A Beginner's Guide to Personal Finance

Managing your finances isn't only beneficial for your bank account, it also creates a sense of stability that helps you achieve your financial, professional and personal goals. You don't need to be a math whiz to make it work either. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to gaining control of your finances.

Creating a Monthly Budget

Your first step in taking control of your finances is to create and stick to a monthly budget. You can do it all from your desktop or mobile device, even if you’re not much of a number cruncher. Budgeting apps like Quicken Starter Edition allow you to import transaction information from all of your accounts to get a clear grasp of how much money you have coming in and where it goes.

Look at your spending and savings patterns over several months to learn where to curb your expenses and where in your budget you have room to allocate funds for financial growth. Quicken Starter Edition works on all your devices, including your phone, so you can see how much money you have available anytime, from anywhere. It also creates financial projections to help you identify overspending or financial health.

Setting Up Savings Accounts

When you’re getting yourself on-track toward financial security, building up your emergency savings fund is priority number one. “Savings act like a shock absorber for your personal finances,” says Matt Hylland, Virginia-based financial planner at Hylland Capital Management. “Having savings to fall back on instead of relying on debt will save you money and prevent stress.” A savings account helps you avoid dipping into your lines of credit to cover emergency expenses, which is smart considering credit card interest rates can top 20 percent.

Save aggressively until you accumulate at least three months’ worth of expenses to cover a financial emergency, advises Hylland. Once you have an emergency fund saved, you’re ready to start focusing on other financial goals.

Saving for Retirement

No matter what your age, it’s never too early to start saving for retirement, and that starts with your 401(k) plan at work. “Your first priority for retirement savings should be contributing enough to receive the full company match, if available with your employer,” says Hylland. “This is free money that you should not pass up.” Arrange for retirement savings to be deducted from your paycheck automatically.

Another option is to set up automatic payments into IRAs to save up to 20 percent of your annual salary for retirement. There are some income restrictions on IRAs though, so check with a financial professional before opening an account. General retirement savings, like IRA and 401(k) contributions, also lower your tax liability at tax time.

Managing Your Debt

After you’ve built up your emergency fund and started contributing to your retirement plan, turn your focus to paying off debt, especially if it’s high-interest debt like a credit card. Quicken Starter Edition can help — it allows you to identify and collect data on all your sources of debt, then create a personalized repayment plan that fits within your budget. Simply following a budget eliminates excess spending that might otherwise result in debt, notes Hylland, and paying for purchases with cash instead of credit can help you avoid "accidental" debt.

Spending the time now to make a budget and manage your savings puts you on track for financial security for years — even decades — in the future. That’s the best return on investment you can get.

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