April is Financial Literacy Month, a chance to raise public awareness of the importance of understanding your finances and making smart money choices. That makes it a great time to start spring cleaning your finances so you can remove unnecessary expenses and save more money.
Check out these eight key areas of financial understanding and specific actions you can take to make sure your financial life is up to speed.
- Calculate your monthly income. It’s key to your budget, as well as calculating several key financial ratios, such as your debt-to-income ratio and personal savings rate.
- Make a bill calendar OR set an auto-pay schedule. Set dates where bills get paid every month so you ensure you have funds allocated, or set up the payments to disburse automatically at the right times if you use online or mobile banking. This will ensure you space your bills out strategically around your paychecks so you don’t have cash flow problems.
- Find one unnecessary expense to cut. Discretionary expenses are the “wants” in your budget – all those things you buy regularly that you don’t really need. Find one unnecessary expense that you can cut out to increase your cash flow.
- Find one spending leak to close. Spending leaks occur when you’re spending more money than you need to be on a necessary expense. For instance, eating out too much will increase your food budget, or picking up a morning coffee at the gas station may be added into your fuel costs. Identify one leak and close it to increase your cash flow.
- Calculate your personal saving rate. Divide the amount of money you set aside each month by your monthly take-home income. Ideally you should be saving at least 10%.
- Assess your financial safety net. Experts recommend you need savings to cover at least three to six months of bills and budget expenses in case you get laid off or face other challenges. Assess what you’d need if you had no income coming in, and then set that as the minimum target amount you should have in your main savings account at all times.
- Set up savings for one major purchase you want in the next six months. Want a new TV or need a new mattress this year? Allocate some of your monthly savings to save up so you can make that purchase in cash once you have the funds available.
3. Basic needs management
- Evaluate your yearly utility costs. Utility costs like electricity and even water usage can vary widely throughout year, which can cause problems for your budget when your bills hit their yearly peak. Review last year’s bills so you can plan effectively for this year.
- Review your mobile plan. Make sure you’re using all of your data or not going over your data for extra charges. You should also check all of the added fees and monthly charges that get tacked onto your bill.
- Give a little love to your car. Check the tire pressure in your wheels, clean out any heavy junk in your back seat or trunk that increases weight, and take your vehicle in for an oil change. All of these actions decrease your fuel consumption costs to help you budget.
- Review the fees on all of your accounts. You may be spending a few dollars every month that you don’t need to be on fees. Signing up for eStatements or setting up a direct deposit can eliminate some account fees.
- Divide your direct deposit to help you budget and save. If your paychecks are deposited directly to your account, most companies allow you to divide where the money gets sent between multiple accounts. You can send some of your money directly to savings to ensure you meet your targets or even split your income between a joint and individual checking account if you have multiple accounts.
5. Health care cost management
- Review your policies to ensure you’re covered – and how much you’ll pay. This is particularly important as it relates to visits to specialists, prescription costs, and ER visits. You want to know exactly what deductibles you’ll pay and make sure you’re covered for anything that can happen. Did you know that when you sign up for BaZing with your La Cap checking account, you can get health care/prescription savings?
- Assess your prescription costs. Do a little research to find out if there are cheaper alternatives to the drugs you’re taking.
- Check into preventative care rebates. Many insurers are offering discounts or rebates on preventative care, such as a yearly physical or mammogram. See if you’re eligible and make the appointments to get a little cash back in your pocket.
6. Credit management
- Download free copies of your credit reports. By law you are allowed to review your credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus once every year. If you haven’t done so in the last 12 months, go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports.
- Review your credit reports for errors and discrepancies. Specifically, you want to focus on any negative items that are impacting your credit. This includes late payments, overdrawn or charged-off accounts and collections. These may be correct, but in some cases they’re actually errors. If you find errors, you need to go through the credit repair process.
7. Debt management
- Review your interest rates and terms. Interest rates are currently much lower than they were a few years ago. Refinancing your mortgage or car loan may give you a lower interest rate and save you money.
- Same with credit cards. If you have a monthly balance on your credit card, then it’s important to find one with the lower interest rate around. This will help you save money as you pay off that balance.
8. Retirement planning
- Review your employer’s 401(k) program – pay attention to matching! Often employers don’t notify employees when they become eligible for the company 401(k) plan. See if you’re eligible, sign up and make sure to take advantage of employer match programs – this is where your employer agrees to match your contributions (usually up to a certain percentage). Don’t waste this chance at “free money” to bolster your retirement strategy.
Still need help?
If you’re struggling with debt or facing a budget that’s out of balance, it can prevent you from crafting effective strategies and even getting the maximum benefits of the tips above. We can help. Book an appointment with one of La Cap’s financial specialist to talk about the challenges you’re facing and how you can get back on the right financial path.
CHECK OUT MORE FINANCIAL EDUCATION RESROUCES FROM LA CAP