Everyone is looking for a way to take control of their personal finances and keep more of the money they make.
Like Pink Floyd said, grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
A good summary, to be sure, but we all know that the intricacies of managing our individual finances can be a little more difficult. Use this handy list of personal finance tips to stay on top of your spending and on top of your finances.
#1 Watch Out for Fees
Keep an eye on fees. As more and more companies get into fintech (financial tech) services, and as banks offer more financial convenience features and services, one thing is certain to follow: fees.
No one likes paying fees, and financial institutions know it. That’s why they have gotten sneakier and found new ways to encourage customers to use fee-bearing services. Love Venmo, PayPal, and other money convenience apps?
#2 Rethink Purchases
Evaluate purchases by cost per use, not just the number on the price tag.
For example, a shirt that costs $5 is, at face value, less expensive than a shirt that costs $30. However, the $5 shirt may be of such low quality that it needs to be replaced much sooner than the $30 one. The $30 shirt can likely be worn time and time again before requiring replacement.
That’s an oversimplified example, but the core concept has a lot of utility.
Put this idea into practice when evaluating products of all kinds to get the most out of your money and help reduce the hidden costs of low-quality purchases.
#3 Be Aware of Interest
Pay off high-interest debt first. This might seem like common sense advice (it is), but it can be difficult to get an accurate picture of which accounts are hitting you worst with interest when you have multiple accounts with multiple creditors.
This is especially true if you are looking at the total amount of debt you have and that number is high.
It can be overwhelming and tough to know where to start paying off balances. High-interest balances will cost you more in the long run, and a general financial rule of thumb is to tackle these balances first.
Of course, don’t pay these balances at the expense of other debt. Always pay at least the minimum on all debts you have, if you are able.
#4 Get Rewarded
Keep an eye on credit card rewards. If you are going to be using a credit card, you may as well get as much out of it as possible.
Interest rates are just one aspect of what makes a credit card attractive. Travel points, the ability to use your points to shop online, balance transfer promotions, special VIP offers, and other perks all serve to make some cards better than others.
Exercise caution, however. Credit card companies love to flash these perks on cards that may have high fees, high interest, or other pitfalls.
Do your research and make informed choices in order to get the most out of the plastic in your wallet!
#5 Keep an Eye on Credit Utilization
Credit cards can be double-edged swords. When it comes to credit utilization—the amount of your available credit you actually use—the magic number is 30 percent.
Not only is this generally considered a manageable utilization of credit (though less is better), it is the amount that will help keep your credit score healthy.
There are a number of factors that impact your credit score, and keeping your credit utilization under 30 percent is a factor that can prevent score penalties.
#6 Know What an Emergency Is
Know a financial emergency when you see one; there are five types.
These are the only reasons you should be pulling funds from your savings or emergency accounts.
If what you want to spend on doesn’t involve one of these five scenarios, just say no. You might need to dip into your emergency fund if you . . .
❌ Lose your job
❌ Have a medical emergency
❌ Have an emergency car repair
❌ Have emergency home expenses
❌ Need to travel to a funeral
By the way, new countertops aren’t an emergency home repair.
This doesn’t mean you can’t spend money on yourself.
What it does mean is that if your spending leads you to thinking about borrowing from your emergency accounts, that’s a bad idea.
#7 Use the 72-Hour Rule
You may already be familiar with the rule of 72, but have you heard of the 72-hour rule?
It’s pretty simple, but it can have a profound effect on the way you spend money on big-ticket purchases.
Here’s how to put the 72-hour rule into practice: the next time you are considering a large (or even fairly small) purchase, ask yourself, Can I wait 72 hours to make this purchase?
If you can, do so.
You will often find that the thing you felt you needed doesn’t feel so necessary after a waiting period of 72 hours. Retailers spend lots of time and money to make us feel pressured to buy right then and there, because they know those tactics work. By waiting and thinking about why you really need the thing you were intent on purchasing, you will often find that you didn’t need it in the first place.
#8 Own Your Financial Journey
Don’t compare yourself to others financially. The most important thing you can do to increase your financial education, take control of your financial well-being, and grow your wealth is to focus on yourself and your circumstances.
Think of it this way: nobody out there is as invested in your success as you are. When someone draws a comparison between your financial circumstances and their own, they aren’t doing it to help you.
And if you are trying to imitate the financial circumstances of someone else, it can be really easy to overspend, under-save, or generally get off track.
Concentrate on your own circumstances and what you want to change. Stay focused on your own progress and growth, and you’ll be surprised at how far you will have come.
#9 Save Up for Large Purchases
Save for big purchases ahead of time. As finance personality Dave Ramsey says, “Christmas is not an emergency—it comes every year.”
