One of my goals for 2009 is to really simplify my life and streamline my finances a bit more. Just because one is debt free does not mean that one is free from stress. It always amazes me how much stress money in general can cause. But, the point of finding one’s financial happy place is to focus less on the stress in your life caused by money and start enjoying what you have. Ultimately, I want to stress less and live more.
At any rate, I think I’ve narrowed down 10 ways to really help anyone achieve their financial happy place.
# 1 – Organize Your Accounts and Records
It should go without saying that the more organized we are, the less stress we have. But, organized is a bit of a relative term for some. So, what I mean here is that you have to have a system that works for you. That said, it’s better to have one place for your account information and records, including passwords, documents, and so forth. But, having this information organized will help you in step two.
# 2 – Make a Budget – Cut the Fat
You didn’t really think I’d talk about the financial happy place without bringing up the budget, did you? Good.
I’ve talked about the importance of a budget before and hopefully most of us here would agree that one is necessary. In this, I’m a firm believer that you have to go with whatever works. If it’s the envelope method, start that up. If it’s an excel spreadsheet, then do that. Whatever, so long as there’s a budget to speak of. Once that’s in place, cut the fat, and keep cutting until all of the unnecessary crap is gone. Don’t waste money on stuff you don’t need – and I’m not talking cable here. I’m talking magazine subscriptions, book or CD clubs, newspapers, or other things that probably don’t get used yet you’re still paying for. If it causes you stress, why keep it?
# 3 – Start an Emergency Fund
I’m nothing if not consistent, no? Here’s the thing. In order to reach your financial happy place, you need to feel secure and relatively stress-free, financially speaking. In order to do that, you have to have a back-up plan for the times when you-know-what hits the fan. We’re in a recession right now. People are losing their jobs and unable to provide for their families. Don’t you think they wish they had an emergency fund to rely on? Of course. Start one. It’s a smart money move and puts you one step closer to reaching your financial happy place!
# 4 – Drop Debt Like a Bad Habit
I know this is easier said then done, but I never professed that reaching your happy place would be easy. Just like anything else in life that’s worth having, it takes time and effort to get there. So, the first step in getting rid of your debt is to have a plan. There’s really two ways of looking at getting out of debt – the traditional snowball method vs. the debt snowball method . Most of you know how I personally feel about Dave Ramsey and the debt snowball; however, if that method gets you to your financial happy place, then go for it!
# 5 – Ditch the Mortgage
And I don’t mean get rid of the house. I just mean that your mortgage is likely the largest debt you have. Imagine how it would feel to get rid of it. Here’s the best way – according to most financial experts. Refinance (if it’s not already there) at a 15-year fixed rate and set up bi-weekly payments. You’ll have it paid off a little earlier than 15 years, and you’ll save yourself a bundle in interest.
# 6 – Change and Align Your Due Dates
This is such a simple thing, yet it took me forever to figure out. As consumers we are very often apt to pay our bills when we’re told – on someone else’s schedule. Why? Nine times out of ten, it’s more stressful for us to do it this way, particularly if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. The best thing to do here is figure out when is the best time to have your bills due, then call your creditors and ask to have them changed. Now, some things can’t be changed – like your rent – so work with the ones that can. Align your bills with your paychecks and you’ll decrease your stress and increase your chances of improving your credit score in the process.
# 7 – Bundle Your Services If You Can
Why worry about three separate bills when you can combine them into one? The idea of reaching your financial happy place is to lower your stress level and enjoy your life. So, if you can combine, for instance, your cable, internet, and phone bill into one, then do so. This also works well for insurances, and usually comes with some discounts for doing so. Saving money and slashing the number of bills to keep up with is a great step towards your happy place!
# 8 – Insurance
Like the emergency fund, having insurance is good for peace of mind. But, more importantly, it takes care of what’s most important to you. There are several types of insurances plans available and sometimes just trying to figure out what you need is a headache. There are a few you should definitely have.
Short/Long Term Disability
These five insurances are the most widely used and the most practical to helping you avoid a financial disaster. If you want to be financial free from burden, insure yourself and your stuff.
# 9 – Pay In Advance When Possible
Like bundling, in many cases when you pay for something several months ahead, you can get a pretty good discount. This is true of insurances and subscriptions to be sure. If it is at all possible for you to do so, consider paying six months to a year ahead. Not only do you have the benefit of saving some money, but you also have the benefit of not worrying about the bill for that duration. Less stress is always a good thing.
# 10 – Embrace Modern Technology
Set up direct deposit, auto debits and drafts, and use your bank’s online bill pay for those companies still not with the times. Setting up your money to draft electronically when it’s due is the best way to make sure your bills are paid on time. If you’re uncomfortable with this because you’re afraid you won’t have the money, then you didn’t do steps 1-9. Go back, rinse and repeat. Not having the money available shouldn’t be a concern for you at this point. Getting your bills paid on time and without hassle should be.
Ok, so there’s my roadmap for achieving financial happiness. For me personally, I get to skip a few steps as I’ve already done them. But there are several I intend to implement in 2009. What about you guys? Are there any tips you want to share with others also looking to find their financial happy place?