In an uncertain economy, securing your financial future may seem harder and more important than ever. As anyone who has struggled with their finances knows, there is no magic formula to solving your financial woes. I recently spoke to Laura Rowley, Yahoo! Finance personal finance expert, who says that everything to do with money ultimately comes down to trade-offs.
“If you’re trying to get a handle on your finances, keep in mind that you’re paying for the things you buy with your life’s energy,” Rowley said. If you want a $500 Prada handbag, for example, how long and how hard do you have to work in order to get it?
Determining your financial goals based on what’s important to you is a good first step in taking control of your financial future. “Decide what you value most and build goals around that, and then use money as a tool to get there, instead of doing things unconsciously,” Rowley said.
You should not only consider what’s important to you when writing out your financial goals you, but also what is most urgent. “Some people want to change their lives, but some just want to get ahead of their bills,” Rowley said. If your ultimate goal is to spend more time with your family, for example, think of the financial obstacles preventing you from that and how to overcome them (e.g. eliminating your debt).
According to Rowley, the number one thing people can do in order to secure their financial future is to eliminate revolving debt. “Some might focus on education or job security, but the expense of revolving debt is really profound over time,” Rowley said. If you have a lot of credit card debt, for example, you may want to consider something as simple as paying double your minimum payment each month, something that Rowley says will allow you to get out of debt in just a few years no matter how much you owe.
You may not think that you are in a position to pay double your minimum payment, but this brings us back to trade-offs. For example, is getting out of debt important enough to you to go without cable for a few months? Try using a payoff calculator to see how much increasing your payments will decrease the amount of time it takes you to pay off your debt and therefore decrease the amount of money you pay in interest charges.
Whether you’re able to increase your payments or not, getting a handle on your cost of living and looking at ways to reduce it is another key component to your financial security. “It’s incredibly important for people to track their expenses. Know exactly how much is coming in and how much is going out,” Rowley said. She suggests writing down everything you spend over a 30-day period and when you review “ask yourself, ‘am I spending on what I value most’?”
Even if you are tracking your expenses and working towards your financial goals, the most careful planner can be thrown off track by an unexpected expense. Rowley says the best way to react to something like this is not to panic. If you’ve been living within your means and sticking to a budget, a financial emergency will seem less like a financial tragedy. Unexpected costs are an inevitable fact of life, so an emergency fund is key to responding to this kind of crisis. She recommends that consumers are diligent in setting aside money for this kind of emergency.
Keeping your priorities straight and knowing what you value most will go a long way in helping you get a handle on your finances. Stick to your goals, track your expenses, and pay off your debt as quickly as possible. As Rowley said, “Money is not easy, but it’s simple.”