As I promised last week, I am super excited to share a guest post from NerdWallet.com’s CEO Tim Chen, sharing some financial wisdom!
Like most of us, you’ve probably been busy working on your New Year’s Resolutions for the past few weeks. Maybe you’ve been sweating it out at the gym (finally) or cooking more meals at home. Have you made any resolutions about money management? If not, it’s time to add that to your list. But I’m already pretty good with money, you might be saying to yourself. To be fair, if you read your bank statements and pay off your loans each month, you’re ahead of many people. What else can you do to be more financially savvy? Quite a bit, it turns out. To start your New Year off right, here are five serious strategies for managing your money.
1. Bulk up your savings
If you don’t already have an emergency fund, it’s time to start building one. Ideally, you should have enough money set aside to pay your expenses for 3 – 6 months, but every little bit helps. Just make sure you put your savings in an account that gives you easy access and won’t depreciate in value. A high yield savings account works well for most people.
2. Wait to sell stocks, even when the market’s down
If you’re the sort of person who checks stock prices on a daily basis, you know how easy it is to get agitated when prices drop. However, you should never let these feelings dictate your buying and selling patterns. Selling poor performing stocks too quickly is a rookie mistake; you’ll usually see them rebound in a year or two. No one can possibly know all the factors that went into a price drop, not even your broker! We do know that it’s normal for prices to fluctuate, so take a deep breath and stay the course. If you’ve got a well-balanced portfolio, you’ll be fine.
3. Save for retirement
If you don’t already have an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) or a 401(k), get one! You’ll want one or both depending on your income level and work situation. If your employer offers a 401(k), take it, especially if you’re eligible for matching funds. 401(k)s have a high yearly contribution limit: $16,500 if you’re under 50 and $22,000 if you’re older. An IRA has a lower contribution limit, but it’s also eligible for lower taxes than a 401(k).
4. Be cautious with debt
We know how it goes. Sometimes loans are necessary. And, when there’s an emergency, you may have to use your credit card more than you should. That said, always be careful when considering new debt. If you don’t absolutely need that extra money, don’t borrow it. Credit card use is on the rise, which means you’ll see more enticing offers this year, but that’s still no excuse for spending beyond your means. If you’re already in debt, do your best to pay if off ASAP. The longer you take to make your payments, the more money you’ll spend over time. Making early payments is always a good idea if you can afford it (and if there’s no penalty).
5. Digitize your budget
Recording your expenses doesn’t have to consume hours of your time. For some extra assistance beyond the basic Excel spreadsheet, try using free budgeting software. BudgetPulse and dsBudget are both downloadable programs that have built-in tools to help you plan your future spending goals. GnuCash is free budgeting and accounting software in one, so it’s an especially good choice if you run a small business.
Tim Chen is the CEO of NerdWallet, a credit card comparison website dedicated to helping consumers find the best credit cards of 2012.