Money management guide to financial independence
Learn the basics of handling your own money matters so you can conquer your financial future with confidence.
Whether you’re just graduating college, moving out of your parent’s house or starting your first full-time job, it will soon be time to handle your finances on your own. To help, we’ve pulled together this guide, designed to give you a clear picture of all the essentials. Learn about each of these five money matters to ensure you have all the information you need on your path to financial independence.
Money management tip 1: Understand income taxes
When you land your first job after graduation, it can be tempting to equate your salary or hourly compensation as your total income. But before you start mentally spending that amount, remember that the state and federal governments require a certain percentage in the form of taxes.
If you work for a company, they’ll likely take tax money out before they pay you. If you’re an independent contractor, you’ll need to take care of taxes on your own. This part is very important: Pay your taxes quarterly. Four small payments are much easier to manage than one huge yearly sum.
No matter how you get paid, you’ll need to file annual taxes by April 15th like the rest of the country’s wage-earners. There’s a penalty if you’re late. You can do your own taxes, or, if your financial situation is more complicated, you can use a tax software program or an accountant.
Stay informed to help reduce your current and future tax burdens. Visit our tax strategies page for more info.
Money management tip 2: Start saving for long-term financial goals
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Pay yourself first.” Make it a top priority to automatically shuffle a chunk of your income into your savings monthly, before you have a chance to use it for something else.
How much should you save? Roughly 20 percent, 10-15 percent of which should be retirement savings. Use at least some of the remaining five to 10 percent to build up an emergency fund, which should generally be three to six months’ worth of your bare-bones living expenses that can allow you to weather tough financial times without asking for parental help.
Channel whatever’s left toward a long-term financial goal, such as a vacation, wedding, home or vehicle.
Money management tip 3: Make a budget
Your monthly spending should not exceed your monthly income. This sounds simple enough, but unless you’ve taken the time to calculate exactly what you’re making and spending, you might not know how those numbers compare.
Add up one month’s spending, including rent, utilities, savings, investments, groceries and gas. Make sure every expense is accounted for. Budgeting apps are a convenient way to keep track of your purchases, but a good old-fashioned notebook works, too.
Be aware of paying for needs first and wants second. When you’re saving for a vacation or another splurge, that second category may need to shrink for the sake of your long-term goal.
Money management tip 4: Be careful with credit cards
Here’s the thing to keep in mind about credit: It’s important to demonstrate that you can manage it well for potential lenders you may need to help you fund a car, home or business in the future.
Consider opening a credit card, and just use it to pay for things that you can afford – not to finance those you can’t. Pay it off in full and on time each month, and watch your credit score tick upward.
Remember, whatever you don’t pay off at the end of the month will still be there waiting (plus an interest charge) the following month. Do everything you can not to carry a balance, which can snowball quickly. Examine your budget for areas to cut back on instead.
If you find yourself in uncertain financial times and you're unable to make monthly payments, reach out to your credit issuers to see what remedies are available to you.
Money management tip 5: Insure yourself
Insurance can be a hard responsibility to appreciate at first. The tradeoff for your monthly payment isn’t something you can see or watch grow. It’s more about the peace of mind that if something unexpected happens, you’ll be financially equipped to handle it.
When it comes to vehicle insurance, shop around until you find the best fit for your needs and budget. You’ll want to do the same for health insurance, too, if your employer doesn’t provide it.
It’s also smart to consider life insurance. Buying when you’re young and healthy locks you into a low rate. That could well be in the double-digits monthly, depending on type and coverage, if you’re a healthy 20- or 30-something. Inexpensive and responsible – now that’s financially intelligent.
Need help with your transition to financial independence? Make an appointment with a U.S. Bank personal banker.