As we here at Peak Personal Finance have stated repeatedly, there are lots of great tidbits of personal finance advice out there that are great in theory, but not so great in the real world (with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and unexpected expenses). We know, many of these can seem daunting at first, but here are 3 things you can start with little nibbles to get on the right financial path:
1. Three Months of Emergency Savings — For most people this sounds so difficult to do that they never really start trying. Yet, in these days when some creditors are going out of business and/or reducing their credit lines without advance notice to customers, having an emergency fund set aside is more important than ever. But remember, you don’t have to have all three months of savings at once.
We suggest starting today and setting it up electronically so that your online banking account automatically sends funds to your savings account at each payday — this makes it less painful. You can start with a small amount (maybe $20) and then bump up that amount once you find that you can manage without it, and at the very least bump it up every time you get a pay raise. It is fun to watch the money start to add up.
2. Max Out Your 401(k) — Yes, the market is down now, but if you still have a decade or more left before retirement chances are that you can look at this as a good time to “buy low”. Again, the idea of setting aside around $16,000 may be daunting at first, but you can take baby steps here too.
First, if you are lucky enough to still have your company matching your 401(k) contributions to a certain percent, then you are leaving money on the table if you are not taking advantage of that. Next, though you don’t have that money, it is also not taxed now. And once you divide what you would have had after tax by the 24 or more paychecks it is spread out over, the sting each paycheck is not that bad. Again, just get started with a small amount, and bump it up every time you get a raise. Don’t worry so much about short term losses, as this is a strategy for the long haul.
3. Line Up Your Bills — This is probably less enjoyable than the first two tasks, but it is oh so crucial. If you have multiple credit accounts, line them up and form a plan of attack to “take out” the ones with the highest interest rates first by paying as much extra as you can each month. Try not to be distracted by “shiny things” like promotions, “special offers” or other incentives creditors might throw at you to try to keep you indebted to them. This is a polite war, you against them, over who gets to keep more of your money.
And the answer is “yes”, you should start all of these today. You will have to budget how much you can put into each task, but don’t wait to complete one before taking a small step on the others. As they say, every journey starts with one step. Why not take a small step on each of these personal finance tasks today?