Personal finances

The Ultimate Personal Finance Checklist

Your personal finances are the very foundations of your financial well-being. If your personal accounts are in a mess, you will never achieve financial Zen, and you'll always be on the back foot.

Learning to arrange, invest, organise, and budget is essential to creating a healthy, and long lasting relationship with your personal finances - and that's what we're going to look at today.

If your affairs are in arrears or you could use a little monetary spring clean, our ultimate financial checklist will help you get back on track this year and beyond.

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Set a budget

When you're dressing on a budget, simplicity is key. - Ne-Yo

Okay, this quote from singer-songwriter Ne-Yo may skew towards fashion, but the sentiment forms the basis of budget setting. Essentially, when you're working out how much you can or cannot spend on certain items, whether they're everyday sundries or frequent indulgences, the key to success is keeping things simple. Look at how much you take home each month, then jot down all of your essentials like bills, rent, car tax, and anything else that is absolutely essential.

Next, take a look at your weekly food shop. Write down everything that you consider a staple, and tally it up to a total. After that, take into account things like train tickets, gas, bicycle parts, or anything else you might need to spend money on each month to get to work and socialise with friends or family. Finally, find out how much you have left when you deduct your grand total from your monthly income.

Rather than delving too deep at this point, allocate a certain amount of the remainder to a minimum monthly savings figure, and set a sum for fun and activities, plus a small amount for the rainy day pot.

Type each amount down into their respective subsections and you will have yourself a basic budget to work from - and stick to.

Create a spreadsheet or get a personal finance app

It's becoming increasingly harder and harder; there's no such thing as independent film anymore. There aren't any, they don't exist. In the old days you could go and get a certain amount of the budget with foreign sales, now everybody wants a marketable angle. - Gary Oldman

Now you've got your basic budget and feel a whole lot more organised, it's time to ramp things up a little. You have your core monthly figures, now it's time to organise them into a working system so that you can stick to your budget, track your progress, and make tweaks as the year rolls on.

A tried, tested, and good old fashioned way to keep your budget in check is by creating a spreadsheet in Excel (or if you're being ultra modern, Google Sheets). Not sure how? Here's a video that will help guide you through the process...

If you own a mobile or smartphone - and let's face it, there are more mobile devices in the world than people - you might want to try one of these top personal finance apps:

Each of these apps is smart, intuitive, easy to use, and will form the basis of your budget and as a result, the health of your personal finances. Check each one out and decide which one works for you - they're all great.

Track your expenditure

"If we go back to the moon, we're guaranteed second, maybe third place because while we are spending all that money, Russia has its eye on Mars. Landing people on the moon will be terribly consuming of resources we don't have. It sounds great - 'Let's go back. This time we're going to stay.' I don't know why you would want to stay on the moon." - Buzz Aldrin

So, you've carried out a primary analysis, set up your spreadsheet or downloaded your app; now it's time to dig a little deeper by taking a closer look at your expenditure.

Expenditure is an amount of money spent; it's that simple. Of course, you will have already noted your outgoings when you set your initial budgets, but by putting your spending under the magnifying glass, you'll be able to spot inefficiencies that are costing you more money than you initially thought - think of these things as throwing your dough down the toilet.

To tighten up your expenditure and make your monthly expenditure a well-oiled cog in your personal finance improvement machine, you will need to understand where you're spending beyond your core outgoings, including rent, bills, transport, and essential foods.

Spend a month looking through your shopping list; are there any items that you can afford to drop, or any substitutions you can make to bring down the cost of your grocery bill? Is there anything you frequently buy that you end up throwing most of away? If so, it's time to make some changes.

Think about the shop bought coffees you drink, the endless work lunches, the times you use your car when you could walk, the shoes you'll never wear, the list goes on. Don't deny yourself luxuries in life - we know you deserve a treat or two from time to time - but by cutting down on things that aren't essential to your everyday life and making a few small lifestyle adjustments, you will be able to save yourself a lot of money in the long run.

Once you've tracked your expenditure and refined your budget, make adjustments to your spreadsheet or personal finance app - most of the applications mentioned above will even transfer small amounts of money to a specified savings account automatically.

