Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

Tax Changes for 2017: A Checklist

Welcome, 2017! As the New Year rolls around, it’s always a sure bet that there will be changes to current tax law and 2017 is no different. From health savings accounts to tax rate schedules and standard deductions, here’s a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

For 2017, more than 50 tax provisions are affected by inflation adjustments, including personal exemptions, AMT exemption amounts, and foreign earned income exclusion.

While the tax rate structure, which ranges from 10 to 39.6 percent, remains the same as in 2016, tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions and the personal exemption have also been adjusted upward to reflect inflation. For details see the article, “Tax Brackets, Deductions, and Exemptions for 2017,” below.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Exemption amounts for the AMT, which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) are indexed for inflation and allow the use of nonrefundable personal credits against the AMT. For 2017, the exemption amounts are $54,300 for individuals ($53,900 in 2016) and $84,500 for married couples filing jointly ($83,800 in 2016).

“Kiddie Tax”

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child’s return that is subject to the “kiddie tax,” is $1,050 (same as 2016). The same $1,050 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child’s gross income in the parent’s gross income and to calculate the “kiddie tax.” For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child’s gross income for 2017 must be more than $1,050 but less than $10,500.

For 2017, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to “kiddie tax” is $2,100.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2017, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,550 for self-only coverage and $13,100 for family coverage.

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)

There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs): the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers, and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is also an Archer MSA, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare. Both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

  • Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250 and not more than $3,350 (same as 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,500 (up $50 from 2016).
  • Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,500 and not more than $6,750 (up $50 from 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $8,250 (up $100 from 2016).

Penalty for not Maintaining Minimum Essential Health Coverage

For calendar year 2017, the dollar amount used to determine the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage is $695.

AGI Limit for Deductible Medical Expenses

In 2017, the deduction threshold for deductible medical expenses remains at 10 percent (same as 2016) of adjusted gross income (AGI). Prior to January 1, 2017, if either you or your spouse were age 65 or older as of December 31, 2016, the 7.5 percent threshold that was in place in earlier tax years continued to apply. That provision expired at the end of 2016, however, and starting in 2017, the 10 percent of AGI threshold applies to everyone.

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums

Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or younger at the end of 2017, the limitation is $410. Persons more than 40 but not more than 50 can deduct $770. Those more than 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,530 while individuals more than 60 but not more than 70 can deduct $4,090. The maximum deduction is $5,110 and applies to anyone more than 70 years of age.

Medicare Taxes

The additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals ($250,000 married filing jointly), which went into effect in 2013, remains in effect for 2017, as does the Medicare tax of 3.8 percent on investment (unearned) income for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) more than $200,000 ($250,000 joint filers). Investment income includes dividends, interest, rents, royalties, gains from the disposition of property, and certain passive activity income. Estates, trusts, and self-employed individuals are all liable for the new tax.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

For 2017, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $102,100, up from $101,300 in 2016.

Long-Term Capital Gains and Dividends

In 2017 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2016 rates; however threshold amounts are indexed for inflation. As such, for taxpayers in the lower tax brackets (10 and 15 percent), the rate remains 0 percent. For taxpayers in the four middle tax brackets, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent, the rate is 15 percent. For an individual taxpayer in the highest tax bracket, 39.6 percent, whose income is at or above $418,400 ($470,700 married filing jointly), the rate for both capital gains and dividends is capped at 20 percent.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout)

Both Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) have been permanently extended (and indexed to inflation) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012, and in 2017, affect taxpayers with income at or above $261,500 for single filers and $313,800 for married filing jointly.

Estate and Gift Taxes

For an estate of any decedent during calendar year 2017, the basic exclusion amount is $5,490,000, indexed for inflation (up from $5,450,000 in 2016). The maximum tax rate remains at 40 percent. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000.

Individuals – Tax Credits

Adoption Credit

In 2017, a non-refundable (only those individuals with tax liability will benefit) credit of up to $13,570 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Earned Income Tax Credit

For tax year 2017, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $6,318, up from $6,269 in 2016. The credit varies by family size, filing status, and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Child Tax Credits

For tax year 2017, the child tax credit is $1,000 per child. The enhanced child tax credit was made permanent this year by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). In addition to a $1,000 credit per qualifying child, an additional refundable credit equal to 15 percent of earned income in excess of $3,000 has been available since 2009.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses in 2017.For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Individuals – Education

American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (formerly Hope Scholarship Credit) was extended to the end of 2017 by ATRA but was made permanent by PATH in 2016. The maximum credit is $2,500 per student. The Lifetime Learning Credit remains at $2,000 per return; however, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $112,000, up from $111,000 for tax year 2016.

