Growing up, my family rarely went out to dinner. When we did, we were not allowed to order sodas because they were too expensive. Water for everyone, it was. While this was frustrating as a ten year old eyeing the root beer on the table next to us, I learned the importance of saving money by resisting the temptation to spend it on things that don’t matter.
Luckily, my husband was taught the same thing.
My husband is in the business of saving money to make money. His theories on saving money have debunked the old saying, “money doesn’t grow on trees.” The truth is, if you have a little money, you can make a little money. If you have a lot of money, you can make a lot of money. The trick is to save enough money and plant it in the right soil.
Since Davey’s job is showing people how to save money, invest money, and watch money grow, I asked him to name the most important steps for someone to take control of his financial life.
1. Figure out where you spend your money
Start by making two lists. The first list should include all your monthly essentials such as bills, groceries, and rent/mortgage. Make a second list of things you spend money on each month but you don’t need to live. Include entertainment, cable, Internet, and haircuts.
Add up all these expenses and subtract them from your monthly take-home pay. If it looks like you are coming up even, it’s safe to say you going into debt. Consider making lifestyle changes by coming up with ways to live below your means. By getting rid of internet at home, learning to cut you own hair, bringing lunch to work, and going to a pre-paid cell phone service you can easily keep another $100-$200 in your pocket.
2. Start using cash
Credit cards can be a good thing for building credit and getting rewards. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of spending money you do not actually have. By using cash, you will have better control over your finances. If you are in debt, using cash should be a priority. Quite simply, if you don’t have the cash for it, you cannot afford it and you should NOT be buying it.
3. Pay down debt
There is good debt and bad debt. Good debt is necessary debt like student loans or home mortgage. Bad debt is generally considered voluntary and related to credit cards and unsecured loans. Pay off all bad debt first. If you have credit card debt, pay off one card at a time. Start to pay off chunks of the high interest card first while paying the minimums on the others. Also explore using debt consolidation such as a home equity line of credit (HELOC). This should get all your debt in one place and usually at a lower interest rate. If you do this, be sure to not go back to the credit cards.
Here are some resources:
National Foundation for credit counseling (www.nfcc.org)
Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (www.aiccca.org)
4. Save and live below your means
Start your retirement savings… NOW. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Talk to your human resources at work to discover how you can have a portion of your paycheck immediately deducted and placed in a retirement account. Additionally, consider starting an IRA through an investment firm.
Also, don’t forget to have an emergency fund. Everyone’s emergency fund size is different and should be at least 3-months of your essential living expenses. This money should only be used for emergencies.
5. Make money automatic and automatically
Start by trying to make everything automatic. Use the budget lists you created in step 1 to figure out what bills you have and when they are due. If you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month, be sure to set up automatic bill payments equally to each paycheck.
To make saving for retirement automatic, talk to human resources at work (see above) or call your bank and ask them to move $100 on the 1st and 15th of each month from your checking account where your paycheck goes to a separate savings account.
The trick is to get money out of your account before you have a chance to spend it. Pay yourself first. If you decide to go the whole month without saving but pledge to save whatever is left at the end, chances are you will have nothing left to save.
With these 5 steps, you will seeing your savings grow and have more control over your financial life.