Don’t let big purchases that you know are coming throw your financial wellness out of whack. Emergency spending is for emergencies only
Save money for large purchases to keep your personal cash flow healthy and to prevent yourself from needlessly going into debt!
#10 Change the Way You Measure Money
How do you measure your money? We all “measure” money in dollars and cents, but consider measuring your money in hours.
Let me explain.
It can be very easy to forget or underestimate the value of money when we think of it merely in dollars and cents. However, thinking about how many hours of work it took us to get those dollars and cents can have a powerful impact on our perception of value.
When you are considering an impulse purchase, think of the price in terms of how many hours you would have to work to purchase it
Is it just an hour? Is it a whole day? Is it a week!?
When you think about the hard work it took and the time you had to give up to earn that amount of cash, it can make you think twice before handing that cash over for something that provides a short-lived benefit.
#11 Don't Get Complacent
It's really easy to postpone decisions about the future, especially when it comes to money.
Missing just one year of compounding interest can have a devastating impact on the long-term growth of your money which means the sooner you get started the better.
Telling yourself that you will get to it later or that saving for retirement is something that you can start in the future only takes money out of your pocket in the future!
#12 Spend On The Real You
Spend money on the real you, not the imaginary you that you keep in your head.
We all have dreams and aspirations (which is good) but these long-term goals can hold us back in the here and now (which is bad).
What this boils down to is a need to banish thoughts of the "person you want to be" when making purchases.
Perfect example - you may be into running but do you need the shoes that Olympians use to train with? You might enjoy cooking for yourself but do you need the Chef-quality cookware set?
This can be tough as savvy marketers will do everything in their power to convince you to shell out more money by appealing to the person you want to be.
Fight back by making sensible choices and living below your means but don't give up on the imaginary you that lives in your head - even Olympic athletes and five-star chefs had to start somewhere!
#13 Automation Is Your Friend
Automation is the future. It should also be the future of your savings.
The explosion in fintech (financial technology - think finance and banking apps) means that now more than ever the tools to take control of your finances are at your fingertips.
An automated savings plan is a great way to make sure that you are socking away money without giving it a second thought. It can be tough to set aside money even when times are good, so be sure to bypass your own judgement and set your savings on autopilot.
A lot of new financial tools offer this feature but even conventional systems can help out. When setting up your direct deposit you likely have the option to split your money between accounts.
Try putting even as little as 5% of each paycheck into your savings account automatically and see how fast your account grows!
#14 Let It Ride
If you're investing for the long haul checking stock prices daily can do more harm than good.
Selling equities frequently means increasing your tax burden and is almost always related to trying to time the market in one form or another.
Timing the market is generally considered:
a) impossible and
b) a highly inefficient use of your money.
Most investors are best served with a diverse portfolio that they regularly contribute to.
Remember, time in the market yields positive results. Timing the market exposes your money to significant risk.
#15 Avoid The Cycle of Payday Loans
Lots of people are finding that they are in need of cash these days - a global pandemic and an economic crisis can have that effect.
It's important, however, to weigh all your options carefully when attempting to dig yourself out of a bad financial situation.
Take payday loans for example.
Payday loans are aggressively marketed to people who are in tough situations. What the marketing leaves out is that payday loans can create a cycle of perpetual and increasing debt.
Consider all your options before signing on the dotted line.
#16 Try Doing Just 10% More
Give the 10% rule a try when you are attempting to find success with new goals.
It is really easy to fall short of your goals when you go "all in" from 0 to 100 without prepping or putting in the work.
Think trying to get a beach bod after procrastinating all winter or trying to skip your morning coffee after years of drinking multiple cups every morning.
Instead, look at what you are already doing and commit to adding just 10% to your efforts. Want to save $1,000 a month but can't get even close to that goal?
Commit to saving just 10% more than you have been. Keep this up for a week, a month, or longer and you will see a big difference.
Plus, the small successes can inspire you to do more than 10% and build the confidence needed to make the changes you want to see in your life (financial or otherwise).
#17 Just Say No (for a whole day)
Plan a no-spend day into your schedule. Just like meatless Mondays and self-care Saturdays, plan a day into each month where you don't do any spending at all.
It could be a weekday where you bring lunch to work and go straight home, it could be the last Sunday of every month - whatever makes sense for your schedule.
The most important thing is that you build a habit of examining your spending and committing to taking days off. You can even put the money you aren't spending on your designated day straight into your savings account or emergency fund!
#18 Personal Loans Can Be An Important Tool
Turning to loans or other forms of debt should generally be considered a financial move of last resort. That being said, it's time to bust the myth that applying for - and qualifying for- a personal loan is difficult.
Many lenders understand the importance of providing loan options that are tailored for their customer's needs. Compared to options like auto or homebuying loans, personal loans can often be approved in hours or even minutes online.