Interest on Educational Loans

In 2017 (as in 2016), the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans is no longer limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction is phased out for higher-income taxpayers with modified AGI of more than $65,000 ($135,000 joint filers).

Individuals – Retirement

Contribution Limits

The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $12,500. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $270,000 (up from $265,000 in 2016).

Income Phase-out Ranges

The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified AGI between $62,000 and $72,000, up from $61,000 to $71,000.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range increases to $99,000 to $119,000, up from $98,000 to $118,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s modified AGI is between $186,000 and $196,000, up from $184,000 and $194,000.

The modified AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $117,000 to $132,000. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $186,000 to $196,000, up from $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver’s Credit

In 2017, the AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low and moderate income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $61,500 in 2016; $46,500 for heads of household, up from $46,125; and $31,000 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $30,750.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates

The rate for business miles driven is 53.5 cents per mile for 2017, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016.

Section 179 Expensing

The Section 179 expense deduction was made permanent at $500,000 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). For equipment purchases, the maximum deduction is $510,000 of the first $2,030,000 million of qualifying equipment placed in service during the current tax year. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2 million threshold (adjusted for inflation beginning in tax year 2017) amount and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million. In addition, Section 179 is now indexed to inflation in increments of $10,000 for future tax years.

The 50 percent bonus depreciation has been extended through 2019. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016, and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

Extended through 2019, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit has been modified and enhanced for employers who hire long-term unemployed individuals (unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and is generally equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to a new hire.

Research & Development Tax Credit

Starting in 2017, businesses with less than $50 million in gross receipts are able to use this credit to offset alternative minimum tax. Certain start-up businesses that might not have any income tax liability will be able to offset payroll taxes with the credit as well.

Employee Health Insurance Expenses

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the dollar amount is $26,200. This amount is used for limiting the small employer health insurance credit and for determining who is an eligible small employer for purposes of the credit.

Employer-provided Transportation Fringe Benefits

If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, in 2017 the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $255 and the monthly limitation for qualified parking is $255. Parity for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits was made permanent by PATH.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes for 2017, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

 

 

 

Source: Abedian & Totlian

30 Essential Money Habits

© Provided by GoBankingRates
© Provided by GoBankingRates

Your financial health, just like your physical health, is built on dozens of small, daily decisions that eventually form habits. And while eating better and exercising more are well-known habits that will get you fit, sometimes the money habits that lead to financial health are much less obvious — though both topics can inspire plenty of debate.

While every person’s financial situation is different, there are still habits that will nearly always have a positive impact on your money. These are the 30 essential money habits you can follow each day, week or month to get control over your money and build wealth instead letting your finances control you.

For financial health and wealth, adopt these 30 good money habits.

1. SPEND LESS THAN YOU EARN

This habit is Money 101. It’s always going to be true that you’ll never get ahead financially if you always have more money going out than coming in. The great news is there are two ways you can work on this habit: Focus both on growing your income and controlling your spending to live within your means.

2. PAY YOURSELF FIRST

When people say “pay yourself first,” they mean you should take your savings out of your paycheck as soon as it hits your checking account to make sure you save something before you spend it all on bills and other expenses. The key to saving successfully is to save first, save a lot — 10 to 20 percent is often recommended — and save often.

3. MAINTAIN AN EMERGENCY FUND

Virtually every personal finance expert agrees that an emergency fund is central to financial health. Building and maintaining an emergency fund can help you avoid debt and give you a reserve to draw from, which can also help you keep your financial goals on track even through life’s setbacks.

Start small by saving at least one month’s worth of expenses and then work your way up to saving a larger emergency fund, such as a year’s worth. Having several months’ worth of expense money saved up can protect you against financial concerns when crises like job loss or medical emergencies come up.

