Whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, we've watched politicians and pundits spar over unemployment rates, entitlements and tax reform. And now that the American public have voiced their opinion by reelecting Obama, let us take our focus back down to a personal level and examine ways that each of us can shore up our own personal economy.
Paying off high-interest debt is a crucial step toward getting your finances in order. Because interest accrues quickly over time, putting off debt repayments means paying much more in the long run. Pay off the balances with the worst interest rates and work your way down from there. And remember, keeping yourself out of the debt trap ensures that you're always paying yourself first.
Creating emergency savings provides a crucial line of defense against the unexpected. With savings, you'll be less likely to fall behind on bills, get a lower credit score, or resort to exploitative high interest loans. And don't be put off if you have to start small. Putting aside $75 a month can give you almost $1,000 worth of annual savings.
It's impossible to take stock of your financial health unless you know how much you're spending. Keeping track of your monthly bank account and credit card statements makes it easy to see when and why the bill spikes. Is it due to a legitimate expense, like a new refrigerator? Or is it due to eating out too many nights in a row? Understanding your spending patterns -- and pinpointing areas where you overspend -- puts you one step closer toward a financial plan you can stick with in the long-term.
As you examine your budget, keep looking for opportunities to make the most of your income. It may seem like too much trouble to save a few pennies here and there, but they can add up to a surprising amount. Buying in bulk requires that you spend a lot of money up front, but ensures you get a better value per item. This is best for goods without an expiration date that you use all the time, like toilet paper. And don't buy into marketing hype just for its own sake -- unless you have a compelling reason, always buy generic brands.
Finally, it's important to periodically ask yourself if your life decisions are contributing to a healthier financial future. If your idea of fun and relaxation always breaks the bank, keep in mind that many communities -- particularly big cities -- hold plenty of free events year-round. If you're going out to dinner, get more bang for your buck by seeking out places that offer something extra for free, like live jazz. On the career front, are you striving to acquire new skills and knowledge to become an expert in your field? Are you keeping yourself informed of new advancement opportunities, or the steps you'd need to take to apply for them? Investing in a strong personal economy ultimately requires a holistic, integrated view of your professional and personal life choices. The returns you'll earn from these long-term investments are assets that will continue to serve you no matter what the future has in store for the national economy.
Dedrick Muhammad is the senior director of the NAACP Economic Programs. To learn more about preventing foreclosure and personal finance, check out the NAACP Financial Freedom Center Facebook Page or on Twitter @naacpecon.