Personal finances are complicated. Big or small life events—as well as interest rate changes, inflation and other economic factors—can have an impact on how you manage your money.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by money management, it’s best to start with the basics. A good first step is to figure out your financial priorities. Once you’ve done this, you can start working toward each goal.
Here are seven tips for managing money more effectively.
Creating and maintaining a financial plan rests on a foundation of your identified and prioritized financial goals.
For example, your primary goal might be to save for a down payment on your own apartment or house, or perhaps it’s to pay off your school loans. Having a goal, and a plan to achieve that goal, will help you feel more in control of your finances.
Other examples of financial goals include:
A comprehensive financial plan that’s tailored to your situation should consider every financial element of your life, including your short- and long-term financial goals.
It’s important to differentiate between debt that can help you achieve your personal financial goals and debt that can set you back. Not all debt is created equal. In some situations, using debt to help manage your finances can be a useful tool.
Most people can categorize their debt into productive and nonproductive (or good and bad debt). For instance, you might consider your mortgage productive debt: It can help you build equity (and your net worth) and may help you qualify for a tax break.
Student loans can also be thought of as productive debt — they may have been necessary to help you get an education that led to you earning your current income. (Here’s some information on paying off student loans.)
On the other hand, credit card debt, especially if it was accrued by buying things that don’t contribute to your net worth or financial future, is often considered nonproductive. Make it a goal to pay down credit card debt as soon as possible.
Remember that productive debt can be nonproductive when it carries high interest rates. “High interest rate” can be a relative consideration, so it’s generally a good idea to consider whether the interest you’re paying on debt is higher than the return you might receive if you invested the same money.
Having an emergency fund means you would be covered in the case of a change in your circumstances, such as losing your job or encountering unexpected medical expenses.
The amount in your emergency fund may vary based on your goals and financial situation. However, a general rule of thumb is to have at least three months’ worth of your household income set aside for emergencies—preferably six to nine, especially if you’re self-employed.
Next, think about where you’re keeping it. Consider products that might earn you a higher interest rate than a standard savings account, such as a certificate of deposit (CD) or money market account.
If you have an emergency that requires a smaller amount of savings, you may want to think about using a home equity line of credit to pay for it. Taking on low-interest personal debt would be better than selling assets or using a credit card to cover an unexpected expense.
How much money you set aside for saving and investing, and how you choose to allocate it, should also reflect your goals and timeline.
Consider saving for shorter term goals, such as buying a house, because you’ll have easier access to a savings account than you will money in investment accounts. Investing, on the other hand, might be more appropriate for your longer-term goals, such as retirement or paying for your child’s education.
When deciding how to invest for your goals, be sure to carefully assess your risk tolerance. Talking to a trusted financial professional can help you determine the right mix of asset classes and for you and your goals.
Having a tax-diversified portfolio that includes a combination of tax-advantaged, tax-free and fully taxable investment vehicles and investment accounts can help you manage the amount of taxes you pay.
For most people, fun is more of a day-to-day interest than a goal, but it’s still incredibly important to your quality of life — and your budget.
Working with a financial professional can help, as they can look at your wishes objectively. Incorporating enjoyable activities into your financial plan year-round, whether it’s regular vacations or weekly date nights, can help you make sure having fun doesn’t derail your fundamentals.
You’ve worked hard for your money, so it makes sense that you should plan for how your assets are distributed after you die. As a first step, consider drawing up advance directives, which will empower a friend or relative to make financial and/or medical decisions on your behalf if you ever become incapacitated. Advance directives include:
And no matter the size of your estate, make sure to create a will or a trust as part of your financial plan. Otherwise, state law will determine what happens to your assets after you die.
Check in with your financial plan regularly, because just as markets are constantly moving, so are your life circumstances. Even if you and a sibling or friend have similar financial situations, what’s right for them might not be right for you.
Remember that a financial plan is tailored for you. How to manage money generally depends on your life stage and personal goals. Knowing where you want to be five years from now can make your big picture financial balancing act much easier.
If you’d like more information beyond these how to manage money tips, the financial planning professionals from U.S. Bank and U.S. Bancorp Investments can provide personalized advice and guidance.