Clear your debt

Greece will not manage to get back on its feet without restructuring its debt. There is no way around it. The country's creditors will have to reduce a portion of its debts by extending maturity dates, lowering interest rates or giving them what's called a 'haircut' in financial jargon. - Peer Steinbruck

Clearing your debt is enough to make you bust out your happy dance, even in public.

personal finance

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We'll make this quick as it's fairly simple: until you clear your debt, you won't be able to save as efficiently. Debt usually incurs a hefty level of interest which generally builds up over time, so nip it in the bud and start with a clean slate. Don't pay credit card minimums, instead, plough your minimum monthly savings allocation into clearing your debt and you'll have a squeaky clean financial slate before you know it.

Start saving

Money looks better in your bank than on your feet. - Sophie Amoruso

By setting a budget, sticking to it, and taking a long hard look at your relationship with money, you will allow yourself the breathing space to reach your financial goals.

By now you will have set yourself a minimum monthly savings amount, and perhaps even increased it after analysing your expenditure - now's the time to work towards building up a pot of money you can be proud of - and by building up personal funds, you will change your life for the better.

Every month, aim to put away at least a little extra on top of your existing savings quota, and make sure you put all of your spare dollar bills and pennies into a good old fashioned piggy bank - it does build up quickly.

To get the most from your savings, you will need to put your money in a secure, savvy, and interest building bank account. Not sure where to start? May we suggest four savings accounts? Okay then, we will:

  • Ally Bank: Compounds interest daily.
  • Bank5 Connect: Open an account for a $10 minimum deposit.
  • American Express: A competitive interest rate of 0.90 percent.
  • CIT Bank: Zero fees and a one percent APY.

Understand your credit score

Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people that they don't like. - Will Rogers

Spending within your means and clearing your debt will help boost your credit score. You don't need to understand every nook and cranny of your credit score, but what you always need to remember is, your score will have a major impact on your financial life. Having poor credit score could prevent you from getting a mortgage or make setting up a business very tricky, so you need to make sure it stays healthy.

Here are things you can do to help boost your credit score:

  • Eliminate credit card balances.
  • Pay your bills on time.
  • Don't make any transactions or choice that could hint that you're a risk.
  • If you do have a credit card balance, keep your overall spend at 30% or lower.

To access your credit score and find out where you stand, visit Experian.

Make a rainy day fund

Rainy days happen all the time. If you can, it always pays to have a separate basic account in which to put small amounts of spare or regular money, even if it's as little as 10 bucks a month. This modest but slow burning pot will prevent the risk of damaging your savings should anything unplanned happen. A quick point but one worth noting nonetheless.

Invest

When your personal finances are structured and you have a healthy pot in your savings account, you might want to take a chunk of that stash and accelerate the growth of your empire by making an investment or two. Striking the perfect balance between method and risk will yield you the best ongoing results when you're looking to invest funds, something that is often achieved with research, as well as a little trial and error.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. - Benjamin Franklin

Now, knowing where and how to invest can be bewildering, but luckily Go Billions has plenty of resources to help you along your path to financial enlightenment:

Read the above articles and you'll be an investment pro in no time - let us know how you get on with your investing efforts by leaving us a comment.

Work towards milestones

It's fair to that by this time, you will already be working towards achieving set financial goals; it if you haven't, start doing so now.

Milestones offer a potent incentive to keep to your budgets and remain on track through thick and thin. Even better, breaking down an ultimate goal into smaller, more focused milestones will keep you on your toes and increase your productivity.

For example, if you're looking to save enough money to buy your first home, make that your ultimate financial goal. Set yourself a deadline and create smaller milestones to accomplished leading up to that date. These can be in the form of 'first $1,000', 'second $1,000', etc, or even, 'pay off credit card', 'get savings account opening funds together', 'save first half of deposit. etc.

Setting small, frequent milestones is the key to the health, happiness, and overall success of your personal finances - take some time to think about what you want to achieve, how you're going to achieve, and when you're going to achieve it, and you'll be half way there.

Remember to enjoy yourself

A day without laughter is a day wasted. - Charlie Chaplin

Never a truer word was spoken. Whipping your personal finances into shape means hard work, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. As rewarding (and essential) as it can be, saving money and adopting a new monetary mindset is no easy feat, which is why it's important to enjoy yourself. Always take some time to get out there and have fun, see friends, and make allowances for the things you love - setting a little money aside for this will not hurt.

Having a good time will make you happy and happiness leads to fresh thinking and positivity - so you can't afford not to!

We wish you the best of luck on your financial journey and if you'd like to get more content like this delivered direct to your inbox, subscribe to Go Billions - it's going to be a big year.

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