What does it take to be smart with money? After all, where money is concerned, we’re all fans — we like it. We’d like more of it. You get the gist. But what separates those with high financial IQs, so to speak, from those of us who still can’t seem to get the hang of the whole money-smarts thing?
Well, there isn’t one magical factor. If you’d like to fall under the “smart with money” umbrella, as I’d like to, here are things you should know.
1. You need emergency savings
Here’s the thing: Even one unexpected and costly catastrophe could start the spiral that sends you into debt. And once you’re in that hole, well, it’s pretty hard to crawl out. While people who are smart with money aren’t immune to such disasters, they’re much better equipped to handle them because they have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses squirreled away.
2. Pay more than your minimum balance
When you pay only your minimum balance on a loan or credit card, you typically aren’t paying much toward your principal balance. Rather, you’re mostly paying on the interest. Money-savvy minds know that as little as $10 per month can help you pay down your principal much more quickly, essentially putting that money back in your pocket sooner rather than later.
3. Know where your money goes
People who are smart with their money tend to be very aware of where it goes — which bills it’s going to, who’s automatically drafting it, how much is being spent on living necessities. Then there’s me, who didn’t realize for an entire month that I’d somehow signed up for a home magazine service that now delivers Popular Mechanics to my stoop on a monthly basis. Keeping track of expenses, expenditures and spending habits minimizes the odds of spending leaks.
4. Stay away from high-interest debt
This is one of the cardinal rules of smart money management for some solid reasons. A higher interest rate basically translates into more money lost — it’s a no-brainer.
5. Don’t forget about your future
When I was in my mid-20s, I sold a parcel of land I owned. For a split second, I thought, “Hmm, I should put this money into Roth IRA or some other retirement savings plan.” Then, I didn’t. Now that I’m in my early 30s, I’d like to go back and flick former me in the forehead for not having invested in my own future. People who are smart with money actively plan for retirement — no matter how far away it may seem at the time.
6. How to manage your 401K
OK, so a 401K isn’t entirely free money, given that you are contributing — often through your job. But what financial smarties know is that contributing the minimum amount to qualify for your company’s 401K full match program (if that’s something your employer offers) means your employer is literally giving you money. Free is me, people. Free is me.
7. What you truly value
Mindlessly spending money is easy! They didn’t invent that idiom about money burning a hole in the pocket for nothin’, you know. One of the smartest ways to curb that money-draining habit, though, is to really prioritize what it is you value in your life. For example, if your answer is your kids and knowing you want to put them through college, you’ll be more inclined to think before you spend.
This post was sponsored by Discover Personal Loans.