Rules to Live by
When Improving Your Financial Life

See also: Understanding Loans and Savings

The term personal finance can bring many mental images to mind, but it doesn't have to be overly intimidating.

Your financial activities and decisions will affect your financial health, and this may even impact your wellbeing depending on your situation. For example, if you are constantly stressed about how you will pay your bills every month, your health could take a hit. However, by understanding how to improve the way you manage your money, you can then achieve more specific goals.

Begin Saving as Soon as Possible

When it comes to retirement, the sooner you can begin saving, the better. That way, you can live more comfortably once you have retired. The reason is that compound interest will have more opportunity to grow the sooner you start investing. The earnings from your current investments can be invested again in the future. By starting to save more now, you won't have to set aside as much each month to meet your goals.

Of course, if you haven't been saving that much for retirement, it is never too late to up your contributions. Look for ways to reduce your monthly expenses so you will have more leftover for your retirement fund. For example, if you have a life insurance policy, you could consider selling it. That way, you won't have to pay the expensive monthly premiums, and you'll also get a lump sum payment that can then add to your retirement fund.

Understand Net Worth

Many people understand that money comes in and other money goes out, but that is as much as they understand. However, you don't have to leave your financial planning to chance. Instead, you can create a budget to determine where you are in your goals and evaluate how financially healthy you are. You can then understand how to meet your future financial goals. You could begin by determining your net worth - this is simply the difference between what you owe and the amount you have.

You can begin by adding up everything you owe, such as debt or credit cards. Then you can add up everything you have in assets, such as the money in the bank. You should then subtract your liabilities from your assets to find your net worth. Net worth is important because it shows an accurate picture of where you are when it comes to finances.

It is normal for your net worth fluctuate over time so it is best to calculate your net worth several times so you can see how it progresses. As you begin to pay off debt and make better financial decisions, you will find that your net worth slowly increases. It is best to calculate it at least once a year as, this way, you can find areas that need improvement and identify successful moments.

Create a Budget

You will want to determine how much you spend in various areas, such as groceries, rent, utilities, or on other expenses. You should then subtract all these expenses from the net amount you earn. If there is money left, you can invest this or save the funds. However, the real issue comes if your expenses add up to more than your income. If this is the case, you will need to either reduce your spending or increase your income. The best way to determine your financial health is to calculate your net worth and compare that to your budget. Otherwise, you might find yourself in debt and spending too much money.

Avoiding Lifestyle Inflation

Many times, a person's spending reflects their income. So, when there is more income, they also begin to spend more money. This is called lifestyle inflation, and it can happen to even the fullest of people. There might be enough to pay your expenses and set aside a little, but there might not be much left over beyond that. Lifestyle inflation also reduces your ability to build wealth since you are not saving as much as you could.

A common reason for lifestyle inflation is trying to keep up with the spending of others. For example, you might want to go on an expensive vacation when you see your friends doing the same thing. If your friends go out to eat most of the time, it's tempting to do the same thing. However, you might not realize that your friends are also the ones with a lot of debt they are having trouble paying off. This type of lifestyle is not sustainable, and their finances can take a hit.

Of course, you may need to spend more money as time goes on. For example, if you add to your family, you might want a larger house with more room. Or, after getting a promotion, you might need to upgrade your professional wardrobe. And if you are working more hours or find your job becomes more stressful, it might be worth it to you to hire someone for house or yard work.

Reducing Spending

Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, you'll need to distinguish between wants and needs, allowing you to make better spending choices. A need is something you need to have so you can live. Those include shelter, food, and clothing. Sometimes, savings can be included as needs.

It is sometimes hard to determine if an expense is a want or a need, and there can be gray areas. For example, a car would be a need for someone who needed to take their kids to school or travel to work, especially if that person did not live near public transportation. It could be easy to classify a luxury vehicle as a need since you need transportation. However, the price difference between a luxury vehicle and a cheaper one that gets the job done is a want. You'll need to prioritize the needs in your budget before you prioritize anything you want. That way, you can avoid going into unnecessary debt.

About the Author

Jenna Christine is a corporate relations specialist with over ten years’ experience in employee relations and brand development roles. She is a dedicated volunteer within the disability advocacy space, and loves to bake and run marathons.