April is Financial Literacy month and while it might not mean much to the average person, it’s important to make time for your finances. Ideally, you take a look at your income, budget, and debts on a regular basis. But if you don’t, this month is the perfect time to get started. Here’s what to do to refresh or take control of your finances:
Create or Update Your Budget
If you don’t have a budget, get started on that by comparing your income and expenses. For tips, check out The Secret to Starting a Budget. Once you know where your money is going, determine if you need to make changes. If you’re feeling like money is tight every month or after you pay bills, then find expenses that you can either reduce or cut.
Savings can either make or break your financial situation. If you have an emergency fund, you are prepared for an unexpected/emergency expense. Without that stashed cash, you may find yourself going into debt due to charging unforeseen expenses. Savings should be a priority; therefore, treat it like a monthly bill and add it your budget just like you would your utility bill. To make it even easier, set up an automatic transfer/deposit into a separate savings account. Separate is important because you want to take away the temptation of spending that money.
Tackle Your Debt
Paying down debt can feel like you’re trapped on a hamster wheel, getting nowhere fast. Instead of living life like that, work on paying down your debt faster. You may need to make some temporary sacrifices, but if debt is weighing you down it will be totally worth it in the end. A debt management plan (DMP) is a great way to pay down debt more quickly and save money in interest. Click the button below to start your free online financial counseling to see if the DMP is right for you:
If you are thinking you don’t have enough money to pay more toward your debt, read Using Crisis Budgeting Mode During Tight Financial Times and How to make spending cuts to get out of debt.
Review Your Credit Report
You can get your free credit report once per year from all 3 credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax) from AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s important to review all of your credit reports to ensure there are no errors. Watch out for debts that might not be yours, debts that you have paid off and are still showing that you owe them – things like that. If you find something you believe to be inaccurate, dispute it.
Make On-Time Payments
If you have made late payments or miss a payment on debts that show up on your credit report, it’s time to get back on track. Payment history is a major factor of your credit score. So use this month to determine the best way for you to make on-time payments. Try setting up automatic payments directly with the creditor/lender or through your bank/credit union. Just be sure that you have enough funds available when the payments go through so you can avoid any insufficient funds charges.
Plan for Your Future
For those of you that don’t have additional debt like credit cards, car loans, or student loans and you already have 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in savings, you should focus on retirement savings. You can use the same tactics for reducing some spending and start depositing more money into your retirement accounts – IRA, 401k, etc. Or, if you have a 401k or 403b through your employer, increase the percentage that you’re contributing. Also, be sure to take full advantage of any employer match programs. Regarding your finances, it’s just as important to plan for the future as it is to take care of day to day needs.
Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.