15 Personal Finance Rules to Live By

15 Personal Finance Rules to Live By

The following is a guest post from Marc at VitalDollar.com.

Have you ever wondered what separates those who are successful financially with those who are not? Have you felt like your income should allow you to live a much more comfortable life than what you are experiencing?

Personal finance doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a few basic rules that you should follow, and if you do that, everything else falls into place.

This article covers some of the most basic and most powerful financial rules that should impact your everyday life.

1. Spend Less Than You Earn

Arguably, the most important financial rule is to spend less than you earn. Regardless of how much money you make, it’s impossible to get ahead if you’re spending it all. Even worse, you could be going backward and accumulating debt if you’re spending more than you earn.

Lifestyle creep is when your spending increases at the same rate as your income. Ideally, as you progress through your career your income will rise. If you’re able to minimize lifestyle creep and keep your expenses at the same level, you’ll be able to save and invest the excess.

Ultimately, how much you keep is far more important than how much you earn. Someone with a $50,000 income can wind up in a better spot than someone with a $500,000 income based on how much is spent and how much is kept.

2. Know Where Your Money is Going

Establishing a budget is common financial advice. A budget gives you control over the way your money is spent, which helps you to make the most of the money that you have.

While budgeting is important, it’s equally important to track your expenses. If you’re not tracking your expenses, you won’t know if you are truly sticking to the budget.

Knowing where your money is going is a critical aspect of managing your money wisely. If you haven’t budgeted or tracked your expenses in the past, it can be an eye-opening experience.

When you see how you are really spending money, you’ll probably be able to quickly identify a few areas where you’re spending too much and could easily cut back (with a little bit of discipline).

3. Avoid Impulse Purchases

Most people spend their money based on emotions. Impulse buys can be small things (like picking up a few items when you’re checking out at grocery store, or it can be bigger things like a timeshare.

Large impulse purchases can obviously have a damaging impact on your finances, but even the small purchases add up.

To get control over the small impulse buys you can commit to grocery shopping with a list, and sticking to the things on your list.

For larger purchases, get in the habit of waiting at least 24 hours (or longer, if possible) before making a buying decision. When you take time to evaluate the purchase based on all of the factors involved, you’ll often find that you don’t really want or need that thing that you almost bought. You’ll reduce buyer’s remorse and keep more money in your pocket.

4. Shop Around

Get in the habit of comparing prices and looking for the best options. This can be useful for anything from buying a new TV to buying a car, but it can also apply to things like your monthly recurring bills.

Some of the easiest ways to save money involve switching or eliminating monthly payments. For example, switching to a discounted wireless provider allowed my wife and me to cut our bill in half, resulting in more than $800 per year in savings.

When you reduce your recurring monthly (or yearly) expenses you will be saving money on an on-going basis, so even small savings can add up.

Some of the things you can shop around for include insurance, utilities (if you live in a de-regulated state), and TV service. Cable TV can be very expensive, and there are a number of cable alternatives that will significantly reduce your bill.

5. Establish an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund isn’t the most exciting part of a personal financial plan, but it’s important. You never know when an emergency could arise, so it’s best to be prepared.

We don’t like to think about the possibility of losing a job, experiencing major health issues, or dealing with family situations that could impact us financially, but these types of things happen all the time.

An emergency fund is money set aside for something unexpected that cannot be planned for or predicted. For example, paying for new brakes on your car is not something that should be paid out of an emergency fund because you can plan for that expense, even if you don’t know exactly when it will be needed.

Most experts suggest that you have enough money in an emergency fund to cover at least 3-6 months worth of living expenses. If you’re at a higher risk (a family living on a single income, or anyone with an unpredictable income), you should be at the higher end of that range.

6. Start Saving for Retirement Now

It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Many young people don’t take retirement savings seriously because they think they’ll deal with it later. But the younger you are, the more time you have for your investments to grow and compound. The younger years are the best time to be saving for retirement, thanks to compounding interest.

Regardless of what age you are, if you haven’t already started to save for retirement, you should start now. And if you have already started, it wouldn’t hurt to increase your savings.

7. Save Wherever Possible

There are a lot of different ways to save money. If you’re always looking for ways to cut expenses and increase your savings rate, you’ll find plenty of opportunities.

