Financial planning covers a wide variety of money topics including budgeting, expenses, debt, saving, retirement and insurance among others. Understanding how each of these topics work together and relate to one another can help in laying the groundwork of a solid financial foundation for you and your family.
At the very basic level of personal finance, you should understand the need for, and value of, a budget. A budget or spending plan is a road map for telling your money what to do each month. At its simplest, a budget lists how much income you have compared to what's going out. Creating a detailed and written budget allows you to make smarter decisions with your finances on a daily basis. When you're faced with spending money on something, a budget requires you to stop and think about the purchase. You realize that by spending money in one area, you won't have to spend elsewhere.
When you create a budget, you begin to see a clear picture of how much money you have, what you spend it on, and how much, if any is left over. Ideally, you'll have a surplus left over which you can use to save for retirement, build up your emergency fund, pay down debt or apply to other financial goals
After you've successfully created a basic budget, you'll have a much better understanding of where your money goes and where you can possibly trim expenses. For many people, this is as simple as cutting back on some of the little things that can add up. For others, it may mean taking a closer look at spending to make deeper cuts in order to create a wider gap between monthly inflows and outflows.
For example, some of the smaller variable expenses you may consider eliminating include unnecessary subscription services or recurring memberships you don't use. Bigger cuts could result from refinancing your mortgage or wiping out an entire spending category, such as dining out.
Even after creating a sound budget and cutting unnecessary expenses, you may still find yourself with lingering debt to get rid of. Using credit and taking on some debt itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you can't keep up with the payments or borrow more than you can afford to pay back, you could be in trouble. Getting out debt becomes even more difficult when you're facing a high interest rate on credit cards or loans.
One of the most important steps in getting out of debt is to pay more than the minimum amount due each month. Even a modest credit card balance can take over a decade to pay off if you simply pay the minimum amount due because of interest and finance charges. That could end up costing you thousands of dollars that could be better used towards savings.
With fewer companies offering full pension plans and the uncertainty of Social Security, it's become more important than ever to save and plan for your own retirement. Unfortunately, many people feel that they simply don’t have enough money left over each month to save. That, however, can be costly if you delay saving until later in life because it means missing out on the power of compound interest. Retirement savings needs to become a priority instead of an afterthought. The Internal Revenue Service has made saving for retirement even more attractive with special tax-advantaged accounts such as employer 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts and special retirement accounts for the self-employed. These accounts allow for tax deductions, credits and even tax-free earnings on some retirement savings. If you're not saving for retirement yet, revisit your budget to see if you have room to include it.