If you’re struggling with financial stress, the solution to your problems might be so simple that it’s something you’ve heard a hundred times. But knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.
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From borrowing and investing to saving and planning for retirement, the chances are good that you already know most of the standard advice. But are you putting it into practice in your own financial life?
GOBankingRates asked a variety of money experts to reveal the advice that people are most likely to blow off despite the fact that they could help themselves by paying attention. The result is a list of familiar, but often ignored, tidbits that could go a long way to helping you shore up your finances — if, of course, you follow through.
Pay Yourself First
The first rule of personal finance success is to spend after you save instead of saving after you spend. That requires you to get in the habit of viewing saving the way you view your bills.
“One of the most underutilized pieces of common financial advice that everyone should be following is to pay yourself first,” said Yasmin Purnell, personal finance expert and founder of The Wallet Moth. “Look at your budget, calculate how much you could afford to save each month — even if it’s just a fraction of your income — and set up a process that automatically distributes that amount to your savings on the same day you get paid. Learn to live without that chunk of cash and your future self will thank you for accumulating that wealth now.”
Always Contribute Your 401(k) Maximum Employer Match
If you have a 401(k), leaving matching dollars on the table is the same as giving a portion of your salary back to your boss every time you get paid — yet so many people continue to do exactly that.
“If you’re able to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, do so,” said Charles Bender, a registered investment advisor in Miami and founder of Fiduciary Wealth Management. “Whatever your employer contributes on a percentage basis, you should always contribute at least that same percentage. It’s as if you are getting a guaranteed 100% rate of return on every dollar you put in. No investment in the world can give you that.”
Invest in Yourself
If you have a little money that you’d like to turn into a lot, the first question should be where to invest it. But sometimes, it’s not an ETF or REIT that will deliver the best return — it’s your own future.
“It sounds cheesy, but one of the best ways to grow your wealth is to invest in yourself,” said Meredith Lepore, a personal finance expert with Credello. “Whether it’s taking courses to advance your career or investing in financial education, investing in yourself is the best move.”
Use Good Debt to Your Advantage
Far too many people avoid borrowing because common mythology says that all debt is toxic. But the truth is that responsible borrowing builds credit; and, without loans, most people would never be able to buy a house or a car.
“If you want to take out a line of credit or a mortgage down the line, you need to start building a lending history through using a credit card or taking out student loans,” said Gates Little, CEO of altLine at the Southern Bank Company. “Lenders will not take on people without a proven record of paying on time, so you are potentially jeopardizing your financial flexibility in the future by following a limiting, old-fashioned rule.”
In the Job Interview, Ask for What You’re Worth
If you finally nail a good interview after a long and grueling job hunt, it’s natural to jump at whatever offer the hiring manager extends. But don’t sell yourself short. Industry professionals consistently say that a reasonable request for a higher salary or increased benefits can get you both — and that it rarely hurts to try, as long as you do it professionally.
“A 15-minute conversation could translate into thousands of dollars in additional annual earnings, an increased 401(k) match and other benefits tied to salary,” said Susannah Snider, CFP and managing editor of financial education at SmartAsset. “Don’t be afraid to ask for more — or get a more competitive offer from another employer.”
When Investing, Pick a Strategy and Stay the Course
Slow, steady, long-term investing is the preferred strategy of most credible financial advisors — but riding out the inevitable storms requires discipline.
“Avoid knee-jerk reactions and panicked decisions when the market is in turmoil,” said Mark Henry, founder and CEO of Alloy Wealth Management. “Avoid going to the sideline once you’ve already taken a loss. If you have a plan, don’t deviate from it based on current economic conditions and sour emotions. Remember, the markets are cyclical and will bounce back over time. Don’t panic and pull money out of your investments every time the markets change.”
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