Fabric has helped tens of thousands of families protect their financial futures. Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two.
Here are our top ten ways to seize control over your financial life—today.
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10. Know What’s Up
Spending less than you earn is pretty hard if you don’t know where you’re spending in the first place. There are a bunch of different ways to make this happen. You might choose to use an expense-tracking app, or use the “envelope system” to budget out different types of expenses in cash envelopes so can keep an eye on your biggest expenditures.
But before you even do that, you’ll probably find it most helpful to take a step back and figure out where your money has been going until now. In particular, one of the best ways to gain an honest snapshot is to look at three months of spending by going over your credit card bills and bank statements.
Looking at a few months at a time helps to ensure that you aren’t getting caught on any anomalies (for example, holiday spending or wedding season).
If you’re married or in a serious relationship, it’s also important for your partner to know where to find all relevant accounts, in case something happened to you. Fabric Vault lets you connect your accounts and grant access to each other.
In the interest of getting you moving quickly, we recommend you start by evaluating just one month of statements to get a general sense of your situation, and then expand from there.
Make it real: Put 30 minutes on your calendar this weekto review your most recent credit card and bank statements. Write down any surprises.
9. Ditch One Bad Habit
Once you have a better handle on your overall spending patterns, it’s time to zero in on what you’re doing well . . . and less well. We firmly believe that managing your money shouldn’t be all doom and gloom, so let’s start with the positive. What’s one thing you’re succeedingat, when it comes to your spending? Maybe you’re consistently making your coffee at home or at work instead of buying it from Starbucks. Or maybe you’re regularly using public transportation instead of taking a ton of Ubers.
Next, it’s time for a little truth-telling: What are some areas where you could use improvement? Maybe you’ve been paying for Hulu and Netflix and Amazon Prime and Spotify Premium . . . and you’re not consistently using any of them. Or maybe you’re spending upwards of $10 every day on lunch while you’re at work, but you think you’re capable of bringing your lunch at least sometimes.
Make it real: Choose just one recurring expense you want to kick, and make it realistic. (No pretending you’re going to slash your budget in half through your coffee habits alone.) Next, come up with a concrete plan—“I’ll unsubscribe from one premium service,” for example, or “I’ll pack lunch at home every Sunday night”—and try it out for the next two weeks.
8. Make More Money
Seriously, though, penny-pinching is only part of the equation. The “magic” formula in personal finance is simple: your income minus your spending. Spend less than you make, you’ll be able to save. Spend more, and you could be in trouble. So, if you really want to boost your cash flow, think about earning more, too.
Entrepreneurship is great, but you don’t necessarily have to set up a whole Etsy shop or start a full-on side biz. Instead, think about the things you’re already doing well, and how you can take them to the next level. Can you pick up more hours at work? Monetize any of your hobbies? Ask for a raise?
Make it real: Write down one money-making idea that you can realistically explore over the next month. Let it stew for the next few days, and then make an appointment with yourself to decide on action steps one week from today.
7. Write Your Will
A last will and testament is a legal document that outlines your instructions in case you were to pass away—it’s your chance to designate who should inherit your assets and, importantly if you’re a parent, who should take care of any minor children you’ve left behind.
You may find it heartening to learn that 3 in 4 of our customers filled out a last will and testament online in under 10 minutes, and learned how to make it legally binding. After you fill out your online will at Fabric, we’ll email you a PDF with your will plus a checklist to help you take care of any additional steps, from getting it witnessed to navigating conversations with family members.
Make it real: Create your will, and learn how to make it legally binding. You can do it from your own living room!
6. Make It Rain
Well, OK, not literally. But many experts recommend saving three to six months of living expenses in a “rainy day fund” to help protect against the unexpected, like job loss or medical bills.
This is true whether you’re single or have a family to take care of—the big difference, really, is that people with dependents will likely just have more to save because they spend more on a regular basis (more food, more childcare).
You might even consider keeping this “just in case” fund in a different bank account from your regular checking and savings accounts, to help you differentiate this special stash that you’re aiming not to touch unless you seriously need to.