4. BUDGET FOR ‘EXTRA’ EXPENSES

In addition to basic living expenses and bills, you should also budget for other purchases you’re in the habit of making. Whether it’s buying a coffee twice a week, eating out on the weekends or buying gifts for friends and family, these seemingly little expenses can add up and suck your budget dry if you don’t plan for them.

Write down everything you’ve spent money on in the past month — go back farther if you can remember or look up transaction records and receipts — and categorize each expense. Rank each category by how important it is to you. Add the top three priorities as line items in your budget, such as $100 a month for date nights or $20 a month to buy supplies for your hobby. For everything else, work on dropping those spending habits or finding cheaper alternatives like brewing your coffee at home.

5. SAVE FOR THE UNEXPECTED

Extra costs can come up frequently, and whether or not they’re true emergencies, they can still set you back. Maybe your tooth filling falls out, your pet decides to eat half a rug and needs emergency medical care, you get a flat tire or your kid wants to start playing a sport. Your finances will get hit twice as hard by these unexpected expenses if you don’t have extra money saved to cover them.

Having a “buffer fund” can create a little bit of wiggle room in your accounts so you can pay for these costs without going into debt or pulling money from your emergency fund. Try socking away $1,000 for each member of your household, for example — including pets.

6. GET — AND STAY — INSURED

In addition to a buffer fund, you should also consider insurance. Insurance is an important protection that can stand between you and bankruptcy due to a major emergency. Start with the must-have: health insurance. Medical debt is one of the most common causes of financial hardship, out-of-control debt and bankruptcy, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Half of all overdue debt listed on credit reports is medical debt, affecting 43 million Americans, reports the CFPB.

Other forms of insurance also can help protect you against major expenses. Car insurance is not only a good idea but also is required by law in nearly every state. If you’re the breadwinner with kids, you should probably get a hefty term life insurance policy and you might also consider getting disability insurance. Stay current on all policies so coverage will never lapse when you and your family need it most.

Other types of insurance that you might also benefit from having could include:

  • Homeowners’ insurance or renters’ insurance
  • Pet insurance
  • Guaranteed auto protection insurance
  • Dental insurance

7. SET FINANCIAL GOALS

To know what daily money habits to focus on and prioritize your money management the right way, you have to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Review your finances. Look specifically for the biggest drains on your money, such as overdraft fees or high-interest debt, and also spend some time thinking about what you’d like your finances to look like in the future. Then, identify specific steps required to achieve your short- and long-term money goals.

8. REVIEW YOUR PROGRESS REGULARLY

Set aside time each week to check on your financial goals. Did you make progress? Were there any setbacks? Track how you’re doing and celebrate your wins — not by splurging though — to keep yourself motivated and on course.

9. TRACK YOUR MONEY

You can’t put your money where it matters if you don’t know where it’s going. Figure out a system to keep track of your financial transactions. Whether you prefer using pen and paper to reconcile your bank accounts the old-fashioned way or using finance-tracking apps like Mint or LearnVest, you need to have a clear picture of what is happening with your money. Tracking your spending can help you quickly identify problem areas that you can improve on and see the progress you’re making.

10. CHECK FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS OFTEN

As part of keeping track of your money, you should check on all financial accounts on a regular basis. You should review spending accounts, like credit cards and checking accounts, daily in terms of checking balances and tracking expenses. Review bills such as loans when making monthly payments and updating your budget to make sure you avoid overdraft or late fees.

Savings accounts should get a once-over weekly or monthly to keep them on track. Retirement accounts and investments can be reviewed less frequently, such as monthly, quarterly or biannually.

11. CARRY ONLY THE MONEY OR CARDS YOU NEED

If your wallet is so full that you can hardly close it, consider limiting what you choose to carry to the bare necessities: one debit card, enough cash to cover a meal or ride home, and one form of identification (but not your Social Security card). You can’t spend money you don’t have with you, so leave credit cards and extra cash at home to resist the temptation to spend. Leaving credit cards at home can also limit your vulnerability to identity theft should your wallet ever be lost or stolen. Plus, charging all purchases to the same debit card and linked account will make it simpler to track your spending.

12. PAY BILLS ON TIME

Not only will paying bills on time save you money on late fees and penalties but it is also key to financial peace and health. If making payments on time is a struggle for you, review each bill you pay on a monthly basis and write down the due date. Set reminders on your calendar, alerts on your phone or sign up for reminder emails if they’re offered so that you never miss a payment.

