When the financial crisis swept the nation, it left a trail of destruction from sea to shining sea. One reason it caused so much devastation is because at the time many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, financing purchases they couldn't afford.
And while many Americans have finally gotten wise to the importance of saving a buck (today, the personal savings rate is in the 5 percent range), it is important that younger Americans learn from the free-spending, debt-accumulating mistakes of folks of all ages. And there's no better time to master a frugal mind-set than when you start to spread your adult wings right out of college. Realizing that you and only you are in charge of paying your bills, covering other expenses, and making sure you have enough left over to save can be overwhelming.
The key to a healthy financial future is learning how to save. When you're right out of college and getting settled into your first job, saving money can be a challenge, of course. Although you're likely not earning a super-high income, you can live life and still buy the items you need.
How and where you spend your money is a matter of personal choice and priorities, but those choices can affect the amount of money you have to save. Here are a few tips from Tyson on how to save more and spend less:
Rent smart. When you're in your early 20s and you don't have dependents, living in a low-cost fashion is easier than it is later in life. There are many ways to minimize costs if you are renting your living space. Two great ways to keep costs down are living with relatives or having roommates. But no matter who you are living with (and certainly if you are living alone), you should minimize your monthly rent. If you find that you've allowed your champagne tastes to exceed your beer budget, so long as you're completing your current lease, there's no reason you can't move to a lower-cost rental. Just be sure to factor in all the costs of moving to and living in a new rental.
Cut your taxes. Alongside the costs of owning or renting a home, taxes are the other large personal expenditure for most folks. Everyone gets socked with taxes when earning income and when investing and spending money. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can reduce the amount of taxes you pay by using some relatively simple yet powerful strategies.
Cook up lower food costs. Not eating is one way to reduce food expenditures, but you might not find that solution all that appetizing! Thankfully, there are many other ways to keep your food costs low. One is to avoid eating at restaurants and instead learn to cook for yourself. Making your own food is often healthier (if you make the right meals!), and because you put in all that hard work, you end up enjoying the food more. When you go to buy the groceries you're going to cook up, avoid name-brand products and instead go for store brands. They are usually the same quality (and sometimes the same product) as the name brand at a lower price.
Get up and go for less. Getting to and fro on a daily basis can get expensive if you don't keep an eye on your expenses. Many people rely on cars for their transportation. Cars can be a tremendous financial burden, especially if you borrow to buy or lease the car. When possible, opting for public transportation is a great way to save money. And in some cities, it allows you to avoid having a car altogether. Another great option is to opt for two wheels instead of four. Riding your bike has the double benefit of saving you money and being great exercise.
Finesse your fashion finances. When you're starting your first "real" job, it's only natural to want to look your best. But looking your best doesn't have to require that you wear only the latest fashions. In fact, you really don't need to buy lots of new clothes every year. True fashion, as defined by what people are actually wearing day to day, changes quite slowly. In fact, the classics never go out of style. If you want the effect of a new wardrobe every year, store last year's purchases away next year and then bring them out the year after. Or rotate your clothing inventory every third year.
Budget your fun funds. Having fun and taking time out for recreation can be money well spent. However, if you engage in financial extravagance in the name of fun, you can quickly wreck an otherwise good budget. Spending more money shouldn't be equated with having more fun. Many movies, theaters, museums, and restaurants offer discount prices on certain days and times. And other recreational options, such as visiting with friends, hiking, reading, and playing sports, can be good for your finances as well as your mental and physical health.
Tame your technology spending. These days it seems like there is a never-ending stream of new gadgets. Unfortunately, though, the cost of these gadgets adds up. Err on the side of keeping your life simple. Doing so costs less, reduces stress, and allows more time for the things that really do matter in life.
Keep down insurance costs. Insurance is a major and costly part of our lives. There's health insurance, car insurance, homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, and more, and they all add up.
Seek out professional advice when needed. Although your life may be relatively simple now, sometimes you may have to deal with new challenges, and you may benefit from having a seasoned pro at your side. Tax, legal, business, and financial advisors can be worth more than their expense if they know what they're doing and you pay a reasonable fee.
Be smart about healthcare expenses. When you're young and in good health, you usually don't give much thought to healthcare expenses and health insurance. But you have health insurance for a reason, and unfortunately, the cost of healthcare continues to rise faster than overall inflation.
Slice homeowner expenses. If you're just graduating college, buying a home might not be on your radar yet. But because it will be one of the biggest investments you make in your life, it's never too soon to start thinking about it. You can take many steps to keep your home ownership costs down and under control without neglecting your property or living like a pauper. The first step is to buy a home that fits your budget. During the real estate boom of the early- to mid-2000s, many people bought houses they couldn't truly afford. When the market crashed, some of those people with severely stretched budgets lost their homes to foreclosure because they got in over their heads, fell on hard times, and couldn't afford their monthly mortgage payments.
Remember, though, that when it comes to building wealth, it doesn't matter what you make; it's what you spend, and, therefore, are able to save that counts. Many wealthy people didn't get rich based exclusively on their big salaries, but through disciplined saving and wise investing over time. Learn to save more and spend less now, and you will be able to lead a less financially stressed life.
Eric Tyson is the author of Personal Finance in Your 20s For Dummies® (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-470-76905-8, $12.99). He is a best-selling personal finance author, syndicated columnist, and speaker. His "Investor's Guide" syndicated column, distributed by King Features, is read by millions nationally. He is the author of five national best-selling books, including Personal Finance For Dummies, Investing For Dummies, and Home Buying For Dummies (co-author), among others, which are all published by Wiley Publishing. Personal Finance For Dummies was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award for best business book of the year. Visit his website at EricTyson.com
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