Everyone wants to be better about managing their money, but between hectic work schedules and long to-do lists, sitting down to figure out your finances can easily fall to the bottom of the priorities pile. Fortunately, we’ve brought the research to you, asking money management pros for their top tips on how to save more, pay down debt and bring in a little cash. Here’s what they recommend:
Know Where Your Money Goes
Before you start planning how to save, it’s essential to track your spending. Take a look at how much it costs to run your household each month, then see how much money you have left for discretionary spending, says Sophia Bera, CFP and founder of Gen Y Planning. If you notice any unnecessary debts or spending, try to pare down those expenses.
Got a pile of debt? Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, suggests either paying off the debts with the highest interest rate first, or tackling your smallest debts first and then, once they’re paid, moving on to the bigger ones. Websites like Mint and You Need a Budget can help you put together a monthly budget and track your spending.
Start Your Emergency Cushion Now
Storjohann suggests storing up an emergency fund equivalent to three to six months of living expenses that you can draw from in case of an emergency. “Having that cushion protects you from having to take on debt if something goes wrong,” says Storjohann.
Saving 10 percent of your income (if you can) is a good place to start, Storjohann adds. It’ll seem less daunting if you treat your fund like a bill payment, setting aside the money every month.
Take Advantage of Employer Matches
If your employer matches up to a certain percentage of your 401k or retirement investment, make sure you’re contributing that minimum. “If you’re not, you’re basically leaving free money on the table,” says Storjohann. Don’t have a 401k or employer investment plan? Storjohann suggests saving for retirement by investing in things like a mutual or exchange-traded fund, which will give you greater diversification of assets.
Avoid the “Facebook Trap”
When friends and former coworkers post pictures of their fabulous vacations or new houses, it’s easy to feel as though you’re falling behind both personally and financially. “People are not putting their true selves forward on social media,” says Storjohann. “It’s best to focus on what really matters to you when organizing yourself financially.” Remind yourself of the non-material blessings you have before you go online.
Learn How Much You Should Be Making
Wish you had a bigger paycheck? You could be entitled to one. Do some research at websites like PayScale to determine an accurate salary for your position. If your salary doesn’t match up, talk to your boss. “Women in general are underpaid and should look to increase their income through their employer,” says Storjohann.
Get Creative to Earn Extra Income
Do you make awesome brownies or homemade jewelry? Baking, crafting or any type of “side hustle” can help pad your personal income and create additional investment opportunities, says Storjohann. Ask local stores, consignment shops and flea markets to sell your wares, or try setting up a website for orders. An even easier way to get extra cash a few times a year: Clean out your garage, basement and attic and hold garage or tag sales. You’ll be rewarded both with a neater home and a bigger bank balance.