Sometimes, when it feels like you have to do everything at once, it’s easier to just do nothing. Trust me, I’ve been there. I know that endless cycle. The important thing is to just start and start where you are. Wherever you are in your financial journey, whether it’s creating a budget, staring down endless piles of debt, or looking into investing for the first time, just start. Your money isn’t going to handle itself, and nobody will ever care about your money as much as you – so be a good custodian of it.
I am not a financial advisor. Everything here is solely my own opinion. I highly recommend you do your own research to determine what will work best for you and your situation.
For budgeting, I recommend something that is intuitive, fast, and will actually help you track inflows and outflows on a daily basis. It also needs to be as painless to use as possible so that you actually do use it. I highly recommend You Need A Budget (YNAB). It is versatile budgeting software that works across Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Check out the starter guide to see if it’s for you. While there is an annual fee, they offer a free trial and college students can get a year free. The value it brings makes me more than happy to pay for it.
While still making the minimum payments on all loans, choose whether to prioritize paying off debt by highest interest rate (debt avalanche / stacking method) or lowest balance (debt snowball method). There are trade-offs to both so decide which will work best for you. The key is to make substantially higher payments than the minimum in order to avoid paying more interest than you have to.
Every paycheck pay yourself first by setting aside some money in a high-yield savings account. Not only will you be set up in case of an emergency, the savings can compound through the interest gains. Find a bank or credit union offering a high-yield no fee savings account that is backed by the federal government and offers a competitive APY (interest rate). My personal favorite is Ally Financial.
Invest early and often to take advantage of compounding (money passively doubling over time). Don’t waste time trying to hand pick stocks unless you have some fun money you can afford to lose. The core of your portfolio should be indexed. The Vanguard Group is my go to. VTSAX is a good option for stocks, and VBTLX is a good option for bonds. Diversify your portfolio according to your risk preference. Stocks yield higher returns, but are more risky, whereas bonds are the inverse.
The U.S. operates on a marginal tax bracket system which means as you move into higher brackets, you are only paying the higher percentage on the income in that bracket. Moving up does not mean you pay the higher percentage on your entire income for the year. It does not make sense to turn down a raise, promotion, etc. for supposed tax reasons.
Don’t insure stuff you can afford to lose. This includes purchase protection, extended warranties, etc. Raise your auto and home deductibles, save money on the premiums, and fund your own account to be used in case something happens. This will keep your premium from rising when you would otherwise need to file a claim. Do your own cost and risk analysis to determine the right levels for you.
Is there anybody who financially relies upon you? If yes, consider term life insurance. If not, or you have enough assets to leave them a comfortable amount, you do not need it. Avoid whole life insurance as it’s usually a better deal for the insurer then it is for you.
If your car is leased or financed you don’t have a choice, you have to maintain comprehensive coverage.
If you own the car outright though you have some options. Liability is required so carry enough coverage to protect yourself in case the worst happens. As for comprehensive or collision, if you can self-fund repairs or a new vehicle, then chances are good you don’t need this. The same is true if the vehicle is not worth replacing (old, high mileage, low value relative to deductible and annual premiums). Do some cost analysis to make the right decision for you.