One thing that we learned from the global Covi-19 pandemic is the need for robust financial health. 2020 was the year of upheaval and many families struggled to make the ends meet. At least their problems could have been avoided with a stricter financial discipline. Maintaining financial health is a must in this day and age. There are simply too many unforeseen circumstances for us to be able to simply cruise on autopilot as earlier generations could. To achieve financial peace of mind, you will have to get tough on your spending habits, though. That is something not everyone is prepared to do and sooner or later, the consequences of such behavior catch up with you. If you want to get serious about your financial health, here are some tips to help you along the way.
Set a Realistic Budget
One of the most common mistakes many people make is setting an unrealistic budget. Understating or overstating your budget will inevitably lead to some bad financial decisions, wreaking your entire strategy. Your monthly income is the basis of your budget, as well as any other income you might have, like side gigs, renting a property, or anything else that might bring some additional cash. If your side income is fairly irregular and you can’t predict it on monthly basis with certainty, perhaps it is better to leave it out of the equation entirely and use that money for other purposes, like beefing up your emergency funds or paying off debt. Once you have determined your income, start listing your expenses, starting with the most critical ones. Rent, food, and utilities are the most common expenses, but depending on your situation, you may have others as well, like medical bills.
Read the Fine Print
Whenever using any online service, regardless of its nature, make sure you fully understand its terms and conditions. For instance, if you decided to have some fun at an online casino, you may sign up for the one offering the biggest welcome bonus. However, if you don’t read the fine print, you may miss some of the strings attached to that money. The biggest one is called wagering requirements and the inexperienced players often just glance over it, not knowing what it means. Wagering requirements stipulate how many times you have to wager that bonus casino generously gave you before being able to withdraw your money. If it is x10 and you have received a $100 bonus, that means you have to make wagers in the total amount of $1,000 before you can send your money to your bank account. All of a sudden, the bonus doesn’t seem that generous, does it? And if you don’t read terms carefully, you may be in for a nasty surprise when you hit that withdrawal button.
Control Your Expenses
It seems that spending money was never easier than it is today. The multitude of online platforms that we can throw our money at can be baffling and sitting in front of your monitor for hours, often days on end creates some unhealthy shopping impulses. Making things worse, all you need to do to spend your money is click a few buttons. In the old days, you would have to get dressed and leave your house to visit a shop at least. Today, the convenience of online shopping represents a constant temptation in a world that is online 24/7. Controlling those impulses and spending money only when you have to is probably the toughest part of any financial plan you can make, but it is absolutely crucial.
Pay Off Debt
Debt can be crippling even for people with relatively high income. That is why all financial experts agree that paying it off as soon as possible should be your top priority. Credit cards are the worst, representing a major drain on your budget, and getting rid of them should take precedence. If you have multiple payments, you have two options. You can either consolidate your debt or use a snowball method. Using the snowball method, you will start with paying off your smallest debt first, paying the rest of them as little as possible. Once the smallest debt has been cleared, you direct the same amount to the next one in line. This way, your monthly expenses stay the same until you have paid off all your debt, but you can do it much faster than paying off all debts simultaneously.
Create an Emergency Fund
Only 41% of Americans say that they can handle a $1,000 emergency expense. That means almost 60% would struggle to handle even a minor unexpected expenditure. It is no wonder that in 2019 28% of all American households suffered a financial emergency. When you are strapped for cash, even minor expenses can severely complicate your life. That is why having an emergency fund is a must. Ideally, you will want enough money stashed away to cover all your expenses for 3 to 6 months. For many people, especially families with kids, that is a big lump of money and you won’t get there overnight. Start small, saving up for one month, and then build up from there. With a solid emergency fund, you will be able to weather even the toughest financial storms, like losing a job or medical emergency.
Once you are cleared of debt and you have a sizeable emergency fund, you can start thinking about investments. Investment is the only way to protect your savings from inflation and a possibility to let your money work for you. For starters, go with something safe, at least until you are confident that you can assess the risks of more volatile investments. Even then, don’t rush in and weigh your options carefully.