-term plan. At this level, planning could include paying off credit cards and saving for a down payment on a home. Step three is setting monthly goals that align with steps one and two. This is where normal good discipline comes in. Your usual attention to responsibilities gives you the discipline needed to pay extra on credit card debt and squirrel away money into savings for bigger goals.
Mint.com gives an overview of your total budget, but also lets you drill down to examine each aspect, such as a particular savings or credit card account. You can also receive alerts that let you tweak your budget in real time. For example, if spending gets too close to a monthly limit that you've set, an alert lets you know before you're over budget.
Responsible use of credit pays off in the long run.
Don't Borrow for a Better Lifestyle
If wealth is the goal, borrowing shouldn't be part of it. Using credit cards to finance purchases that you can afford on your normal income is counterproductive, says Investopedia. Borrowing money costs money, and that's the opposite of what you want to achieve.
One place where borrowing might be worth consideration is for investments. Instead of paying interest, which is what happens when you make purchases on credit, you'll earn interest. Make your money work for, not against you. This often means waiting to purchase something that you want now. But the long-term effect is more money in your hands, not less.
Financial planning isn't necessarily simple, but it doesn't have to be unreasonably complicated. Average discipline is the first step. From there, every good choice that you make builds on a solid foundation.
Mint.com has many budgeting products that help you meet your financial goals, whether they are long-, medium-, or short-term. Best of all, it's free.
Sign up for your account today and discover the many ways Mint.com can help you find the right path and stay on it.
Carole Oldroyd is a freelance writer who helps families develop and stick to a budget.