Don't mistake this ease-of-application as an indicator that you should pile on the debt. And as always, weigh your options carefully. Personal loans can be important financial tools to consolidate debt, pay tax burdens, resolve medical bills, or pay for other unexpected but critical expenses. Just make sure they really are critical expenses.
Always thoroughly consider interest rates, monthly payments, and of course ask yourself "Do I need this money?" before signing on the dotted line.
#19 The Difference Between Being Frugal And Being Cheap
Embody the difference between being frugal and being cheap.
Frugality is the practice of keeping a close eye on your money. It means spending wisely, living below your means, and knowing when to spend money to save money down the road.
A frugal person might splurge on a more expensive jacket with the intention of wearing it for years. This saves money in the form of forgoing having to purchase multiple jackets as they wear out, even if each jacket is less expensive on its own.
A person who is cheap, on the other hand, looks to spend the least amount of money above all else.
This can backfire financially. A cheap person might go straight for the least expensive jacket only to find that it doesn't keep them warm and doesn't last the entire winter - they have to purchase another one next year, negating the savings of going for the cheap jacket.
#20 Shop Smart Online
It might be convenient to buy everything in one place from Amazon or another online super-retailer but there are often better deals to be had.
Here's a tip that helps you save money and helps small businesses at the same time. If you see a product you like in an online marketplace like Amazon, take a second to Google it.
More likely than not the manufacturer has their own website with the same product for sale. These smaller brands have a strong incentive to get you to buy direct from them - look for email sign-up deals or coupons.
In fact, it's a good idea to use a separate email to collect these welcome coupons and keep your personal email clear of pushy promotional messages.
You get a coupon for signing up and you are helping a small business...it's a win-win!
#21 Cash Back Cards Aren't Always Your Friend
Don't fall for the cash back trap.
Credit cards can be powerful tools but they can also be double-edged swords.
Review cash-back credit cards carefully. Credit card companies use cash back benefits as a way to drive new customers but these offers may not always work out in your favor.
Annual fees are the first red flag that a cash back card isn't great for you. Any cash back earnings can easily be wiped out by an annual membership fee.
Beyond that, the psychological effect that cash back can have on spending can lead to overspending or frivolous purchases. Which is bigger savings - 2% back on a $25 purchase or skipping the $25 purchase entirely?
#22 Embrace The 50/30/20 Budget
It can be hard to know what the right balance is for your budget. Instead of always wondering if your finances are slightly (or more than slightly) out of whack, start with a solid foundation.
A 50/30/20 budget breaks out as follows:
50% of your (after tax) income goes to nondiscretionary expenses like housing, groceries, utilities etc.
30% goes to personal spending. This is discretionary stuff like hobbies, entertainment, shopping etc.
20% goes into savings, preferably on autopilot so that there's no chance it ends up going toward discretionary spending.
It's important to note that this is a rough estimate for your money that doesn't go into a 401(k) or other retirement account or isn't set aside to handle your tax burden.
With this foundation you can tweak the numbers to fit your personal situation and start building good money habits.
#23 Regularly Review Your Credit Card(s)
Have you outgrown your old credit cards? Maybe you’re still using a credit card you got as a student, or one that only gives one percent back on some purchases.
It may have seemed like a good deal when you got it, but now the market has moved on, and hopefully your credit score has improved.
There might be better cards out there for you.
Before you look into applying for a new credit card, compare your options. Some credit cards give money back on Amazon purchases, while others give a percent back on gas expenses. Consider your lifestyle and what will likely pay back the most before jumping in.
#24 Dispute Credit Report Inaccuracies ASAP
A good credit score can open doors, but keep an eye out for errors or inaccuracies on your credit report.
You might have actually paid that bill on time, or you may have paid down that pesky credit card that still shows a high balance. It’s worth it to request a copy of your credit report and make sure that everything, from names to associations to figures, is correct. It might result in a boost to your credit score at the end of the day if you know what to look for.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit report company and the person reporting your information are responsible for getting the information correct.
Always report an inaccuracy as soon as you catch it - the sooner you spot it the sooner you can get started correcting the issue.
The Bottom Line
The truth is that the best advocate for your own financial health will always be you.
Take this list of tips to heart and put them into practice, but more than anything else, take charge of your own financial situation!
That means being proactive, setting a budget and sticking to it, and constantly increasing your financial literacy.
Learning more and more about how the financial world works will not only be your best financial investment, but it will be the investment that pays dividends year after year.
Bryan is a the Senior Finance Contributor for ClydeBank Media. He specializes in the worlds of tech and finance, having both authored and collaborated with industry veterans on a variety of titles. Listen for his voice when searching for investment strategy and financial wellness tips. Bryan’s newest investing course is available now on the ClydeBank Media Campus.