Just as it’s important to take care of your physical health, planning for a successful future also means taking care of your financial health. The key to being financially healthy is having a plan in place for how to manage your money. Just thinking about managing finances can make some people start to feel anxious, but don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few simple steps that will help you lay a strong foundation for your financial future.
Track your cash flow
Between bills, groceries, and daily expenditures, you likely spend thousands of dollars every month. Free apps, such as Mint, sync up with your credit card and bank accounts to help you keep track of your spending. Breaking your expenditures down into categories will give you a sense of where your money is going. Common categories include housing, food, utilities, transportation and entertainment. You might be surprised at how much small daily expenses such as going out to lunch can quickly add up. Tracking your expenses can also help you identify categories where you can cut back, if need be.
Establish a budget
Once you’ve spent a month or two keeping track of your spending, you should have a good picture of what your typical expenses look like. Use this information to create a spending plan, or budget, that will help ensure you’re staying on target. Don’t just focus on your expenses; make savings a part of your budget, too. In order to make sticking to your budget easier, keep it in line with your actual spending. If you’ve spent $50 a week on gas for the past two months, it’s not realistic to expect yourself to suddenly cut that amount in half. Mobile apps can also help you keep tabs on your spending to see if you’re on track to meet your budget goals each month.
Manage your debt
Debt can derail even the best-laid financial plans, so make sure you have a plan for how to handle yours. If you have some flexibility in your budget, consider allocating as much as you reasonably can to paying down your debts more quickly. Focus on higher-interest debts first, such as credit cards, since mounting interest payments will erode your savings faster. Having an emergency fund that contains enough money to cover three to six months of expenses is a good way to keep yourself from racking up more debt in case you run into an unexpected on-time expense.
Set goals for the future
Managing your money is not just about keeping track of your day-to-day finances; it’s also about planning for the future. Spelling out your medium- and long-term goals can help motivate you to save more. For your medium-term goals, such as planning for an upcoming vacation, consider opening a separate savings account with funds earmarked only for the trip and nothing else. Having that money kept separate from the rest of your finances may make you think twice before withdrawing from that account to cover other expenses. For longer-term goals, such as saving for retirement, consider setting up automatic monthly withdrawals from your checking account that will be automatically deposited in your retirement account. That way, you’ll be saving without even thinking about it.