There’s no doubt of the practical benefits that come with really understanding your financial life. It equips you to spend smarter, save more, and plan intentionally and realistically.
But I’ve also found that getting a handle on your finances is a great way to gain a sense of control when everything else may seem crazy. Knowing your financial foundation can alleviate so much fear and mystery, and make other areas of your life more actionable and approachable.
Here are 6 Simple Steps Towards Financial Literacy
1. Assess Your Accounts
First thing’s first. Get a bird’s-eye view of your situation by identifying three things: where your money comes from (income), where your money goes (expenses), and where it’s stored (accounts).
Write everything down, including the credit cards and bank accounts you have open, any assets (like a car), any debts, and any stock. Mint.com is a great resource to quickly aggregate all of these aspects of your financial life and see changes in real time.
2. Make a Budget
By creating and sticking to a budget you will be able to align your financial reality with your financial ideals. Think about your goals: are you saving for something big? Do you want to start putting money aside for grad school or a wedding? Are you looking to get ahead on student loan payments? Setting a budget will help you put the systems in place to actually do these things.
3. Start Saving for Retirement Now
Thinking about retirement seems like the last of your worries when you have debts to pay off and next month’s rent check due next week. But if you don’t start saving now—even just a little bit each year—you’re robbing your future self.
So when you land a job, make sure there are good retirement benefits and options. If you’re self-employed, start saving on your own. Personally, I opened a Roth IRA, but you should investigate your options to find out what’s best for you.
4. Refinance Your Loans
Refinancing my student loans was my first order of business (finance-wise) when I graduated college. I bundled all my college loans into one, with a lower fixed rate and more manageable monthly payment. It will still be a long time before I’m debt free, but I have peace of mind that I’m doing everything in my power to make the best of the situation.
5. Start Building Credit (If You Haven't Started Already)
The big (financial) things in life require having good credit, like renting an apartment, buying a car, and even getting your own cell phone line.
So the best thing to do is to start building your credit as early as possible, and understand what factors into credit score calculations. Credit Karma is a great resource to see your score for free and get a breakdown of what’s positively and negatively affecting your score.
6. Ask Professionals for Advice
A quick (and obvious) disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in finance. The purpose of this post is to document what I did and learned after a year of diving deep into money management. And after implementing everything I mentioned above, I feel awesome. My relationship with money has never been better.
So while I highly recommend the above tips, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with an accountant or financial advisor to get more personalized and strategic advice.