If you feel a little out of control of your finances, join the club.
In a 2015 NerdWallet survey, roughly one in four consumers said they were at least sometimes surprised by their bills, and households reported spending an average of $6,658 on interest payments every year—or 9 percent of average U.S. household income.
The good news is there are a few time-tested ways to get your finances in order. Here are five steps anyone can take to get on track:
1. Create a budget
Tracking your money isn’t always easy, but it’s the simplest way to lift the veil on where your cash is going. Knowing your spending habits will help you determine if they align with your financial or personal goals and make it easier to create a budget to bridge the gap. For example, if you find your social habits are consuming too much of your disposable income, impose a cap on expensive nights out (maybe go with dinner or a movie) and make every effort to stick to it. Start by taking inventory of your income and expenses, and then take a closer look at spending by category.
2. Save more money
Resolutions to save more money are one thing; following through on them is another. But your savings goals might be easier to tackle than you think. Start by narrowing your focus and setting a goal for the amount of money you want to save each month, or the amount you wish to have in a savings account by the end of the year. Then find a few small changes to your daily routine that could boost your savings. Pack lunch a few times a week. Cancel a subscription service you rarely use. Try to be more conscious of your water and electricity use at home. Whatever it is, direct the savings into an account where it can sit untouched.
3. Automate your finances
Automating your savings by scheduling monthly transfers to a savings or investment account is a reliable way to make sure you stick to your plan. Automation can start with your paycheck. More likely than not, your employer offers direct deposit, which electronically transfers your paycheck to the account or accounts of your choosing. Try depositing a portion of your paycheck straight into a savings account (you won’t have time to miss it if you avoid a pit stop in checking). You can also sign up for automatic bill pay, which can help you avoid late fees.
4. Pay off debt
Once you’ve gained some money momentum, commit to paying down your debt. Start with the three steps above—budgeting, saving and automating. Know where your money goes, find a way to save a little more of it and then put the extra toward your highest-interest loan. Keep in mind that you may want to keep some cash in a savings account as an emergency fund so you can cover unexpected expenses without borrowing.
5. Save for long-term goals
Saving early for long-term goals—retirement, a child’s education or buying a house—is a savvy financial decision. Even if you can only put aside a little money now, the sooner you start, the longer your money can grow with compound interest. Depending on your goal, look into opening a retirement account, savings account or Certificate of Deposit (CD) to hold your savings.
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