Personal finance

Learn about your money in small, manageable steps | Personal finance

Laura McMullen

So you want to know more about your money and make moves with it. Go yourself.

“It’s a moment of realization that needs to be celebrated,” says San Francisco-based financial coach Saundra Davis.

And your timing is perfect, because April is Financial Literacy Month. This designation would only exist if many people needed help understanding their money.

“You’re not the only person who doesn’t have their finances in place,” says Angela Moore, Orlando Certified Financial Planner.

Take it easy and start small

It’s okay if you don’t save a lot or have an idea of ​​what the IRA means. Try to avoid negative self-talk and give yourself some grace, says Moore, who is also the founder of Modern Money Education, a platform offering personal finance lessons.

Start with “small steps,” she adds. Allow time to try the steps below so that you are mentally prepared. (This is opposed, for example, to waiting until you’ve exceeded your limits and feel exhausted.) For a few of these steps, you can even set a timer and plan to spend about 15 minutes exercising. , so as not to be overwhelmed. .

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As you try the following tips, “think about the best way to learn,” says Davis, who is also the founder of Sage Financial Solutions, a nonprofit that specializes in financial education and planning for low-income communities. wealthy and underrepresented. For example, while group discussions can be motivating for some people, others would much rather read a book. So try a few strategies to find what works for you.

Ways to learn about money

Speak with a professional

A financial coach, advisor, or other expert can help you figure out where to start and what to prioritize.

The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education offers free virtual sessions. The AFCPE’s website says its certified financial counselors and coaches “can help you manage immediate expenses, build up savings, create a plan to pay off debt, or navigate financial aid benefits.”

You also have other options. The Financial Planning Association provides pro bono financial support low-income people and those considered “underserved”, including veterans, people affected by natural disasters and others.

Or chat with friends and community members

If you’re not ready for advice, just chatting can help you think things through and learn more about money in a casual way. You can learn how your peers handle money, voice your financial concerns, and brainstorm solutions.

Remember that you are in a casual conversation and are not receiving professional advice. Do your best to check the tips for yourself. For example, look for web pages on the subject that include sources of information, such as professional experts or studies.

To find in-person money conversations, look at local churches, libraries, or colleges. Or check out Meetup, a website that helps groups come together. You can also start conversations about money with your own friends to normalize the topic.

To learn with others online, Moore suggests looking into Facebook groups that discuss personal finance. Exploring Reddit’s r/personalfinance channel and its helpful wiki page can also be an easy way to start thinking about money.

Try quizzes, apps and spreadsheets

Do you prefer a solo exploration of your money? There are many online tools that can help you see where you are and figure out your next steps.

Take this quiz of eight questions on financial health to determine your ability to overcome financial stressors and achieve your long-term goals.

Or see where your money is going with a budget app. Mint, for example, syncs all your financial accounts and shows how your expenses fit into different budget categories. Knowing how much you’re spending is a helpful first step in managing your money and setting goals.

A free budget spreadsheet, like those provided by the Financial Trade Commission, NerdWallet, and Microsoft Office, can also help you understand your finances. These spreadsheets are more convenient than apps that sync your accounts, as you are responsible for filling in fields related to incoming and outgoing money.

Review your finances and set goals

Want to know more about your money, but don’t want to fuss with an app or spreadsheet? Try Moore’s old-school approach to clients. She makes them spend 15 minutes simply jotting down their financial inventory on paper.

This would include amounts from checking, savings and investment accounts; average bill payments; debt due; the estimated money spent each month; and net income. Start with estimates.

“You’re not going to know a lot of things,” Moore says. Ideally, all those missing pieces will make you curious, she says. Look for the real numbers. You may find that your estimates are way off.

This exercise is intended to help you understand where you are today. Knowing these basics helps you make changes and set goals.

For example, if you spent more than expected on takeout in March, you could aim to spend half as much in April. Or maybe you want to refinance a loan, set up an emergency fund, or contribute to your employer’s retirement plan.

Whether you’re ready to set goals for yourself or decide to use a tool or talk with a professional, you’re on the right track. As Davis says, “Start right where you are, with no shame.”