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4 Steps to Take Control of Your Finances As Self-Improvement Month Nears

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Whatever you call it, there’s something inherently alluring about making a plan to better yourself or your life. But it can be difficult to drum up the motivation to make and execute those plans without a pressing reason. Luckily, September is Self-Improvement Month, so you have the perfect excuse to tackle what many see as a complicated area: finances.

Here are four steps you can take to improve your financial situation.

4 steps to improve your finances

Step No. 1: Figure out where you stand

“The first thing you should do is take stock of where you are,” says Ismat Mangla, LendingTree senior director of content. “You can’t make changes until you take a good, hard look at your current situation.”

That means going through your various accounts and noting your:

  • Monthly income
  • Monthly spending
  • Account balances
  • Interest rates
  • Loan terms

This information can help you create a budget that works for you and your family. (While you’re at it, finding out your credit score in particular can help you understand which financial tools could be available to you.)

Tracking this information and storing it somewhere easily accessible, like a bookmarked spreadsheet, is a great start. But you should also consider a budgeting app if you want to monitor these figures over the long term — these apps can help you see your spending habits and identify areas to cut back.

Step No. 2: Maximize your money

Paying off debt is always a great way to start saving money. You may, for example, consider getting a balance transfer card or consolidating your debt with a personal loan to reduce how much you’re paying in interest or reduce your monthly payment.

But even debt-free consumers can find opportunities to maximize their income — and that doesn’t have to mean getting a side gig or negotiating a raise.

“If you don’t have debt, you’re already ahead of the game,” Mangla says. “So now I’d focus on optimizing. Are you investing in a way that helps you reach your goals? Are you minimizing fees? Do you have an emergency fund set up, and is it in a high-yield savings account?”

These factors can add up to significant savings over time.

Step No. 3: Map your goals

The next step to getting your financial goals on track is knowing what they are. It’s essential to have a list of those goals, including the details of when you want to accomplish them and what it would take to get there.

You can, and should, also look at each goal side by side. That way, you can figure out what you need to prioritize and what goals may need to go on the back burner, at least for a while. Remember to consider what might keep you motivated to hit those goals, whether tackling your top priority head-on or knocking out several smaller goals first.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some areas that may be worth setting financial goals around:

  • Paying off debt
  • Creating an emergency fund
  • Saving for retirement
  • Taking a vacation
  • Funding a down payment for a home
  • Starting a business

Step No. 4: Consider talking to a financial professional

Once you get past the financial basics, like paying off debt and saving for financial goals, things can get complicated.

Having a professional, like a certified financial planner (CFP) or certified public accountant (CPA), available to answer your questions and guide you toward your goals can be helpful. That’s especially true with complex areas of your finances, like preparing an investing strategy, balancing competing goals and managing your tax situation.

You’ll have to weigh the pros against the costs to ensure whether hiring a professional is the right call for you.

 

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