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Honing Your Personal Finance Skills
Going over the budget basics is a right of passage for any adult. Learning about income and expenses, the difference between fixed costs and discretionary spending, and how to set up your first budget are all vital life skills.
You might be tempted to assume that once you’ve got the basics down, there’s no further need to address the issue. You’ve worked out your budgeting groove. You’ve gotten your finances into a rhythm. What else do you need to worry about?
Once you get through those initial monetary lessons, though, there are many, many additional ways that you can hone your financial skills in order to make sure your bank account is as healthy as possible. Here are a few of the most effective ways to grow your wealth by increasing your financial knowledge and abilities.
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Get on the Same Page
Sound financial maneuvering all starts with solidarity. If you’re single, this is fairly simple. However, if you’re married or you have a partner, it’s important to make sure that you and your significant other are on the same page financially speaking.
It’s important to make sure that you have the same views regarding how you want to budget, save, and spend your money, as diverse opinions and behaviors can lead to harmful financial activity, such as spending money that is budgeted for something else or taking on unnecessary debt.
Learn How to Better Manage Debt
While a good budget can ensure that you make all of your payments on time, that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a 20-year credit card payment plan or even a 30-year mortgage. There are plenty of ways to tackle debt in a proactive manner — many of which can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars over the long run.
For instance, say you take out a three-year $10,000 car loan at a 5% interest rate and the next month you have a financial windfall thanks to an inheritance or a large tax return. By using a simple auto loan calculator, you can see that paying off the loan immediately will save you $790 in interest that you would have paid over the course of the next three years.
Another way to handle your debt, along with paying off loans early, is by refinancing. For instance, if you have a high-interest rate on your mortgage, you can look for things like lower interest rates and zero-closing cost loans that can make it worth refinancing your mortgage. Much like paying down debt aggressively, this tactic can save you a bundle of cash over the long haul, and in this case, likely dramatically reduce your monthly payment in the process.
Build an Emergency Fund
Making sure that your income meets your expenses is a good starting point, as it ensures that you don’t go further into debt. However, if you find that you’re still living paycheck to paycheck after you’ve created your budget, you may want to consider coming up with a plan to build an emergency fund.
This is a lump sum, that is typically large enough to cover a few months of income if you find yourself, well, in an emergency. You may look at your budget and think, “There’s no way I could come up with extra money to put towards short term savings right now,” but one rule of finance is that if you use some creativity, you can usually find some change in the couch cushions, metaphorically speaking, of course. In fact, the following section provides one of the simplest ways to make room for emergency fund savings in your current budget.
Learn to Trim Your Budget
There are multiple ways that you can take a strained budget and rework things in order to save some extra money. For instance, you can begin by separating needs from wants.
You may have done this already while initially creating your budget, but it’s always a good idea to comb back through your finances every few months in order to reevaluate if anything has shifted from a “need” to a “want” or vice versa.
As you identify new wants, you can work to reduce or even eliminate them, freeing up the money for other uses.
Increase Your Financial Literacy
Sometimes the best way to hone your financial skills is by expanding your knowledge in general. For instance, try doing some independent research in a completely new area where your knowledge is lacking. Try studying foreign currency or do a deep dive into how cryptocurrency works.
Another option is to study your taxes. This may sound overwhelming or even straight-up boring, but this isn’t a suggestion to do your taxes. Simply to study them. After you file your taxes each year, sit down and look over the numbers. How much did you make? How much was taxed by federal and state governments? Was too much withdrawn and you got a refund, or did you owe money?
Simply exposing yourself to the larger financial world is an excellent way to learn new terminology and expand your knowledge of how money works.
While it’s good to pay down debt, purchase a house, and so on, one area that can lead to a tremendous amount of personal financial growth is investing. If you can overcome the fear of investing, you open yourself up to numerous opportunities, such as dabbling in the stock market, an activity that has become remarkably accessible to everyone.
Consider doing a little research into an investment activity like trading stocks and then take a few hundred dollars and open an account with an electronic trading platform like E-Trade or Robin Hood. If you can go into the activity with a desire simply to learn from the experience, you may find your efforts amply rewarded by new financial knowledge.
Building Your Financial Talent Tool Kit
It doesn’t matter if you’re identifying wants versus needs, paying down your debt early, buying your first mutual fund, or any other monetary activity, there are plenty of ways to increase your financial acumen.
The one ingredient that is always required to grow your personal finance skills, though, is a willingness to learn. Chances are, you’ll make mistakes and experience some harsh lessons along the way. If you go into the experience with a desire to grow and mature, though, you’ll be able to rebound from each loss and gradually develop your financial abilities far beyond your initial budgetary beginnings.
About the Author
Magnolia Potter is from the Pacific Northwest and writes from time to time. She prefers to cover a variety of topics and not just settle on one. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her outdoors or curled up with a good book. Chat with her on Twitter @MuggleMagnolia.