13. AUTOMATE YOUR MONEY

Another way to avoid late payments is to automate your transactions. For payments, set up automatic transfers through your bank’s online bill pay service to send money out to pay bills at least three days ahead of the due dates.

Automation is also great for the “paying yourself first” habit. If you have a retirement account through work, set up automatic contributions. If you get regular paychecks in fixed amounts, set up automatic transfers to move money from your checking account to a savings account or retirement fund right after payday. Monitor these automatic transfers so that you never overdraft an account.

14. PRIORITIZE PAYING DOWN DEBT

Interest and debt will hold you back financially. It’s nearly impossible to get ahead and create a financially secure future when you’re always paying off yesterday’s purchases. Budget for paying down debt and consider temporarily cutting back on something, such as dining out, so that you can put more money toward getting out of debt. Pay more than the minimum due on your monthly bills when possible.

Some financial experts recommend paying off high-interest debt first whereas others suggest starting with the smallest balance first. Assess your debt and pick the method that works best for you.

15. AVOID NEW DEBT

High-interest debt like credit cards or payday loans can be extremely difficult to pay off, especially if you’re already in debt. Get spending habits under control and avoid new debt. Try leaving your credit card at home or cancel it altogether if doing so won’t hurt your efforts to improve your credit score. Having an emergency fund can help you avoid new debt by covering costs with savings instead of putting them on credit cards.

If you are considering going into debt, make sure it’s because the debt will help you work toward important goals like owning a home or getting a degree. And, of course, try to only take on short-term, low-interest loans or credit if possible.

16. BUILD YOUR CREDIT

It can be easy to get complacent about your credit score and forget to pay attention to your credit report — until you try to get a home loan or turn in a rental application and are reminded of how important they are. Check your credit reports yearly and get any issues resolved if there are errors on your them. Make sure you’re managing your credit well by paying off bills on time and keeping balances low. These habits can help you avoid high-interest costs as well as build your credit.

17. INVEST IN YOURSELF

“Invest in as much of yourself as you can,” said investing titan Warren Buffett. “You are your own biggest asset by far.”

The best place you can put your money is into improving your value and net worth. From daily habits like eating well and getting enough sleep to big life steps like finishing school or switching careers, you should adopt the mindset to always be seeking to grow and achieve goals that have long-term benefits.

18. LOOK FOR NEW EARNING OPPORTUNITIES

As much as controlling spending and saving are essential habits, earning more money can be just as important. Look for ways to increase your income. It could be something small, like babysitting once a week or walking your neighbor’s dog along with yours.

Find a way to make some money with a hobby, such as by selling crafts online or busking on the weekends. You might even consider getting a second job.

If your time is too limited for these options, look for ways to increase your pay at your day job. Find out what would be required to earn a raise and then go for it. Acquire new skills and education that can increase your earning potential.

19. GROW AND INVEST YOUR MONEY

In addition to looking for ways to earn money, financially savvy people also look for ways to grow the money they have. That can be as simple as finding a high-yield savings account for an emergency fund or as challenging as learning to manage a portfolio of investments. Compound interest is a powerful force, and if you get it to work for you, it can be your secret weapon to financial independence.

20. SAVE FOR RETIREMENT

Saving early and frequently is one of the secrets to retiring with financial security. Don’t put today’s wants ahead of tomorrow’s needs. Set up a retirement account and start adding to it each month.

Figure out how much you need to save before you retire and make a concrete plan to do it. Learn more about financial planning and investing to grow your money and keep up with inflation.

21. GET YOUR 401(K) EMPLOYER MATCH

Along with saving for retirement, make contributions to employer-sponsored retirement accounts, especially if your employer will match your contributions. Employer contributions are free money, and all you have to do is set a little money aside for retirement, which is what you should be doing anyway.

22. LEARN TO WANT (AND BUY) LESS

Resist the urge to buy this product and pay for that service to be happy, attractive, fun or anything else that marketing campaigns are designed to make you think. Practice mindfulness through diligent budgeting and possibly through habits that can help you improve how you feel, such as meditation and gratitude journaling, so that you remember to appreciate what you have. Make sure that you’re the one deciding what your money should be spent on, not marketers or your peers.

