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February 12, 2016
There is more to financial “health” than just dollars in the bank. This week, we’ve put together ten ways you can boost your financial wellness for short-term and long-term success. Even if you start with just one of these right away, it can have a tremendous impact in the long run.
1. Grow your emergency fund – this rule of thumb tends to make people groan. It can be overwhelming to think about having a year’s worth of savings put aside to cover yourself in case of a job loss or other significant life event. However, there is flexibility; here are some ways to help you determine how much to put aside.
2. Pay off credit card debt – did you know that the average American household has more than $15,000 in credit card debt? This is one of the most prevalent battles people face, but if you put together a strategy to pay these debts down in a certain amount of time without incurring more charges, you’ll be that much further into financial freedom. Plus, the lack of stress about these debts boosts your mental and physical health (see number 8).
3. Put 10% of your income toward retirement – it’s easy to fall into the trap of living paycheck-to-paycheck and saying you can always start saving next year. Instead, use a retirement calculator to determine what you can begin putting aside now, and aim to reach 10% (or more, if you can) over time.
4. Pay off your mortgage before retirement – while this does not place as heavily as some of the other priorities listed here, this is an ideal that if you can do it, you should. This article suggests ways you can pay down your mortgage before you retire, if this is an option you can exercise.
5. Track your spending – the internet has made it incredibly easy to manage a household budget. There are companies that will even link to your bank account(s), credit cards, and retirement accounts so you can see everything in one place. There are several reputable and free websites out there that will track and graph your spending, keep you on target, and have mobile apps for your phone or tablet for easy access.
6. Diversify your investments – any finance manager will tell you not to put all of your savings into one place. Consult with someone at your employer, if available, if you contribute to a 401k or similar program through them; even better, consult with a financial planner or wealth manager to help you diversify and invest smartly.
7. Be charitable with your excess money – there is more to charitable giving than the tax write-off, though that is the most widely known reason to give. Donating your time and money increases personal happiness and lowers stress levels, among other incentives. Find a cause you feel passionate about and get giving.
8. Keep yourself healthy – this might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but keeping yourself in good health means fewer medical bills, lower health insurance premiums, and last but not least, means you’ll be feeling great by the time you decide to enjoy your retirement years.
9. Live below your means – if you are able to sock away even a very small amount of your earnings each month, it will mean more savings or preparedness for larger purchases, such as a home. The earlier you begin this kind of lifestyle, the better. If you come into some extra funds through a bonus or a generous raise, put aside the extra for savings or paying down debts, but continue to live on the same budget.
10. Plan for the future – examine closely where you are presently with your finances and where you want to be ten, twenty, or thirty-plus years from now. Even setting shorter goals, such as improving the health of your savings account within three to five years, can mean the difference between being ready for a costly emergency versus going into more debt. Here are one or two tips on juggling financial priorities.