We are Americans and to many of us that means it is our God given right to spend money as fast as we make it. Unfortunately, for most of us that right leads to years of digging out of a hole once we decide to plan for the future.
Sure, many will have 401(k)’s and IRA’s that will provide some sort of income during our “golden” years, but, for most, retirement accounts fall shy of supporting the lifestyle we are accustomed to during our working years. So, unless the current generation of working Americans adjusts its spending habits we are going to be in for a rude awakening once we reach age of retirement.
So, here are ten pointers that can help us all who have forgotten the value of a dollar shore up our finances and prepare for our retirement years:
1. Always pay yourself first. Regardless when your get your paycheck you should always put a little something aside for yourself BEFORE you start paying ANY of your bills. This is because you should start (if you haven’t already) putting aside money for emergencies as well as towards your retirement. Unless you are Superman you will have emergencies, and you will retire someday. So the more you have put away, the more comfortable your retirement will be. Besides you don't work just to pay bills; even if it feels that way a lot of the time.
When setting aside money to “pay yourself”, set a goal of saving three to six months of worth of income for emergencies. The time will come when you need it.
2. Take advantage of your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, or other retirement plan, if available, especially if your employer has some sort of employer matching contribution. If not plan is available to you, set up an IRA and save on your own.
3. Pay off credit cards with the highest interest rate first. This is because of all the money you are literally wasting in interest on the balance on these cards. Even if your lower interest rate card(s) carries a higher balance, you should eliminate your highest interest debts first. If that happens to have a smaller balance then all that means is that you will be rid of that debt all the sooner; and then you can address the card(s) with the next highest interest rate – then wash and repeat until all of your evil credit card debt is eliminated.
4. Come up with a budget and stick to it. When setting up a budget there are many programs, some of them free, where all you have to do is input the data requested to develop a budget. It is important though that you don’t set up such an austere budget to where you have zero fun, because if you do you will become annoyed and likely not stick to it.
5. If you have trouble determining where your money goes, particularly cash, consider keeping a spending journal to help you regulate your outflows.
6. Don't borrow from your 401(k) or retirement plans. This money is meant for your retirement and as such should be considered the sacred cow of your savings. Besides, if you have started and maintained an emergency fund then you should have no need to ever touch this money until you retire.
7. Pay in cash when and as often as you can. Developing a policy of cash and carry is a great way to minimize how much money you spend and helps you avoid racking up credit card debt.
8. Shop around for the best credit card deals and banking programs. Once you have paid off all of your evil credit cards, it is time to start taking it to the credit card companies and seeking cards that have the lowest interest rates. Some advisers suggest you seek cards that have some sort of rewards programs, such as cash back, as well, but finding the best interest rate is usually a good place to start.
9. Lastly, avoid peer pressure. All this really means is that you should not try and keep up with the Jones’s. Just because your friends can afford to go out on a spending spree once a week does not mean that you should follow suit.
Following these simple guidelines should help you achieve financial stability and put you in a good financial place come retirement.