These Smart Money Moves Can Improve Your Finances

June 27, 2013
Do you find yourself struggling each month to make ends meet? Does it seem like no matter how much money you earn, you always need more? Did you create a budget only to discover it gets blown every month by unforeseen expenses and impulse purchases?

Welcome to the world of personal finance! Millions of Americans honestly attempt to take control of their financial situation only to have their efforts sabotaged by common, everyday money mistakes and missteps. Learn these smart money moves which can not only improve your personal "bottom line" but will also keep you focused and on track to reach your goal of financial independence.

Smart Money Moves
There is a famous quote which reads: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." This may describe a lot of people's relationship with money and how they handle (or mishandle) their personal finances. How many times have you tried to rein in your spending only to find you still end up short at the end of the month? How often have you thought "This is going to be a good month money-wise" only to have your car break down or an appliance go on the blink? Sometimes just one unplanned expense can throw your finances into a tailspin.

Check out the following smart money moves. Why not really change things up and make a serious commitment to achieving financial freedom right now? Becoming savvy about how to manage your money can open up a whole new world of financial possibilities and opportunities.

  • Create a spending plan. For many people the word budget conjures up images of deprivation and sacrifice. So let's call it a spending plan! The "big three" of most spending plans consists of your rent (or mortgage payment), food costs, and transportation (car loans). After that, there are the costs of utilities, credit cards, entertainment, savings, and any other outstanding loans. Calculate your total monthly income. Then total your monthly bills. You need to know what amount is left over (if any) so that you can figure out the best way to allocate your money towards paying off debt.
  • Determine your financial goals. Financial goals are different for each person. You may want to buy a nice house in the suburbs. Someone else might want to travel the world. Deciding what you want makes it that much easier to work towards your goals. Remind yourself often of what you are striving to achieve. It can help keep you motivated to stay on the right course.
  • Track your spending. Research indicates that most people have no idea how much they actually spend each month. A lunch here, a latte there, a "quick" run to the grocery storeā€¦ these seemingly harmless and small expenditures can quickly turn into budget-busters. For one month, keep ALL your receipts. After four weeks, calculate the total. Unless you know where your money is going, you can't plug the leaks or begin to make positive changes.
  • Learn to bargain. Don't automatically assume you have to pay the listed price. Use the internet to comparison shop before you head to the retail store. Always ask if they will match the price of a competitor. The worst they can say is "no".
  • Consider an additional source of income. Job security is shaky at best in today's economy. Look into the possibility of bringing in extra income from another source. There are many online marketplaces which offer ideas about earning additional money.
  • Get rid of high-interest debt as quickly as possible. Credit cards generally charge the highest interest rates so the faster you can pay them off, the better. This will save you both interest charges and possible fees in the long run. Making only the minimum payments on credit cards can keep you in debt for decades which is just what the credit card companies want!
  • Check your credit report. By law, you are allowed one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus- Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Take advantage of this and always check your personal report for accuracy. Notify the credit bureau of any outdated or incorrect information immediately. You always have the right to dispute any inaccurate information contained in your credit report. Checking your report can also alert you to possible identity theft.
  • Always open and review your monthly statements. Whether you receive paper statements or have online accounts, it's important to open and read your statements each month. With most companies offering online access to their customers, it's now possible to check your personal accounts whenever you wish. Many financial experts suggest taking 5 or 10 minutes a day to quickly check your banking and credit card accounts. This also gives you up-to-date balances so that you know exactly where you stand financially at any given moment. Not a bad idea.
  • Learn to live more simply. Many people are discovering the joys of simplifying their lives. This can mean many different things. You may have so many "things" that you feel like you're suffocating. You might want to stop going out to eat so often and spending your hard-earned money on food which isn't that nutritious or tasty. Maybe you'd like to have a garden and prepare delicious, home-cooked meals. Cutting back doesn't necessarily mean having less. It's about holding on to the things that are important to you and letting go of the insignificant ones.
  • Plan your meals. No one likes to walk in the door after a hard day at work and be faced with the eternal question "What's for dinner?". Menu planning can go a long way in reducing the stress that comes from wondering what to fix and not knowing what's in the pantry or (worse yet) in the freezer. Take-out meals and visits to restaurants can quickly blow your food (or entertainment) budget! It's worth the time and effort to plan out a week's worth of meals. Be sure to do your grocery shopping with a specific list.
  • Impose a "waiting period" before making a purchase. Impulse shopping can absolutely wreck a budget! Before you finalize the sale, use the 72-hour rule. Give yourself three days to really think about the item you want to buy. Most impulse purchases are made in the "heat of the moment" so delaying the actual sale usually gives you time to re-think your position. The easiest way to avoid this situation is to avoid the mall (or online shopping website) altogether. Do whatever you have to do to stay focused and on track.
  • Put away the credit cards and use cash. Studies indicate that consumers who use cash for their purchases tend to spend less than people who pay with credit cards. Knowing exactly how much money you have available to spend (for groceries or gas or whatever) is powerful motivation to spend wisely. You'll never get out of debt until you stop adding on to your debt.