Getting your finances in order can seem like an intimidating, overwhelming task. But really, doing so comes down to four factors: spending less, earning more, getting out of debt, and investing so your cash can grow.
That’s Personal Finance 101, but money management is an ongoing process—one that improves with practice. Beyond the basics, we asked five Certified Financial Planners™ for their best financial advice. Here’s what they had to share.
1. GET MOTIVATED.
CFP® Breanna Reish says a big part of personal finance is understanding that money has a lot to do with your mindset:
I believe that before all other financial tips and tricks, people have to cope with the idea that one's financial standing is mostly driven by behavior...You have to mentally prepare yourself for the changes and challenges that lie ahead. It is very much like getting in physical shape: There has to be dedication, drive and an overall desire to make a positive difference. With that dedication you will most likely see positive results beyond what you imagined.
2. KEEP TABS ON YOUR CREDIT.
“Having worked with young professionals for the last 10 years, my best tip for someone just getting started is: Know what you owe,” says CFP® Rebecca Schreiber, Co-founder of Pure Financial Education. “Your most valuable asset starting out is your credit score because it gives you access to jobs, apartments, credit, and just about anything else you can think of. But you can't build good credit unless you're making your payments on time, and if you don't know when and where those payments are due, your credit score will tank.”
Schreiber adds that you can check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each of the three major bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) each year. Confirm the info on your report, and come up with a plan to pay off those debts.
3. EMBRACE AWARENESS.
Again, money is overwhelming for a lot of us, so it’s tempting to just sweep our money problems under the rug. But Andrew R. Avellan, CFP® and Founding Partner at PWMC, has a warning:
Never ignore your money! Awareness is your most powerful weapon. Reviewing and analyzing your financial status habitually will lead to smarter money decisions all around. From mitigating fraud, overspending, tax mistakes, to recognizing strong saving, spending, and wealth-building habits, awareness makes this all possible.
4. MAKE SAVING A PRIORITY.
Kevin Smith, a CFP® named one of “America’s Best Financial Planners” by Consumers Research Council of America, offers two tips that go hand in hand:
Pay Yourself First: You should ideally have money withdrawn automatically from your paycheck—and funneled straight to your savings and investments—before you ever see it. You generally won’t ever miss it and will adapt your spending patterns accordingly. (Essentially, the first “bill” that you pay each month should be to yourself.)
10 Percent of What You Make Is Yours To Keep: You should ideally strive to put aside at least 10 percent of your earnings toward retirement, preferably in a tax advantaged account such as a 401(k) or a Roth or Traditional IRA.
“Want to be a millionaire? Doing the above two things, and letting time and compounding take care of the rest, will ultimately enable one to accumulate significant wealth over time—and yes, easily become a millionaire—especially if they start early (preferably when one begins earning their first paycheck). And the best part? There's no need to win a game show to do it!”
5. AUTOMATE EVERYTHING.
Jeff Jones, CFP® at Longview Financial Advisors, expands on Smith's first rule, calling it the “set and forget” or “out of sight, out of mind” savings model. He explains:
If you want to save, have an amount deposited into a separate account directly from your paycheck. Most employers that offer direct deposit can support this type of action. Key in this savings model is that the account isn’t visible when you log into your banking institution's website. If you can see those saved dollars sitting there, and they are a click away from allowing you to spend them, the temptation can be too much. So consider a separate savings or money market account to directly deposit the savings dollars and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the account will grow.