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Getting Ahead Financially by Gaining Control of Your Finances

Control Your Finance

Gaining control of your finances is one of the most critical things you can do to set yourself up for future success. With some strategic planning, intentional spending, and a few key lifestyle changes, you can pave the path towards financial freedom.

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15 Tips for Gaining Control of Your Finances

1. Track Your Spending

The first step to gaining control of your finances is getting clarity on where your money is actually going each month. Sign up for a budgeting app or sit down with bank statements, credit card bills, and other records to categorize monthly inflows and outflows. Understanding spending habits allows you to identify areas for improvement.

Once you know where the money leaks are, you can patch them up.

2. Create a Budget

Gaining control of your finances can be an uphill battle if you don’t have a budget. Therefore, with your spending baseline established, build a realistic monthly budget that aligns expenses to income. Budgets account for essential fixed costs like housing, debt payments, insurance, utilities, and groceries. Then factor in other spending like gas, dining out, entertainment, etc. If expenses exceed earnings, look for areas to cut back. Budgeting keeps spending aligned to available funds, preventing overspending.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

Before allocating money elsewhere, build a 3-6 month emergency fund. This fund will help you handle unexpected expenses—such as medical bills, car repairs, or job loss— without going into debt. Aim to automatically contribute a portion of each paycheck until the target balance is reached. Having this buffer prevents financial shocks from derailing other financial goals.

4. Pay Down Debt

Once essential expenses and emergency savings are covered, aggressively pay down high interest debts like credit cards to eliminate this expensive burden. Pay more than minimum balances, apply windfalls towards balances, consolidate debts for lower interest rates, leverage balance transfer offers, or consider debt consolidation loans. Shedding high interest debt frees up cashflow to focus on other priorities.

5. Boost Retirement Savings

Retirement may feel far off but time and compound growth are your biggest assets. Increase automatic contributions by 1-2% annually or whenever possible until saving at least 10-15% including any employer match. Tax-advantaged retirement accounts like 401ks and IRAs enjoy decades of tax-deferred growth. Starting early, even with small amounts, can yield an extra few hundred thousand by retirement.

6. Invest Extra Funds

Once you get to a point where budgets are covered, high interest debts are cleared, and emergency and retirement savings are on track, invest any extra funds. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate provide potential to earn average annual returns of 6-8%. Reinvested gains compound over time. Even modest consistent investing over decades can yield substantial returns.

7. Negotiate Lower Interest Rates

If you have outstanding lower interest debts like student loans or mortgages, contact providers to negotiate lower rates. Improving credit scores, account history, automatic payments, or providing requested documents may qualify you for discounts potentially saving thousands over a loan’s lifetime. You can also refinance debt for lower interest rates when credit scores improve.

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8. Avoid Unnecessary Fees

Banks and financial services providers count on penalty, convenience and maintenance fees as major revenue sources. By understanding fee structures and avoiding behaviors that trigger fees, you can save substantially over time. For credit cards and checking accounts, use your bank’s ATM network, set up autopay arrangements on bills to avoid late fees, and monitor balances closely to avoid overdrafts.

9. Take Advantage of Your Benefits Package

Carefully review your employee benefits package which likely includes major tax breaks, discounts or subsidies for items like healthcare premiums, transit programs, childcare stipends, tuition reimbursement, and retirement plans. Sign up for the most advantageous benefits for your situation, as these can amount to thousands in annual savings or free offerings from employers.

10. Take Care of Your Health

While easier said than done, making positive choices to take care of mental and physical health pays dividends financially. Healthy habits lower risk of costly medical issues down the road plus life insurance premiums. Beyond diet and exercise, manage stress levels, get routine care, and prioritize quality time with supportive relationships. Don’t avoid necessary health expenditures but optimize spending via in-network providers, generics drugs, negotiating costs, and preventative care.

11. Drive an Affordable Vehicle

Transportation remains one of the biggest costs for most households. Avoid excessive auto loans that drive total ownership costs too high over years of payments, insurance premiums and fuel costs. Consider more economical used vehicles that offer reliability and safety without the steep initial price tag of newer cars. Optimize insurance policies for coverage needs and discounts while also adopting safe driving practices to secure lower premiums.

12. Focus Home Buying on Needs vs. Wants

Housing tends to be most people’s largest monthly cost. When considering purchasing a home, stick to budgets by focusing on must-haves like location, size, layout and condition rather than granite counters, spa bathrooms and elaborate backyards. While moving into the most expensive home a lender approves leaves little financial flexibility, choosing the smallest, most modest home meeting needs better positions for long-term financial health.

13. Use Homeownership to Build Equity

By paying down a fixed-rate mortgage over years of ownership, forced savings builds home equity. Avoid excessive cash-out refinances or home equity lines of credit which erode equity. When selling a home, that accrued equity can be invested into the next home or assets. Plus, owning rent-generating investment properties builds equity through tenant payments. Savvy real estate moves build lasting wealth.

14. Scale Down Housing as Life Changes

As life evolves, reassess housing to ensure appropriately sized and priced. Empty nesters moving from suburban single family homes to urban condos reduce expenses on taxes, utilities and maintenance. Similarly, renters buying first homes buy smartly-sized starter homes adequate for needs instead of overextending budgets on impressively sized houses with higher expenses.

15. Refinance Loans and Credit Cards

As credit scores and income rise over time, periodically review terms and rates on debts like student loans, mortgages and revolving credit card balances. Refinancing or consolidating loans and cards at lower prevailing rates reduces interest paid overall, freeing up monthly cash flow. Set calendar reminders to review financing every 6-12 months.

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The Bottom Line

Gaining control of your finances requires dedicating focus to understand money inflows and outflows while continually tweaking behaviors to align spending with financial goals. Incremental effort pays dividends allowing you to direct money to what matters most in life. Even modest consistent changes make substantial long-term differences helping you build assets and net worth over decades. Take it step-by-step, month-by-month. With some concerted effort, you will get ahead financially.

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