No matter how determined we are to improve our financial habits, life has a way of throwing us off track. It isn't that we're not committed to positive change. It's just that often without a clear roadmap, it's hard to get where you want to go. Especially if our goals are general—sure, we all want to save more money or get out of debt—it can be hard to follow through.
So what's the answer? First, when it comes to your finances, get specific about what you really want to accomplish. For instance, how much do you want to save each month? What bills do you want to pay off first? The second essential part of success is making a plan and then sticking with it.
The following financial hacks are designed to help make it easy—almost automatic—to stay on track. Basically, these are simple things that once set in motion will help you keep going in the right direction.
Seven quick ways to set yourself up for success
- Set up automatic deductions from checking to savings. If you're contributing to a 401(k), you know how easy it is to adjust to an automatic deduction from your paycheck. So why not do the same for your other savings goals? Whether you're saving for a house, a child’s college, or building a vacation fund, automatic deductions from checking to savings will add up without you having to think too much about it.
- Amp up your retirement savings. It’s great to stash away money in your retirement account every month, but are you saving enough? If you’re over 25 and saving less than 10 percent of your salary, you should consider increasing the percentage. Expecting a bonus? Send the bulk of it to savings.
- Create a calendar. Don't risk incurring a penalty by missing a due date. Put all important financial dates on your calendar such as estimated taxes, property taxes and RMDs. Set up reminders a few days in advance of the due date.
- Put bills on auto pay. Avoid late fees by putting your recurring bills—mortgage payments, utilities, insurance premiums, phone and internet—on automatic. Just be sure to check in periodically to make sure the proper amounts are being deducted.
- Build a cash cushion. Don't let a financial emergency derail you. As a buffer, you ideally want to have enough cash handy to cover three to six months' essential expenses. Sound impossible? Look back at number 1. Figure out how much you can afford to put toward your emergency fund each month and have that amount automatically deposited in a savings account especially earmarked for that purpose. When you reach your goal, you can put these savings toward something else.
- Invest like a pro—without the hassle. If you don’t have the time or expertise to monitor and rebalance your investments, consider using an automatic investment advisory service. Let the pros help build and manage your portfolio in keeping with your personal goals—minus the hassle.
- Make financial date-night a regular event. A little moral support can go a long way. Set up a regular time to discuss your financial goals and realities with your spouse, partner or a trusted friend to share tips and help each other stay on track. And be sure to celebrate your successes!
Making positive financial change isn't a one-time event, it's a constant commitment. To me, the best way to succeed is to make staying on top of your finances a healthy habit. I believe that if you put these seven things in motion, handling your finances will become second nature and you'll be on the path to lifelong success.
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