By: Ashley Ann Reich
April is coined as Financial Literacy Month nationwide and provides an excellent opportunity for businesses and schools at all levels to provide additional emphasis on ensuring consumers are prepared for what lies ahead with their finances. Whether you are a college student or someone that just wants to get your finances in order, these tips are transferable to what I like to call all ‘ages and stages’ of life. We are sticking to the basics this month with simple tips on how to lay a solid financial foundation.
Define Your Money Goals
Before getting overwhelmed with either the lack of finances or the disorganization of your current financial situation, it is important to start by defining clear goals. CNBC recently released a 30-day money challenge for National Financial Literacy Month that focused on a challenge each day. The first day was to lay out clear goals and equate those to your value system. Spend some time considering what you want to accomplish financially over a short period of time – likely, the first six months to a year – and then write down attainable action steps.
Create a Sustainable Budget
In order to be organized financially, you have to create a budget that works for you. In this day and age, many people are utilizing technology to provide a monthly budget, and there are still some, like me, that truly love a tried-and-true Excel spreadsheet. If you are more of an app person, Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar software is a great option. The initial app is free, and you can pay a small monthly fee to upgrade and have your bank account transactions linked. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is another popular app that helps you budget based on the principles of the envelope system.
For those not as comfortable with technology or just prefer to write out their budget, pen and paper will always do the trick. It is imperative to find something that works for your lifestyle and will allow you to continue the monthly budgeting habit.
Review Monthly Expenses
At the crux of financial literacy is managing what is coming in and what is going out monthly. Many individuals have a ‘bury the head in the sand’ mentality to manage their finances. It is important to learn what you are spending your money on and what adjustments might need to be made to accomplish your goals. In one of Dave Ramsey’s staple budgeting articles, he always reminds his audience that budgeting will take approximately 90 days and not to get discouraged during those first few months. Mistakes will happen, and you will forget expenses, but make sure to include those moving forward.
Once you have a comfort level with your actual monthly expenses, begin to evaluate if adjustments need to be made. Zero-based budgeting is a good technique to determine if money is leftover or if you are in the red. For money left over, determine how that money might accomplish a savings or debt goal you determined at the beginning of this process. If you find that you do not have enough money to cover your monthly expenses, adjustments need to be made to ensure you are covering your basic “four walls” to stay afloat.
Regardless of how educated you feel about finances, these tips provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to begin to succeed with money. In our current times of inflation, there is a collective desire to increase education around finances to tighten up in areas that may not have been considered. Financial literacy is a skill that individuals can use at all stages of life, and it is important to learn early on how to manage money for the best success in the future.