One fun way to find new ways to save is to take a money saving challenge. There are plenty of different options, like the popular 52-week money challenge. With this one, you’ll save $1 the first week, $2 the 2nd week, $3 the third week, and so on. By the end of 52 weeks, you will have saved $1,378!

8. Eliminate Debt

Debt is one of the most common financial problems. High-interest debt, like credit card debt, is especially damaging and challenging to overcome. Other debt like student loans, car loans, and personal loans may not be as bad as credit card debt, but it can still prevent you from saving and getting ahead.

Paying off consumer debt will free up more money in your monthly budget, so you’ll be able to save and invest more each month.

There are a few different approaches that you can take for paying off debt. Two of the most popular options are the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. With the debt snowball approach, you will pay off the smallest debts first, giving you some confidence from “quick wins”.

With the debt avalanche approach, you will pay off the highest interest debt first. You can see a comparison of the debt snowball and debt avalanche here.

Paying off debt is a key step, but you also need to avoid more debt in the future.

9. Know Your Priorities

Many people think that personal finance can be boring because it always involves cutting back or saving money. In reality, you don’t need to cut back in every aspect of your life. The key is to know your priorities. Save in the areas that aren’t as important to you and you’ll have more money for the things that matter the most.

You don’t need to feel guilty about spending money, and knowing your priorities can help with that. If you know that you’ve been cutting back in other areas so you’ll have the money to afford the things that mean the most to you, you can manage your money confidently.

10. Maximize Your Income

Reducing your expenses is great, but increasing your income can be even more powerful. You can only cut back so much. At some point, you’ll run out of ways to reduce your expenses, or you’ll see only very small savings from your efforts. However, you can always make more money.

There are a few different ways to go about increasing your income. One of the best ways is to get a raise, because you’ll be getting more money for the same amount of work. See this guide for advice related to asking for a raise.

If getting a raise isn’t possible, you may be able to find a higher-paying job, either with your current employer or with a different employer. Working overtime may also be an option, depending on your job.

If getting more money through your job isn’t possible, starting a side hustle can be a great decision. There are all kinds of things you can do for money, and there are options that will fit with any schedule. If you have a traditional Monday through Friday job, you can see this list of the best weekend jobs.

11. Don’t Buy Too Much House

Housing is the biggest expense in most budgets. One of the most common financial mistakes is spending too much for a house.

Don’t assume that you can afford a house just because the bank approved the mortgage. Even if you can afford to make the mortgage payment, buying too much house will reduce the amount that you’re able to save and invest.

Be sure that you’re living well within your means and buy a home that will still leave plenty of breathing room in the budget.

12. Pay Attention to Fees

Investment fees may seem small, but they can have a damaging long-term impact on your results. NerdWallet analyzed the impact of fees and found that a 1% investment fee could cost more than $590,000 over 40 years of savings.

Check the details of any investment to be sure about the fees that will be assessed. Opt for low-fee investments when possible. Vanguard and Fidelity both offer excellent mutual funds and ETFs with very low fees.

13. Invest in Income-Generating Assets

Income-generating assets are ideal for retirement because they can (potentially) replace the income from your job.

There are a lot of different types of income-generating assets, including real estate. Rental properties and real estate crowdfunding are two popular options for generating income from real estate investments. It’s even possible to invest in real estate without using your own money.

Aside from real estate, investing in dividend stocks is another popular option.

14. Set Goals

Setting financial goals is extremely important because without goals you will lack direction. Goals help you to have something to work towards, increase your motivation, and give you something to gauge your progress.

You can work backward from your goals and create a plan that allows you to reach those goals. If you stick with your plan, you’ll find that you make consistent progress and goals that seemed lofty will seem much more achievable over time.

15. Get Help if You Need It

 When it comes to your finances, you can either take a DIY approach, or you can hire a financial advisor. If you feel overwhelmed, or if you’d simply like a little bit of help or advice from a professional, you may want to consider hiring someone.

If you make an effort to live by the financial rules covered in this article, you’ll be well on your way. If this all seems overwhelming, don’t feel like you need to become a financial expert overnight. Start with the first rule of spending less than you earn. The impact of simply following that one rule will go a long way.