23. DO IT YOURSELF

Convenience is attractive but it also can be expensive. Some services are worth paying for so that you can free up your time — or avoid incurring more costs by botching the job — but you can save yourself potentially thousands by getting in the habit of tackling many projects, chores and problems yourself. Simple things like preparing meals at home, doing your own laundry instead of sending it out, and buying a manicure kit to maintain your own nails can add up to big savings.

24. SHOP WITH A PLAN

Shopping mindlessly leads to overspending and indulging in impulse buys. Planning ahead, especially when grocery shopping, can help you stick to buying what you actually need and avoid wasting money. Make a shopping list, stick to it and try to get in and out of the store as fast as possible.

Keep a running list of household items you’re running low on and consolidate errands into one shopping trip. Waiting to go to the grocery store, pharmacy and post office in the same trip, for example, can save you time and gas money.

25. COMPARE COSTS ON EVERYTHING

To spend money wisely, you need to be able to decide if what you are getting is a good enough value to justify the cost. Get in the habit of comparing prices of products as well as comparing prices against their value to you. Some personal finance experts suggest you start by comparing your hourly wage to the cost of the item you want to buy. For example, is that pair of shoes really worth three hours of pay? Then compare the cost of the thing you want to other things you could use the money for, such as paying off high-interest debt.

Lastly, compare the actual item to others like it. Is there a less-expensive alternative that offers the same product or service at a lower cost? If you spend a little more, can you get a better version that would last twice as long? Weighing these options can help you buy less junk, cut down on waste and lead you to choices that offer real value and higher quality.

26. USE COUPONS AND ASK FOR DISCOUNTS

Look for coupons, deals and discounts. Whenever you make plans to spend, whether it’s heading out to the bar with friends or signing up for a new internet service, check for deals and look for ways to spend less. Maybe the bar has a happy hour and you can save money by getting together earlier. The cable and internet company could be offering a special deal for new customers. Even your credit card issuer might give you a rate discount if you ask.

Only look for deals once you’ve already decided your purchase is a smart one. Don’t use discounts and coupons to justify frivolous spending.

27. LEARN FROM FINANCIAL SETBACKS

Almost as important as knowing the right things to do is knowing how to get back on track when things go wrong. Almost everyone faces financial setbacks at some point, including some major nail-biters. But even small choices, such as stopping at the drive-thru instead of waiting to eat at home, can get you offtrack. Once you start slipping, you might fall into a pattern of overspending.

Practicing the habit of facing setbacks head-on and maintaining your financial discipline even in tough times can help you prepare for bigger money crises that could come your way. And since hindsight’s 20/20, look back on past financial missteps so that you can identify what went wrong and how you can prevent those problems in the future.

28. CORRECT BAD HABITS

As you set and practice new, financially healthy habits, you can’t let yourself off the hook for those few bad habits that will inevitably stick around. As Warren Buffett put it, “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Maybe you avoid problems when they come up instead of quickly resolving them or you too easily justify overspending when you’re out with friends. Chances are you have a handful of habits that are tripping you up again and again, and these bad habits can potentially do more damage than good habits can fix.

Whatever the issue, don’t let yourself sabotage your efforts to build wealth. Along with building positive habits, work to get past your financial weaknesses and be honest with yourself if you’re spending to fulfill an emotional desire instead of meeting a true need.

29. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON FINANCES

If you’re serious about building financial health and wealth, then you need to educate yourself. After all, you can’t make the best financial choices if you have no idea what your options are and how each decision will impact your life and money down the road. Start small by reading some personal finance books and spending a few minutes each day reading personal finance articles (just like you are right now).

When researching options to make a decision, dive deep into the pros and cons of your choices. Whether you’re shopping for a car loan or the right mortgage or are trying to find the right financial planner or investment vehicles, you’ll be able to make decisions wisely and confidently when you have learned as much as you can about the topic

30. GIVE BACK

There are a lot of ways to get rich, but giving back is the surest and fastest way to feel rich. One study by a pair of Yale and Havard Business School graduate students found that the psychological effect of giving back is so powerful that it can actually diminish a person’s desire to overspend or engage in other poor money habits stemming from a compulsion to assert or display wealth.

Written by Elyssa Kirkham of GoBankingRates

(Source: GoBankingRates)