Do you want to know how to improve your finances? Well you and a millions of Americans are after the same goal. We all had our finances suffer when the Great Recession hit and it was devastating to watch everything that we have worked so hard to acquire go down the drain.
We all blamed debt for most of our financial suffering. We thought that if we did not have debts, none of us would have gone through so much stress the way we did. While this way of thinking is sound, you need to realize that it is incorrect. Despite the obvious destructive effects of debt, the obvious culprit in our suffering is our own financial management skills. Or at least, the lack of the right skills.
According to a study done by CreditDonkey.com, the average income of Americans is $4,000 a month. Most of that goes to groceries, transportation, insurance, and housing expenses. Only 3% of the disposable income goes to savings and not even everyone can afford that. Low and mid income families usually cannot meet all the expenses so they are forced to pay for any deficit through their cards. The average is usually $58 a day. If you compute that, it amount to $1,740 a month – which is already 40% of the average income of Americans.
The way we spend our money, pay off deficit in our expenses and the little amount that we save is like a ticking time bomb. One glance and you know that there is something wrong with how we manage our money. It does not matter if you can earn more – if your financial management skill suck, then you will always be on the brink of a financial crisis.
10 reasons your money management skills will fail you
There are certain signs that will tell you if your money management skills is leading you to a disaster. You want to go through this list so you can be certain if you need to improve the way you manage your money.
Here are 10 reasons why your financial management skills put you in a compromising position.
- You do not have an emergency fund. Let us start with your financial security. One of the indications that you are financially secure is when you have enough money in your emergency fund. If not, then you know that you are in trouble. According to the latest Financial Security Index from Bankrate.com, 26% of the respondents in their survey said that they do not have any emergency fund. 24% has less than 3 months covers, 17% has 3-5 months and 23% has an emergency fund that is worth 6 months and more. If you are not part of the 40% who has an emergency fund worth 3 months or more in expenses, then you need to save more to secure your finances.
- You fail to keep track where your money is spent. Another sign that your financial management skills are not ideal is when you do not know where your money is going. Some people blindly pay their bills and daily expenses without really checking if they are able to pay off the priority. Even if you do not end up with a deficit each month, you need to track where your money is being spent. That is how you ensure that it is funding the expenses that matter to you.
- You have no idea how much you owe. As scary as this may sound, there are people who have no idea how much debt they have. This is dangerous because in most cases, they realize too late that their debts have grown into an amount that they cannot afford to pay back. Do not let it reach this point and just start monitoring all your credit accounts.
- You have a problem differentiating a want from a need. An important skill that you need to learn in financial management, that is admittedly quite tricky, is to distinguish the want from the need. The problem is, we try to justify the wants as a need. But here’s the thing. We want a big house but all we really need is a safe and comfortable home. We want designer jeans and dresses but all we really need are decent clothes. Learn how to prefer the essentials.
- You cannot say no. We’ve written an article that discusses how saying no can save you from a financial crisis. There is so much truth to this that you need to really learn how to say no. That means saying to to your friends, family and even yourself. Helping is good but make sure you are not giving them the easy way out. They have to learn from their mistakes and instead of giving them the quick relief, guide them as they go through the painful process of saying no. In the end, you are not only helping them, you are also protecting your finances from being compromised.
- Your expenses are bigger than your income. If your expenses are bigger than your income, then you know that your financial management skills need improvement. Try to lower your expenses by cutting back on those that are not necessary. Live within your means because any purchase in excess of your income is done through credit.
- You always spend using your credit cards. Now that we have mentioned credit, let us discuss credit cards. It is not bad to use them but you have to learn how to use them properly so you do not end up in debt. Make sure that when you use it, you have the cash on hand to allow you to pay for it in full at the end of the month.
- You only pay the minimum requirement. In connection with the last, if your credit card payments are only based on the minimum requirement, you should know that it is also a sign of bad financial management skills. This payment method will keep you in debt for a very long time. So pay more than the minimum and if you cannot do that, then stop using your credit cards for the meantime until you have paid off your balance.
- You compare what you have with others. Another bad habit that could lead to your financial disaster is always comparing what you have with others. Their life is not the same as yours. It may be true that you have the same position and earn the same amount of money but you financial obligations might be different. You see them sporting new cars but that may be because they already have investments in place to help them afford it. Just focus on what you need and not what your neighbors have.
- You are not paying attention to your credit report. Lastly, not checking on your credit report is a big mistake for a lot of people. Some have gone through life with no debt or have made wise financial decisions but since they failed to check their credit report, they did not see that they were victims of identity theft. Unknowingly, someone got your details and borrowed huge sums of money under your name. If you fail to spot that in time, you could end up paying for all of that yourself.
5 steps to improve how you manage your finances
If you are guilty of any of these signs, then it is a must that you work on your financial management skills. In case there is a need to improve your habits, here are 5 things that you can do.
- Improve your financial literacy. First of all, you have to be able to identify the mistakes before you make them. This can only be done if you are aware of what is right and wrong. Improve your financial literacy by reading about personal finances. You can start by visiting Consumer.gov – especially the part about managing your money.
- Set up financial goals. Once you have educated yourself, set financial goals that will lead you towards a more prosperous financial standing. It can be as simple as growing your money up to $X amount or buying your own home.
- Create a budget. When you have your goals, you can work on a budget that you will follow each month. This budget plan will not only help you practice financial management, it will also help you setup your finances so you can reach your financial goals.
- Identify the habits that are sinking your finances. Obviously, you need to stop those bad spending habits in order for you to keep a tight lid on debt. Other habits that you may want to correct includes failing to check your credit report, not saving enough for retirement, etc.
- Stop acquiring debt and pay off existing credit. Lastly, you want to make sure that any debt that you have will be paid off and you will also stop acquiring unnecessary debt. This will help maximize what limited resources you have each month.
Here is a video from HowCast that teaches how you can avoid credit card debt.