Make it real: Login to your bank account. How much money do you have saved up that you could access in case of an emergency? Write that down. Next, estimate how much you spend on necessities each month. Multiply that by six.
That’s your “target emergency fund amount.” Now, subtract your existing savings from your target emergency fund amount. That’s how much you should think about saving in order to hit your goal.
5. Think About the Kids
It’s a personal decision whether you want to pay for your children’s college education (and how much). Your costs will vary drastically depending on a number of factors.
Do you plan to contribute just a portion of tuition, or do you want to pay for the whole thing? Will you impose rules on your kids about going in-state vs. out-of-state? State schools vs. private universities? Do you expect your children to work while in college? To pay for their own room and board? Is paying for college a nice thing to do, or something you feel you must do for your kids?
Your answers to those questions will play a big role in how you plan for the huge financial commitment that is college. Even before you start freaking out or opening 529 accounts, it is often a good idea to start by understanding your own goals and expectations, and then factoring them into your plans.
Make it real: Get out your calendar. Get out your spouse or partner’s calendar. Plan a time to chat this out with your spouse—and, if they’re mature enough to participate in a meaningful way, you might even choose to include your kids.
4. Ponder Your Golden Years
Retirement may feel far off right now, but $100 invested today could turn into almost $800 over 30 years (assuming 7 percent rate of return)! In other words, time is often one of your biggest assets: The earlier you start, the longer your money has to grow.
Additionally, retirement will be the biggest financial expense of most of our lives. Although other priorities might feel more immediate, like buying a home or saving for kids’ college, retirement is a pretty unique financial goal because the only way you can get there is to save.
When you’re buying a home, you can take out a mortgage. For college tuition, you or your kids can take out student loans. But there’s no such thing as a retirement loan. That means that now’s probably your best time to get started.
Make it real: Figure out if your company offers a 401(k) match, by asking your HR rep. If so, sign up ASAP to take advantage.
3. Decide on Life Insurance
Life insurance can be a key way to help protect your loved ones, especially if anyone depends on you financially. We’re not going to pretend that it’s the wisest financial choice for every single person, though, so it’s important to understand your own financial needs.
One of the biggest reasons people get life insurance is if other people depend on them and their income, like kids, spouses or other family members. Another common reason is if they have certain kinds of debt. For example, if you have a mortgage, the person who inherits your house might need to sell it in order to pay off the remaining debt.
With term life insurance, you can name a beneficiary who’ll receive a benefit (meaning a lump sum of money) if you die for approved reasons during the length of the term you’ve chosen. In many cases, this “death benefit” can help survivors make ends meet or provide a financial cushion.
2. Keep Your Peeps Informed
What will happen to your Facebook profile after you die? Does your family know how to login to your online accounts? Does your life insurance beneficiary know where you have a policy and who to speak to? Do the people named in your will know what their roles are?
When it comes to online accounts, there are a few different approaches. Some social sites, like Facebook, let you specify your “last wishes” when it comes to the platform (do you want a memorial page?) and a contact person who can make those decisions in the event of your death.
For other online accounts, one simple solution is to use a password manager like LastPass and designate an emergency contact who can access all of your logins if you were no longer around. In the here and now, you can connect your financial accounts through Fabric Vault so you and your partner both know where to find your important financial details.
Meanwhile, if you have a will or term life insurance through Fabric, we’ve developed several tools to help you connect to the people you care about most. Fabric lets you grant access to information in your insurance policy or will to people like spousal beneficiaries (for both wills and life insurance), legal guardians for your kids and executors of your will (for wills).
Make it real: Grant access to info in your Fabric Will to important folks like your executor, and spend 20 minutes doing some “digital estate planning.”
1. Know Your Priorities
We get it. There’s a lot to do, especially if you have a family to take care of. Paying down debt, working on an emergency fund, saving for college, thinking about retirement . . . Not to mention occasionally buying something for yourself because you don’t want to live like a total monk . . . So what comes first?
Make it real: Start with a deep breath. Then read our guide on how to prioritize your finances.
This article first appeared on Fabric.
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