You can't watch the news today without some mention of the economic crisis. You may be experiencing financial troubles of your own. Here are five smart ways to manage your money, instead of letting it manage you.
- Know where you are. The easiest way to assess where you are is to use technology to help you track your money. We recently switched to the free online service www.mint.com and can't recommend it enough. How do they make their money? By recommending financial products that you would benefit from, based on your current situation (such as offering a credit card with a lower interest rate than what you're paying).
- Think about the future. Now that you know where you are, contemplate where you want to be… What are your long-term goals and how much money will it take to get there? CNN has a number of online calculators to help you figure out what it will take to achieve your long-term goals.
- Plan for the unexpected. It sounds like an oxymoron. How do you plan for things you aren't expecting? While we don't know whether our emergency will be a car accident, or a leaky toilet, there are always bound to be things that come up that we haven't budgeted for. Experts recommend six to nine months of liquid assets designated for emergencies. If you don't have any emergency funds, start today by putting a little aside at a time and you'll be surprised how quickly it will add up.
- Give [up] a little. If you add up how much your daily Starbucks costs, or your lunches out, you'll see that the little things quickly wind up as big expenses. Prioritize your spending and give up a few little things and reap the rewards of savings. Your coffee habit may be costing upwards of $2,000 a year that you could be putting toward meeting your long-term goals.
- Re-think what is important. When birthdays and special occassions come along, consider writing a heartfelt letter instead of purchasing a gift. Your words will be much more meaningful than whatever the gift you would buy might symbolize and you can start having deeper relationships that are based on more than traditional exchanges. I've started writing a list of things I'm thankful for about a particular person when it is his or her birthday. My list is as long as the number of years they've been on the earth.
If you only have time for one of the five, get started with www.mint.com. After that, you can come back and tackle two through five, based on what is most relevant to you and your current financial condition.
Let us know what other personal finance tips you have in the comments.