Everyone's different. Different personalities. Different goals. As with everything else, having a healthy financial life can look different for everyone. To find the budget style that's best for you, start by writing down all the elements of your finances:
1. Living Expenses. These are the necessities. Your rent/mortgage. Your insurance. Your food. You car/transportation. Figure out how much money you need to live. Know that number. Write it down. AveTip: If you receive a pay increase, we recommend keeping your living expenses close to the same and putting the extra money toward another category (ideally debt pay-off or save).
2. Debt Pay-Off. It's easy to push this off. Who wants to put their hard earned money into paying off debt, right? WRONG. Debt accrues interest and it also hurts your credit score (which is important to keep in good shape if you ever want to buy a house or receive a loan from a bank). So figure out what debt you have (credit card, student loans, etc.) and put money toward the debt each month.
3. Save. There's short-term saving and long-term saving. We think of short-term saving as the money that you are saving with the intention of spending it over the next few years (an emergency fund in case your car breaks down, money for a vacation you want to take next year, or money for a house down payment). Long-term saving would be what you're saving for retirement.
4. Invest. While people think to save money, they often don't think to make financial investments. Investments are important because it's a way to (if you're smart!) actually grow your money.
5. Fun Spend. This is different from spending on your living expenses. This would be the dinners at nice restaurants, weekend trips to the beach, presents for your friend's wedding shower, or those new shoes you can't stop thinking about.
6. Give. Putting your money toward causes and people you care about can be incredibly fulfilling and is an important part of being involved in the world around you. Try writing down some causes you care about - think about a religious institution like your church or a non-profit that you're passionate about. Can you put some money aside each month to give?
These are a lot of financial categories to think through. After you write down each category (live, debt, save, invest, fun spend, and give) simply take your monthly paycheck and allocate a percentage or your income to each one of these categories. Remember, at different points in your life you will be able to spend your money in different ways. For now, you might have very little "fun spend" or you might feel like you are broke and have absolutely no money to give away. We do suggest (if at all possible) that you put a little money toward each category per month (even if it's just $5.00). Good habits have to start somewhere!
While you're at it, check out these valuable resources:
Mint.com. Use this website for all your financials needs - budgeting, bill paying, etc. One of our favorite ways to use Mint.com is to figure out how much money we are spending. With your permission, Mint.com tracks your credit card and is able to tell you where you spend your money by lumping your spending into categories. You might not realize it, but maybe you are spending 50% of your money on food. In this case, you might want to consider saving or investing some of that money!
LearnVest. This website has free, valuable articles on money habits, but you also have the option of hiring one of their financial advisors for some personal advice geared to you and your lifestyle. Definitely worth it to kick start your financial goals.
Investopedia. Want to learn more about investing? This site is a fantastic place to start. From a dictionary that explains complex financial terms to articles about world financial situations to personal advice on investing strategies, Investopedia has it all.
And, for what it's worth, two more money tips:
1. Learn how to talk about money. While it's not always appropriate to talk openly about your finances, we definitely recommend talking money with people you trust and respect. They might have ideas for you that drastically improve your financial situation. You never know. And definitely make sure that you talk about money with your significant other. Especially if you are heading toward engagement or marriage, you should know how much money each other make and understand each other's views on money and financial goals. Many relationship problems happen because of financial stress.
2. Foster a healthy perspective. While you have money on your mind, consider putting together a personal statement on money. For example, "I believe money doesn't buy happiness. There are, in fact, many things money can't buy. That said, I also believe that money can open doors and enable incredible opportunities. It allows you the opportunity to be generous and invest in causes you care about and take care of yourself and your family. But it's not the only thing in life that matters. I want to make wise financial choices without letting my mind and my life revolve around money." Think about what you believe and write it down. Then refer to it when you make financial decisions in the future.
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